The role of the Technical Publication Manager (TPM) is crucial to the success of a technical writing department as well as to that of individual department members. Serving as the face of this specialized group to the organization at large, the ideal TPM is:
- "educator-in-chief" to the rest of the organization concerning the purpose and contribution of technical publications and the tech writing function.
- liaison between his/her group and the management chain of command in which it is situated, continually clarifying management expectations and ensuring the group is positioned to meet them.
- alert to significant developments on the business side, from broader industry trends to specific company challenges, major initiatives, and bottom-line results.
- conscientious about sharing the potential impact of significant business developments with the group.
The TPM is responsible for backing up his/her advocacy of the department with quality results. This entails:
- designing effective information delivery systems;
- structuring project request and development processes;
- establishing content and format standards;
- training on and maintaining adherence to project development, content and format standards;
- proactively identifying highest priority publication needs and allocating resources accordingly;
- defining meaningful ways to quantify department accomplishments;
- reporting department accomplishments with emphasis on productivity and business impact.
From the point of view of individual success, like any manager, the TPM influences what assignments go to whom, how individual performance is assessed and rewarded, and what professional development opportunities are made available. Beyond that, the wise TPM takes responsibility for monitoring and cultivating the engagement of individuals in the work of the department and the business as a whole. A TPM can help ensure a smooth-running, productive department by:
- hiring wisely
- don't be overly influenced by credentials: skills, such as use of a specific software application, can be taught: talent and logical thought cannot;
- look for evidence of both intellectual and interpersonal strengths;
- envision how the candidate's personality would fit with existing staff members and/or arrange a group interview.
- clearly defining individual performance expectations, getting agreement, and providing regular feedback: no annual performance review should ever be a surprise;
- matching individuals' strengths to appropriate tasks or pairing up those with complementary strengths;
- resisting the urge to "fix" an employee who does not have a natural aptitude for something;
- discussing career goals and helping map individual development paths;
- providing development opportunities (training, seminars, conferences) as made possible by company policy and department budget;
- if possible, creating positions within the department that represent progressive mastery of skills and level of accomplishment, and providing concomitant compensation.
One additional element distinguishes a good manager from a real leader: a forward-looking view. Attention to your future organization is as important as managing present operations, and the most innovative ideas are likely to come from outside your department, maybe even outside your industry, and assuredly from outside your own head! This includes not only new applications and technologies but how existing ones are put to use. People (your staff, those who use your publications) should have a say in their destiny . . . and one way and another, they will: actively seek out "revolutionary" voices rather than waiting for them to find you!
Buckingham, M., & Clifton, D. O. (2001). Now, Discover Your Strengths. New York: The Free Press.
Buckingham, M., & Coffman, C. (1999). First Break All the Rules. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Hamel, G. (2009). Building Organization for the Future. Video retrieved from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Future-Management-Gary-Hamel/dp/1422102505/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/103-8444383-4193429?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1192819722&sr=8-1
Hamel, G. (1996, July-August). Strategy as Revolution. Harvard Business Review , pp. 69-82.
Hamilton, R. L. (2009). Managing Writers: A Real World Guide to Managing Technical Documentation. Fort Collins: XML Press.
Contributed by Alexandra Piacenza, firstname.lastname@example.org