No Authority — No Problem22 Mar, 2023 By: Robert Green
CAD Manager's Column: If you’re stuck in a “No Authority” CAD manager position, don’t fret, you can still make effective change, AND bolster your chances for a management position down the road.
Over the years, I’ve spoken to many groups of CAD managers lamenting how little authority we sometimes have to do our jobs. In fact, the problem is so common that I refer to “No Authority CAD Managers” as a matter of course. As I’ve given more thought to the problem, I’ve devised some strategies that allow you to survive in a “No Authority” environment for now, while working toward gaining authority in the future.
In this edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I’ll pass along some of these strategies and tips for implementing them. Here goes.
Image source: Tierney/stock.adobe.com.
Be Good — Build Confidence
Whether you have authority or not, users always know whether you’re good with CAD/BIM tools. If you’re good at using these tools, users will trust you and ask you for help to solve their problems. Establishing this technical credibility will give you a de facto authority with users since they know how good you are. And, when senior management sees that you are widely respected by users in a variety of departments, they’ll start to realize your value.
But, since your senior management team isn’t giving you enough power or budget to really be a manager today, you’ll need to create a base of users that can help you gain authority over time. Does this process take longer? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes.
So, how do you undertake this process? Let's take a look at some of the strategies I’ve used both personally and with client organizations.
Align with Users and Win
If management won’t give you the authority you need, then make sure users know this and align your thinking with theirs. Examples might include:
Users need updated workstations. While your direct response is that you don’t have the authority to dictate what IT purchases, you should encourage users to communicate with their management to build support for new workstations. Then, let your boss know that you’re encouraging these communications for the betterment of the business.
Different departments use different CAD methods making it impossible to implement standards. When speaking to each department, let them know you understand the problem, but don’t have the authority to dictate standards to other department managers. Then, ask the users who have the complaints to request that their bosses coordinate with other department managers to resolve the situation. And, again, and let your boss know you’ve done so.
You probably sense a pattern developing here, right? The goal is to understand the problem, understand the users’ frustrations, and then enlist those users to voice their concerns to management since you don’t have the authority to fix the problems directly. If user complaints do elicit action from various management team members, then you can fix the problem without ever having to be the bad guy.
Build a Bigger Base
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 potluck lunch break once a month 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 much comes from your user group, you will have still brought users closer together, expanded your user base, and will most likely have done at least some good in the process.
Note: When your management team sees you take on leadership initiatives, they’re more likely to deem you worthy of managerial authority.
Make Troubleshooting Work for You
From time-to-time, software problems will arise that require expert troubleshooting. Chances are you find yourself in the middle of these experiences daily, but are you turning the experience to your advantage by building respect with your users? If not, you should be.
When something needs to be fixed, always 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 work with.
Will any project managers be involved? If so, you have a chance to make them see 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? If so, why not make that part of the conversation with peers and project managers alike?
I was able to use these techniques very successfully early 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.
Note: If you must fix problems, you may as well use those problems as a logical way to expand your sphere of influence and technical credibility. A little self-promotion is not a bad thing!
Now, Become “The Optimizer”
At some point, you will have created enough credibility with a wide enough user base that you can turn your trouble shooting activities into a platform to advocate for optimizing CAD/BIM processes. Now is the time to start asking, “How can we do this better?” to anyone who will listen. I encourage you to become “The Optimizer” in your company.
The key to becoming “The Optimizer” is to replace waiting for things to break with problem prevention. So, rather than saying, “Here’s how we fix this problem,” the conversation becomes, “If we can detect the problem earlier, we’d be able to totally avoid fixing this ever again!” Note that I’m no longer acknowledging the inevitability of fixing problems, but rather I’m 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 optimize CAD processes is a great way to get them involved with the CAD management process. I found that this motivational technique works much better with power users than harping on errors anyway. 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, it works.
No Authority CAD managers may ask the question, “Why should I take the time to become The Optimizer?” when they have no authority to implement new processes in the first place? To answer this concern, consider 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 won’t need any authority to do so since users are pushing themselves. 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 must educate project managers on how much better CAD processes in your company 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 never hurts to have project managers on your side.
- Many times, project managers feel that CAD is a bottleneck they need to avoid or spend less time on. By driving for the optimization of processes you'll remove those bottlenecks, save time, and win project managers over as you do so.
Does it take time to communicate all this? Yes. Is it worth it? Definitely.
Over the years, I’ve found that the best CAD managers employ a wide array of technical, persuasion, and motivational skills to do their job and none of those skills require authority. I’ve also found that when CAD managers follow the steps I’ve outlined, they progress from being great technical managers to process optimizers that enjoy support all around the company.
Whether you’re a No Authority CAD manager or not, I hope you’ve found some strategies to think about. And, finally, you may find that by viewing CAD management from the perspective of optimizing operations, you’ll gain so much respect from your senior management teams that they may give you the authority you’ve wanted all along. And, wouldn’t that be a positive change? Until next time.