Anyone who thinks that the manager of a public media organization has an easy job, where you get to give orders to different department heads, is not living in the real world. Small stations may not be able to fill all of the functions of a station with a staff person. Only large stations have a talented team of announcers, fundraisers, engineers, and business staff. At smaller stations, the general manager takes on many of these responsibilities. But no matter the size of a station’s team, a general manager must be conversant in the language and issues facing the entire station while avoiding the temptation of micro-management.
Your background might be in journalism, but now you must trust your news director to make coverage decisions.
You may have come from a fundraising background. While you will still be involved with donors, you no longer lead that department. Sometimes that is the most difficult thing to learn.
Because of my background as a news director, anchor, and reporter, I probably spent less time with my news director than other managers in my first few years as a general manager. I wanted my news director to know that she was in charge and that I trusted her to make the decisions she was called to make. I was there for her like I was for all of my managers, but I waited to be asked to weigh in on a matter.
Unless you have a very small staff where you are performing day-to day operational duties, your number one job is to be a coach for your team members. Even if you work for a very small station that requires the general manager to also serve as an on-air host, you will lead by example, which is a valuable form of coaching.
Because I am a football fan, I often say that my job is like that of the athletic director of a college team or general manager of a pro team. My job is to provide the resources to put a successful team on the field. I have coaches to run the daily activities of the team. If I’m lucky, I can recruit a real superstar who will lead my team to a championship. That will reflect well on me, but I don’t need to tell that player what play to run in the big game.
You want to develop a strong senior management team and be there for them to provide guidance. In a perfect world, your senior team will work well together and develop a good working relationship. Sometimes, however, your managers may conflict with each other. That’s why I see the value of having a weekly meeting of senior managers. We close the door and have confidence that whatever we say in that room will stay in the room. We can vent. We can discuss issues and find agreement. As the general manager, my job is to navigate through their conflicts and provide direction. I’m the one who asks the tough questions and relates issues to our strategic plan. Those meetings are a good opportunity to discuss budgets and big- picture issues.
A general manager must have trust in his or her senior team. When you are out of the building, you must trust each manager to make decisions that they know you will support.
If you have a senior manager that you don’t trust, you must let that person go. Everyone must be on the same team.
I have always viewed my senior managers as individuals who I could coach into more responsibility; they should be able to take over for me if I were either gone for an extended period or if I were to leave the station. That means that I have always shared my thinking on industry-wide issues and that I make sure that they know what is going on in other departments. I’ve been known to invite a senior manager to attend a meeting where the topic is outside of their area. That not only broadens their knowledge base, but I’ve also found that a set of fresh eyes and ears on a problem can be helpful.
When one of my managers wants to praise one of their staff members for extraordinary effort, I ask that I be copied on or told about the event. That gives me a chance to add my congratulations either personally or in written form. Employees need to know that their work is appreciated.
Today’s post is an excerpt from THE PUBLIC MEDIA MANAGER’S HANDBOOK.
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