How to Be Effective as a No-Authority CAD Manager

23 Jan, 2018 By: Robert Green

CAD Manager Column: Even if you lack the power and budget that should come along with the responsibilities, you can still make CAD processes better by building your own authority among users.

Last November, I gave a presentation at Autodesk University discussing a scenario familiar to many in the audience: being tasked with all the responsibilities of CAD management, yet having no managerial authority to enforce anything. Toiling away without any authority from their senior management, many of these “no-authority CAD managers” are frustrated, burned out, and not so happy about their job many days of the week.

There is a ray of hope in this predicament: This is not a new phenomenon, so some strategies have been developed for dealing with the situation. In this edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I’ll pass along some ideas for how to build your own authority by winning your users over via peer-to-peer interaction. I’ve used these strategies personally, and I hope they can help you too. Here goes.

Become the Go-To Resource

There's an old saying that people only go to a well where there's water — and likewise, users only to go a CAD manager who solves their problems. This truism has always made me believe that establishing your technical credibility — by making sure your coworkers recognize your expertise — is the number one way to achieve CAD management success.

Since your senior management team hasn’t given you enough power or budget to really be a manager, you must proactively assume a posture of leadership. The trick is to understand how you can act like a manager with authority when, in fact, you have none. Let's explore some possible methods.


Foster User Groups

Wouldn’t it be great if you could share tips, ideas, and time-saving work methods with other users in your company? Further, wouldn’t it be great if you could do so in an unofficial way, without time pressures? Creating in-house user groups is a handy way of achieving these goals.

Start your user group meetings as a monthly potluck or brown-bag lunch break, and ask members to share their best tips and tricks. Don’t feel a sense of pressure to do anything but organize the meeting and encourage people to come share their knowledge. Even if nothing earth-shattering comes from your user group, you will have still brought users closer together, and will most likely have done some good in helping users become more efficient.

While creating a user group will require some time and effort on your part, the benefits you’ll gain in terms of user trust and leadership credibility can be invaluable. And as a side note, when your management team sees you take on leadership initiatives, they’re more likely to think of you when advancement opportunities come up!

Make Troubleshooting Work for You

From time to time, a software problem will arise that requires expert troubleshooting to resolve. Chances are, you find yourself in such a scenario frequently — even daily — but are you turning the experience to your advantage by building respect with your users? You should be!

Whenever something needs to be fixed, consider these possibilities:

  • Will you need to talk to other departments or user communities? If so, you have a chance to gain technical credibility with others you normally wouldn’t have the chance to work with.
  • Will any project managers be involved? Take the opportunity to show them how valuable your CAD expertise is, and how much they want you on their projects! After all, it never hurts to have project managers on your side.
  • Will you be able to fix longer-term problems? Put simply, are there any lessons to be learned from troubleshooting a problem that will lead to fewer problems down the road? Why not make that part of the conversation with peers and project managers alike?

I was able to use these techniques very successfully early on in my career to become a trusted resource throughout the company. This later helped me to become the logical choice when a full-time CAD manager position became available. You're going to be fixing problems in your company anyway, so why not build your management reputation as you do so?

Move Beyond Troubleshooting

I now encourage you to take your troubleshooting efforts to the next level and actively push for the optimization of CAD processes. Although a skilled troubleshooter can fix problems that arise, you can prevent problems before they start with a mindset of optimizing CAD management.

The key to becoming “the Optimizer” in your company is to jettison the after-the-fact thought process of troubleshooting and replace it with a proactive thought process of smart prevention. So rather than saying, “Here’s how we fix this problem that already exists,” the conversation becomes, “If we could prevent the problem in the first place, we’d never have to face this issue again!” Note that I’m no longer acknowledging the inevitability of fixing problems; instead, I am taking a positive position that problems can be avoided.

By focusing on the opportunity to do things better, you'll motivate power users to up their game, if for no other reason than the personal pride of knowing they’ve done so. In fact, challenging power users to find ways to optimize CAD processes is a great way to get them involved. I found that this motivational technique works much better with power users than harping on errors in a negative way. Of course, you know your CAD users better than I do, so you'll be able to judge better where and when to use the Optimizer persona, but I promise you the trick works.

I think of the Optimizer like the title character in the Terminator movies, because my users always know that when something can be done better, “I’ll be back!”

How Optimizing Pays Off

No-authority CAD managers may ask questions like, “Why should I take the time to become the Optimizer?” or “What’s in it for me?” After all, this is something you’ll have to fit into your already busy schedule. To answer these concerns, think about the following:

  • If you can get people to do things better (optimally) simply by motivating them, you’ll spend less time fixing problems — and you don’t need any authority, since the users are pushing themselves. And I find motivating people to do better is far less stressful than cleaning up after their mistakes.
  • Project managers love CAD managers who can optimize their processes. Admittedly, you may have to do some education to help project managers understand how much more smoothly your company processes can flow, but taking the time to educate them always leads to their increased appreciation of CAD management. And as I have observed many times in the past, it is always in your best interest to have project managers on your side!
  • Project managers often feel that CAD is a bottleneck they need to avoid, or spend less time on. By driving the optimization of processes, you'll help remove those bottlenecks and save time. This is mother’s milk to management teams, who will soon be singing your praises.

Does it take time to communicate all this? Yes. Is it worth it? Definitely.

Summing Up

Over the years, I’ve found that the best CAD managers employ a wide array of technical, social, and motivational skills — none of which require any authority at all — to do their job.

I hope you’ve found these ideas for improving user productivity and getting better CAD management compliance useful, whether you’re a no-authority CAD manager or not. Further, I hope the main points of making CAD management a problem-solving, efficiency-boosting discipline will help you gain respect from your senior management teams — in hopes that they may endow you with the authority you need to make things work even better.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

Add comment


Re: How to Be Effective as a No-Authority CAD Manager
by: jmaeding
January 24, 2018 - 1:30pm
Love the title, because its true. The far better weapon to have is simply good answers. If you are the person people go to for those, you are the CAD Manager.
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