Week 28: New technical manager challenges and pitfalls

In this column, Shelley Bard offers up some tips for the new technical manager.

When
As applicable

Why
Newly promoted managers in technical fields face additional challenges -- usually to keep doing what they have been doing, with the additional joys of managing people, schedules, training and evaluations, budgets, reports to upper management and more meetings.

Strategy
As a technical manager you start with people, not systems, as may be your habit or preference. Juli Vermillion, president of Laughing Dolphin Consulting, a leadership coaching and consulting group based in Reston, Va., starts with the idea that people are assets and makes recommendations for new managers.

DON'T:
1. Treat your team as peers. Bosses must set expectations, meet deadlines and evaluate performance.

2. Do everything yourself. Assess your team's talents and skills and focus on people's strengths; use them where they shine. Delegate work, but not your responsibility. Coach them if you need to, but then let them run with tasks and set up milestones to evaluate progress, if necessary.

3. Insist on being right. Listen to your team's opinions and admit when you're wrong; nothing will kill trust faster than messing up and covering up.

4. Ignore problems. While some may resolve on their own, resulting resentment is not worth the 15 minutes of discomfort you'll have in dealing with a problem early on. Get help if you need it. Talk to human resources, a more senior manager, or a peer in management who can offer advice and wisdom you don't yet possess.

DO:
1. Put your people first. Stand up for them, get the story straight from them before believing anything you hear elsewhere, and believe in them until they give you a reason not to. Work to earn their faith and be worthy of their respect, and they will go the extra mile for you every time.

2. Take charge. Remember those things you wanted to do, if only you were in charge? Make decisions -- even wrong decisions are better than no decision, and they can always be changed.

3. Serve, don't rule. Check your ego at the door. If the will of your team varies from your views, you may need to reevaluate your solutions and alter your stance to keep your team working together.

4. Know that people really want to do a good job. If an employee is causing problems, look beyond the behavior at the reasons this person may not be performing. If you can help solve that, the work problem will likely clear up as well. Too often managers spend too much time trying to solve the wrong problem. And recognize that treating people fairly doesn't necessarily mean treating them equally.

More information
Ideally you have a mentor to advise you on difficult situations. If you don't know someone like this, finding him should be your most important new manager task. Approach human resources to learn the legalities involved with managing, hiring and firing. And people laugh, but reading "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie is still the best book out there on relationships and ego.

About the author
Shelley Bard, CISSP, CISM, is a senior security network engineer with Verizon Federal Network Systems (FNS). An information security professional for 17 years, Bard has briefed and written infosecurity assessments and technical reports for the White House and Department of Defense, special interest groups, industry and academia. Please e-mail any comments to mailto:securityplanner@infosecuritymag.com.

Opinions expressed in this column are those of Shelley Bard and don't necessarily reflect those of Verizon FNS.

Last week: Credentials: To be or not to be certified
Next week: Can you go on vacation?

This was first published in June 2004

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