As an individual contributor, you make decisions based on your ability and expertise. For example, say you are an accountant; you have the expertise to properly post an accounting transaction. Alternatively, if you are a techie, you know how to perform a specific technical task. Let’s say that as a manager, overseeing accountants, techies, and people from other professions, you can’t possibly know everything they collectively know. It is impossible.
As a result, when decisions have to be made about an accounting transaction, a technical issue, or other topic where you do not personally have the background or qualifications to make the decision, you must rely on the combination of your team’s expertise combined with your ability to make decisions based on the knowledge of others.
Don’t underestimate the difficulty of acquiring the ability and skill to successfully make decisions based on the expertise of others. Also don’t underestimate the uncomfortable feeling when making this type of decision, even long after you have acquired the skill to do it well.
These types of decisions are difficult and uncomfortable for the following reasons:
You have to trust in the expertise of others.
You are making decisions based on partial personal knowledge.
As department manager, you are accountable for decisions of this type.
You may be making commitments that you can only complete with help of others.
Your personal success is based on the expertise of others.
The following tips/suggestions can make this decision easier and potentially more successful:
Validate information you don’t believe or don’t understand with an impartial source, such as another manager who has the needed background and expertise.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Your staff members know you don’t have the needed technical expertise. Asking them questions shows that you respect their knowledge and you will be getting a lesson, thus learning more about the topic.
Do some independent research about the topic on the internet. This will by no means make you an expert on the topic, but may give you a better basis to make a decision.
Based on the importance of the decision, ask your staff member to make a formal presentation outlining the issues and potential options. This has two advantages. First, it will make it easier for you to understand the issues and weigh the alternatives. Second, it will help assure that the expert you have creating the presentation has organized his/her thoughts and truly considered the validity of each alternative.
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If possible, have two of your team members work together to make a recommendation. This falls under the old adage “Two heads are better than one.” Having two people work together on it should reduce the risk of a bad recommendation.
For managers with backgrounds in technical areas, whether it be in science, technology, accounting, engineering or other knowledge working profession, the idea of not personally having the knowledge to make the decision is particularly difficult because they/we went to school to learn the answers.
With newer managers, their strong technical competency tends to overshadow their less developed management skills. More seasoned managers, however, use strong managerial skills and become less dependent on their aging technical skills.
The primary advice and takeaways from today’s column is to know that:
Don’t underestimate the difficulty of acquiring the ability to successfully make decisions based on the expertise of others.
Don’t underestimate the uncomfortable feeling when making this type of decision, even long after you have acquired the skill to do it well.
There are various things you can do increase your confidence, expand your knowledge and reduce risk of bad decisions.
Until next time, manage well, manage smart and continue to grow.
Eric P. Bloom, based in Ashland, Mass., is the president and founder of Manager Mechanics LLC. He is also a nationally syndicated columnist, keynote speaker and author of the award-winning book “Manager Mechanics: Tips and Advice for First-Time Managers.” Contact him at eric@ManagerMechanics.com, follow him on Twitter at @EricPBloom, or visit www.ManagerMechanics.com.