Supervising employees with special skills: tips for administrators and Trustees
By Cari Dubiel
It’s impossible to know exactly what a direct report is doing at a given moment—and this task is even more daunting in the arena of special skills. Most Directors have an MLIS and a library background but have to supervise information technology, building, and public relations professionals. On the other side, Trustees’ skills run the gamut, but they don’t often have library backgrounds and must supervise the Director and Fiscal Officer.
You may find yourself in this situation as a new Director or Trustee. Or maybe you’re having a challenging time with an employee whose skills you don’t completely understand. Maybe the person is underperforming, or maybe you’ve hired someone new. Whatever the case, here are some strategies to help you.
- Learn – but not too much. You don’t have to go diving into network management or web design. But it is important to have a basic understanding of each person’s job. Look for beginning texts or articles; even a simple Google search [as long as the source is reliable] may be useful. Try LinkedIn Learning for video courses…if you’re in Ohio, the state has a subscription. This work will also help you to develop job descriptions.
- Drop the ego. Even when you research your employees’ skills, you won’t know everything about what they do. Don’t pretend to understand what they’re doing. Allow them to explain what they’re doing and actively listen so you can learn more.
- Be open and curious. Engage in open dialogue with your team members, either about projects, workload, or daily tasks. Talk through these and discuss current procedures and operations. You provide the direction, after all, but it’s the employee who brings the ability to enact it.
- Set clear boundaries. Together with the employee, set benchmarks for success. If an employee is underperforming, you’ll often know due to feedback from other managers and teams. Employees with special skills work for internal customers, so if their work isn’t up to par, the frontline staff will recognize this. You need to hold the employee accountable, but again, you can engage in an open dialogue with them over why they’re not meeting these benchmarks. The employee might also need tools or resources from you.
Managing specialized employees is a constant process and requires both diligent monitoring and trust in your employees. Put forth the effort to be with them along the way, and you’ll get to know their work better while also gaining a more faceted view of your library or organization.
Cari Dubiel is a public library expert with 20-plus years of experience. Having worked from the ground up as a Shelver to her current management position with the Twinsburg Public Library, Cari understands the operational aspects of public libraries from both a staff and administrative perspective. Cari has managed projects such as technical services workflow development, software evaluation and implementation, collection development analysis, employee onboarding and training, and website usability. She holds a bachelors’ degree from Hiram College and a Master’s in Library and Information Science from Kent State University. She is also an adjunct faculty member at KSU in the iSchool program. She presents frequently for PCI Webinars and has also presented for NEO-RLS, OLC, and public library staff development days. A former Library Liaison to the National board of Sisters in Crime, Cari is very active in the publishing industry. She is represented by Lynnette Novak of the Seymour Agency and is the lead editor for Writing Bloc Books.