Are you interruptable?

Over the past couple of years my job has changed. I have the same title and job description as I did before but the structure of my day is dramatically different.

I certainly don’t do much writing any more, other than the odd page or two here and there. Instead I find myself discussing strategies, planning phases of work, and generally communicating with other parts of the company as best I can.

I’m also permanently interruptable.

Part of my responsibilities is as line manager to a small group of people within the R&D team. Obviously the team of technical writers forms part of that, and there are also some developers in there as well. I’m not involved as a day to day manager, instead I’m there for what I guess most people would call the ‘HR’ side of things, including organising appraisals and, where needed, some coaching.

So between those responsibilities, and my own work I tend to spend most of my week talking to people. Either in meetings, or for a quick update on things and despite having my own set of priorities I am more than happy to be interrupted.

A long time ago, when I took my first role as a team leader, I was given some advice that has stuck with me, namely that my main role was to help everyone else in the team do their job to the best of their abilities. That means removing obstacles, dealing with problems and generally making sure that all they need to worry about is their work.

I’m permanently interruptable because that’s my job.

It took me quite a while to realise this, and getting yourself into a position to be interruptable isn’t all that easy. You need a good team around you (which I have) and you need to trust them and delegate to them as much as you can (I trust them, and I’m working on that delegation thing!).

There is always the thought, when you are new to being a manager, of ‘dumping’ on people when you delegate work or ownership of something but I’ve seen that the opposite is true. Most professionals enjoy being challenged, and giving them responsibility is a direct indication of how much you trust them. Yes they might have to step their game up, but that’s all part and parcel of that thing they call a career.

Are you interruptable? Should you be?

4 comments

  1. Gordon,

    It sounds like you’re becoming the kind of manager I’ve always loved to work for — someone who handles the problems with SMEs and other departments, and gives the writers what they need to do their jobs!

  2. I am interruptable. However, after several years as a technical writer a at small company, most of my work still involves technical writing, rewriting, and technical editing — all of which I enjoy.

  3. I’m young so I still don’t get this: You train for years and build lots of experience as a Technical Writer and then, once (or often before) you’ve truly mastered it, you end up as a manager and are back at square one in terms of experience. Of course, some find they are very talented managers but I have seen teams lose great writers to the management carrot.

  4. Haitham, I don’t think anyone who is a manager was forced into the position, so not sure if people “end up” being managers as much as people think, and the slide towards more responsibility isn’t (shouldn’t) ever be a flip of the switch, you will build up some experience of managing a team the more senior you get.

    That said, some people are better at managing a team than others, just as some people are better at technical writing than others.

    In my case, I’ll happily admit that my personality and approach to work makes me (in my opinion) a better manager than I was a technical writer (I’m not an expert at either!). However, having done the role I can coach other technical writers. A lot of this is down to understanding personalities, and team profiles. The team I’m part of is well balanced for a reason.

    I know many people who have always been technical writers, and always will be because they have no interest in ‘management’. More power to them!

    Ohh and no-one ever truly masters being a technical writer, that is something you will also learn in time 🙂

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