At first glance, this blog post is more fitted for people currently fulfilling the position of a manager in a documentation team. However, if you are a technical writer now, you might as well get a promotion one day to become a manager, so this material could be of interest to you, too. Or, this post also works for project leads — they share a lot of common responsibilities with managers. I don’t think people are born great managers — the skills should be acquired and worked on. Today, we are not going to be covering soft skills of successful managers but rather analyze what constitutes this role in technical writing and how to be a great one.
As a manager, you will be talking to other managers a lot. Make use of these talks. Each meeting can help you understand the direction of your work more. You will need to attend a lot of meetings. All-hands meetings included. And these might be some of the most meaningful ones for understanding the course your company is on. This alignment with major goals will help you see the clear picture of the product areas or features deserving more attention, as well as your target audience.
For example, is your company going to focus on renewals or new clients in the next quarter? If it’s new clients, this could be a signal for you to create a version of your user manual specifically for new users, with more details and simpler terms. Or, on the contrary, you might need to create a ‘pro’ version to leverage technical documentation to existing customers. Learn to listen and look for ways of how the information presented at big meetings can be beneficial for your department.
For those who got promoted after working for some time in the team it is a bit easier to assess skills and characteristics of their direct reports. And, still, even if you worked with people as peers for quite some time, it is likely that you didn’t really think of them as potential subordinates. So, our advice is to treat them just as if you were a new addition to the company. If you landed a manager role in a new company, then, it is clear that you will have to do a lot of leg work to be able to distribute tasks and resources right and be successful at risk management.
In either case, you will need to use special tools to evaluate technical writers on the team. Reporting is a good way to do this. Modern software for technical writers often provides a reporting tool. In ClickHelp, we offer dozens of reports, many of them can be used to learn your team better. Check out the following article on ClickHelp analytics and reporting to find recommendations on how to use analytics to assess the people on the team. And, make communication with team members a priority. Here comes the soft skill, but clear communication is vital. That multiplied by the info you get from reports can help you paint the picture of your team. Why is this important? It helps you be more flexible and approach each employee individually to get better results. You will understand how to distribute responsibilities and help tech writers on the team grow, too.
As a manager you need to fully understand all processes involved in technical writing in your company. You can be asked to set all the processes anew, but, you will still need to integrate into an existing system first. If something exists for the longest time, it doesn’t mean it is good. Use your fresh perspective to see what can be done better. You have certain things you do not control, like time frames, or what results are expected from your team’s work (though you better manage the expectations). But everything in between can be improved.
In conclusion, we’d like to give you some food for thought. Think about the difference of being a manager and being a leader. We used the first term in this article for the sake of clarity — this is how this role is often called. But, in reality, there’s actually a not-so-subtle difference between managing a tech writing team (as ‘in fulfilling all duties’) and leading it to success. The latter means fulfilling all duties and always digging deeper. A true leader is asking the right questions, seeking ways to expand and grow — for each individual team member and the company as a whole. A leader focuses on not just timely delivery, but better results. This is a conscious decision you need to make — to truly lead, not just to manage.
Good luck with your technical writing!
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