Thursday, 16 September 2010

Interviewing a museum/archive director

Last Tuesday I took an afternoon out of work and went back to my old work: The British Postal Museum & Archive. I had an appointment with Director Adrian Steel to further some aspects of my AMA.

I wanted to talk to Adrian because, in his role as director, and in his previous senior management roles, I know that he has a lot of experience and is very skilled in various areas of work that I'm interested in. As I've blogged about previously, I'm always looking to continue to improve my project management skills. In addition to this, however, I'm also aware that there are many areas of the work of senior managers which I could do with gaining a better understanding of at this point of my career if I want to continue to move up. These include areas like people management and strategic development.  Adrian seemed like the ideal person to talk to about his role, and what skills he thinks he requires, and what he thinks are the best ways to go about it.

Adrian and I had a long, detailed and productive chat which helped put a lot of things into perspective in a way that sometimes only talking to someone objective can do.  I thought I'd share some of the key advice that I took away with me:

  1. Always have a mentor in another organisation, even if you are at a senior level.  Talking to someone objective with experience of your situation can put a different perspective on things and help you clarify your own thoughts on something you're working on.
  2. You have a responsibility not only to yourself, but to your organisation to keep yourself sane.  Do this by ensuring that you do some things that you enjoy doing - both at work and in your life outside work.  This will help you to continue to work effectively.
  3. Regularly agree priorities with your boss - be it weekly or monthly.  You can't possibly do everything all of the time, and as long as you and your boss have acknowledged this, then you can prioritise sensibly and do your job well whilst still keeping a balance and hopefully mostly going home on time.
  4. There are two aspects which are equally important to a planning process, be it for a project, or for a broader strategic plan. One is the more practical ABC approach of considering where you are now, where you want to be, and how to get there.  The second (which is an extension of the first) is to think creatively about this endpoint and draw pictures and diagrams about what it will look like that will help you to get a clearer understanding of your own priorities for this endpoint.
  5. There are several strategies to ensuring that you have buy-in to your project and that everyone involved in it is clear about, and has the same understanding and priorities as you as project manager do about it:
  • Ensure senior management buy-in, as senior as you think you need to go.  Understand what senior management think the organisation wants and needs from a project/area of work before taking it any further because this will cascade through the organisation if what you are doing is on senior management's radar and is going the way they think is important.
  • I've talked already in previous posts about getting buy-in from members of your project team by getting them to help you make all of the important decisions from the start. An alternative  to this, either with a team or with senior managers, is to 'build a straw man' of how you think the endpoint should look or how you think something should happen and ask them to either knock it down or accept it.
  • Ensure that you have a good understanding of the people working with you on a project, how they work, and how they perceive you, and work with it.  Different people will respond differently to different information and instructions and, as project manager, it's your job to understand how they will react and act accordingly.
6.      Before asking someone to perform a task, ensure that you have a good understanding of that task, what is involved and how long it will take, and be able to show them your workings.  If the task is one that you have no previous experience of doing, then observe it being done, or do it yourself, and time it rather than guessing how long it should take.  It means that what you are asking for is realistic but also demonstrates that you have an understanding of the process.

7.      Always treat staff time as an asset.  If you were given £40,000 per year to spend, you would spend it wisely and carefully.  An individual on a salary of £30,000 may well cost the organisation in the region of £40,000 per year and their time should therefore be valued accordingly.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good post with always thoughtful advice - thanks for sharing.

30 September 2010 at 11:31  
Blogger Rhiannon Looseley said...

Thanks Sarah. Glad you found it as useful as I did!

30 September 2010 at 13:06  

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