Summer of Management, Part 1: How to Be an Assertive Manager

Ahh, Fred Pryor Seminars. I’m such a fan of your affordable, just-the-facts professional trainings. Pryor is the company my org contracts with for outside trainings. The first one I signed up for was Excel, and when I walked in, the room had no computers. Great, I thought, I guess this is what I get for taking the company-paid option. BUT I WAS WRONG, IT WAS AMAZING. The instructor explained as we got going that studies have shown adults learn better *without* computers in front of them, working on paper… and he was totally right. With no internet to distract me, I stayed right with him the whole time. That one simple class probably quadrupled my Excel skill set.

Sometime I will do a whole post about how much I love Fred Pryor. But not today. Today is the first of my four-part series:

Summer of Management!

Back story: the bulk of my supervision experience has been either in acting capacities or supervising on-call staff in long-term assigned roles. I’ve acted as a branch manager several times ranging from 2 to 6 months, and in my current role I supervise one on-call employee. I’m eager to add to my supervision skill set, and have asked for more opportunities to do so in my current role, but I’m in one of those funky roles that has lots of responsibility over materials, not very much over people. Until we can find ways to get me more hands on experience managing down, my supervisor suggested I take a few classes. What a perfect time to call on my old pal Fred Pryor.

I’m an extrovert, and have found that I love supervising. I mean, there are definitely un-fun parts–calling in the same broken window every day for a month? Not fun. Bathroom emergencies? Ugh. Breaking up fights? Didn’t love that. Drug use on site? Also not fun. Person in altered state removing all clothing on the front steps? Not my favorite day.

But most of supervision seems to be the part that I really enjoy: supporting staff in their efforts, helping them employ their strengths in their work, giving them opportunities to grow and shine. Building a team out of individuals with different strengths, personalities, and challenges. It’s a neverending puzzle where fitting the pieces means communicating up and down, side to side; empathizing and listening; factoring in emotions, education (formal and informal), and what needs to get done. It’s all definitely a big challenge, but since I love working with people, it’s a challenge that feels great to me.

And so this summer I embark on my Summer of Management: four Fred Pryor one-day seminars on different aspects of managing down AND up.

In June, I started up with How to Be an Assertive Manager or Supervisor. This was an interactive class that involved assessing our own personalities, and talking about where we fall on the spectrum of passive to aggressive, with the net goal of landing in the happy medium of those two: assertive.

Passive managers, we learned, let people walk all over them, and carry resentment because of it. They tend to not garner the respect of their employees, and may have a hard time ensuring the work gets done.

Aggressive managers, on the other hand, are bullies. They use fear and shaming tactics to get employees to do their work. I think it goes without saying that most people don’t like working for aggressive managers! These types also may have trouble ensuring the work gets done.

Assertive managers state what they need, listen to feedback (even if they can’t change anything based on it), and offer their employees the tools they need to complete their work. They are respectful, and give clear boundaries and expectations–what needs to get done, when it should be completed, and standards they expect the work to meet. If work doesn’t get done, they talk to employees right away about why, and they listen to the answers. Maybe their employees need more resources to complete their work. Maybe they just need firmer directives.

workbook pages with handwritten notes
Fred Pryor workbooks. Also a fan.

This class came at a good time for me: right after I took it, I started training a brand-new on-call employee, who I will supervise in my department. Because of this course, I provided her with written documentation of her new duties, and let her know what time frame they’d need to be completed in. I asked for her feedback as she works through her tasks; if we communicate openly back and forth, I’ll get a strong sense of her needs and whether my expectations for timing are reasonable. I can already tell from training her that she is smart, attentive, and a quick learner, and that she has an aptitude for working with data. I’ll be sure to give her some projects that use those strengths, and continue to praise her rapid completion of tasks.

Next up: this week I’ll be taking “Dealing with Difficult People.” Hey, person-removing-clothes-on-front-steps, I’m looking in your direction!

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