What makes the best web managers
To run a corporate web presence successfully requires a blue-chip skills portfolio that combines often contradictory attributes, David Bowen says.
I gave a speech last year in which I put up pictures of Leonardo da Vinci, Marco Polo and the prophet Job. To be a successful corporate web manager, I suggested, you needed the multiple skills of the first, the diplomacy of the second and the patience of the third. ‘You’re missing someone,’ a web manager in the audience said, ‘Machiavelli.’
It’s an interesting subject and came up again on our LinkedIn discussion area recently. Reading the thoughtful comments from an experienced bunch, my main conclusion is that successful web management is about the most difficult job there is.
For you need a startling combination of attributes, some quite contradictory.
Much of the job is getting your way from people who can’t be bothered, don’t understand or think they know better than you do. Processes, rules and hierarchy will only get you so far. Charming your colleagues so often makes the difference between success and failure in your little and big battles. I’m sure Marco Polo had it by the gondola-load.
You have to be able to say no to your colleagues, even if they deploy their most formidable charm weapons on you. Better, you have to know how to say yes and mean no (step forward Machiavelli). I can point to sites where the web manager is clearly a push-over – the evidence is the home page, which has a promotion for every bit of the company and is a couple of feet long. You also have to be able to survive as a loner (or near loner) in a giant organisation. Bowen Craggs’ network meetings are popular because web managers get to meet people who actually understand their problems. They are not quite group therapy sections, but sometimes not far off
Patience (as of Job)
Particularly needed when dealing with bosses who think they know what is needed, but don’t. The web is still young. I once heard it compared to television advertising in the early days, when every boss thought they knew what should go into a commercial. That industry became professionalised and the bosses stepped back – it seems to be taking a little longer with the web. (Is that because bosses think they have special knowledge via their children? Don’t know.) Then there are those bosses – they still exist – who really don’t get the web. We have worked for several companies where a ‘print first’ mentality is so deeply embedded that it will only disappear when the bosses who hold it do.
Multiple technical skills
I’m sure Leonardo would have been able to handle multiples content management systems, use Dreamweaver, design with Photoshop, get the graphics right (pretty sure about that), edit in several languages, plan an SEO strategy etc. Of course, web managers don’t have to be really skilful in all these things, but they must know enough to specify exactly what they need, and see when they are not being given it.
They also need to know what they are not good at. I look at some sites and say to myself, please bring in a professional designer. Or I read text and think, you may speak beautiful English but it isn’t your first language so please find an Anglophone editor (that doesn’t mean simply a native English speaker – a sadly modest proportion of Anglophones can write their language well).
You must understand the activities of your company (or organisation) as well as anybody in it. Your job is to spot how the internet can be used in all sorts of ways, to do anything from saving a few euros to transforming operations. If you come up with big ideas, you will of course need the first three attributes above to have a chance of getting them accepted.
Some contributors to the discussion talked about passion, which seems a bit much (I am a buttoned-up Brit). But, yes, in our network meetings there is always a feeling that web managers really like the world of the internet, they like being close to borders of technology, they are quite comfortable with (and perhaps even passionate about) change.
If you are the sort who jumps on the latest bandwagon, you will not be a good web manager – in fact you may waste so much money you are not a web manager for very long. It’s great to experiment, of course, but better to let others try out the very latest thing, and watch with the question ‘What’s the business benefit?’ stamped across your brain. If you feel yourself getting carried away, just think ‘Second Life’ – it’s a useful bucket of cold water.
First published on 19 October, 2011