Author: Elisa Warner
Trusting and supporting your tech team helps them to achieve collaborative goals.
Although your technical knowledge is limited, you must effectively manage a group of technical professionals.
Earn the respect of your team by utilizing your unique perspective and abilities, while acknowledging your limitations. Help your team to shine by enlisting their participation and investing in their development.
The onsite office techie no longer spends the day hunched over a computer in a dark corner near the server closet. Technical professionals are increasingly expected to be dynamic and interactive team players that work with executives to craft technological solutions to corporate problems. However, technical professionals often do not possess the communication and business skills needed to successfully engage in collaborative projects.
Even without technical knowledge, a manager brings organizational, motivational, and leadership skills to the table and can effectively facilitate communication between techies and the larger organization. The successful leadership of a group of engineers or other technical professionals requires building a foundation of mutual respect and forming the bridge between your team and non-technical organizational teams.
Trust Your Team
In contrast to other supervisory positions, a technical project manager’s role is that of a coach—not a quarterback. This is especially important when your technical knowledge is limited. As a non-technical manager, spell out the “why’s,” “what’s” and “who’s,” but trust your team to come up with the “how’s.”
When consulting a technical team or expert advisor, don’t pretend to understand a technical reference that is beyond your experience. Ask specific questions without hesitation – your project will benefit, and your team will appreciate your honest interest. In addition, make an effort to learn more about the technical field you manage by taking advantage of professional development opportunities.
Provide Detailed Information
Technical professionals are accustomed to working with numbers, tangibles, and hard facts. Thus, technical professionals will appreciate concrete representations of ideas, such as visual charts and graphs, and a concise breakdown of deliverables. Complement a subjective or speculative discussion with hard data and supporting research.
Encourage Participation from Reluctant Group Members
Managers tend to be outgoing and people-oriented, while techies have stereotypically poor communication skills. Enlisting participation and feedback from a technical group can be challenging. One strategy is to utilize an agile management style that encourages ongoing communication and review of project components. Another method is the use of journaling or internal electronic discussion boards to garner feedback from technical introverts.
Serve as the Translator
Because techies often speak a different professional language than executives, your role is to bridge the communication gap. While you may not participate in the daily tasks of the group, you should understand enough about the group’s culture to articulate project goals and challenges to committees and boards.
Provide Your Team with the Tools to Succeed
Research shows that, unlike managers, technical professionals are not usually provided with on-the-job leadership and communication training. Yet, many organizations expect their technical staff to move seamlessly into business areas. Furthermore, communication skills are essential to the professional advancement of technical professionals—even more so than increased technical knowledge. Consider organizing a communication skills workshop for your team. Providing basic training on communications concepts will contribute to the professional development of your technical staff, and reduce frustrations on both sides of the table.
- Bach, Diane. The Do’s and Don’ts of Talking to Techies. National Speakers Association (NSA) (November 1999)
- Hendrickson, Elisabeth. Managing Technical People (When You’re No Techie). STQE Magazine. Article available at Software Testing and Quality Engineering. (May/June 2002)
Elisa Warner develops research and training programs for non-profit and educational organizations. She is the former editor-in-chief of The Educational Facility Planner.