Friday, 14 December 2012

Earning a capital M

In late 2011 I applied for and was awarded a funded place on LSE and Imperial College's joint sponsored Diploma in Management, a level 5 qualification awarded by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI).

I didn't really know what I was getting myself into, but people I trust recommended the course and before I knew it I was at the 1st workshop in January. A blink of the eye later and the 10th (and final) workshop has passed and I've hugged goodbyes to group of new friends.

One thing I haven't done is finish the course yet though. It requires a series of written assignments that are based on a range of management theories and practice, and a large assignment to be completed within 6 months of the final workshop. I have plenty of work to do yet but this feels like a good time to reflect on the experience of the workshops.

My peers on the group are a mix of managers from all sorts of departments across both institutions, and I was the only librarian/information professional. This was undoubtedly one of the best aspects of the course. So often we live in the bubble and echo chamber of library-land and hearing about the challenges of managing people, resources and services across higher education was hugely valuable to me. I was able to draw great encouragement from hearing how people in very different roles to my own were facing familiar challenges and potential pit-falls. I was grateful to be able to learn from them the various techniques they had all individually learnt or developed to cope.

The course facilitator did an excellent job throughout of using our experiences to compare to, and test against, best practice concepts and techniques from the best management literature. We were able to see how our real-life work could be changed by paying really close attention to how we were going about our work. Throughout we were constantly reminded that anyone can learn to be a good manager, and even a leader, if they are mindful of how people and organisations work and apply the knowledge gained on the course.

The modules we covered included reflecting on our own learning preferences and styles, and how those affect our interactions with others. We covered the range of general management responsibilities such as planning resources, managing services, ensuring quality, performance management, projects and the differences between management and leadership.

One theme seemed persist throughout the workshop - using common sense. It's remarkable how much more straightforward so many of the issues we discussed seemed in the workshops compared to dealing with them in the workplace. I think all of the workshop participants felt afterwards that they were now much better prepared to deal with management issues in their stride. For all the theory out there, it feels that the skills of listening to people, being open to new ideas, being honest, and thinking carefully about what your place of work is there to achieve will get most managers through the average working day, and beyond.

I've pondered a lot recently about the range of skills that librarians need today to forge a career, and I do  feel that a lot of the skills I learnt through these workshops, such as people skills, communication skills and the ability to influence and negotiate with others, that ultimately makes the library world go round. I think they  deserve recognition of their importance alongside the information skills we all value so much in the profession.

I'm lucky to have had a lot of exposure to professional development activities in my career so far, and right now it feels that this programme has pushed me further than anything else I've done before. The fact that the skills I've learned about are non-library specific, or in CILIP's recent 'Professional Knowledge and Skills Base' terminology, generic skills, is really significant to me.

A great number of librarians have 'Manager' in their job title, but how many feel confident in stating those skills with anything like the confidence they do their 'Librarianship' skills? I hope the capital L continues to come first for me, but I feel empowered now to use the capital M more often as well.

A good incentive then to finish those assignments and complete the qualification! If you see a need to develop your management skills I can highly recommend this level of qualification, and undertaking it in an environment with peers from elsewhere in higher education has been a really invigorating and rewarding experience.

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Postscript: I could write a whole separate post about changing jobs - twice - during the programme. I'm indebted to (and extremely grateful for) the support given to me by LSE Library and now Information Services at the University of Kent