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Being a quality professional today is nothing like it was 20 or 25 years ago; on a personal level, I can attest to this fact. It is no longer adequate to appoint a quality manager simply based on a person’s command of acceptance criteria and industry specifications; in the 21st century, a truly hybrid executive is needed.
The Quality Manager Position
One of the most important decisions a company can make is the selection of the person that will lead the quality organization. This person will most likely be the face of the company with customers, suppliers, and your ISO registrar as the organization’s ISO management representative. To differentiate yourself as a worldclass organization, the skill set of your senior quality professional must go way beyond the requisite technical competencies called for in the job description.
In this column… “What I will be sharing with you are a very particular set of skills—skills I have acquired over a long career. Skills that will make you a nightmare for any auditor looking to slap you with numerous findings. Skills that will enable you to elevate your organization from the middle of the pack to the rare air of the exceptional.” (As a side note, after seeing the 2008 blockbuster movie “Taken,” I called my friend Liam Neeson and gave him hell for stealing this skill set quote of mine for his character Bryan Mills!) Steve’s Particular Set of Skills
Quality management is all about influence; the more influence you have, the more effective you will be. Quality oversees the performance of the entire organization, and must manage this through influence and motivation and not through direct authority. The charismatic leader inspires the best from others, and one of the best measurements of a quality manager is the performance of those that he influences. Getting results through others is the key trait of a manager, and getting results through others enthusiastically and willingly is the key trait of a leader. This requires charisma—the ability to lead others who want to follow.
2. Political savviness
Organizational politics exist in any company, and to claim to not get involved in them is both fruitless and foolish. From the 50-employee mom-and-pop shop to the Fortune 500 company, office politics are a part of life. The key is to both acknowledge and manage it. The ability to play nice with others is a skill that will serve you well not only in business, but in life in general. This extends to customers and suppliers; I have known more than a few quality managers who made a career-limiting decision because they didn’t consider the political implications.
3. Sense of humor
Humor is a character of strength, and as Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done.” The mastery of when to use it appropriately, and just as importantly, when not to, differentiates an adequate from a world-class quality manager. Humor can put people at ease, foster trust, and diffuse a difficult or contentious situation. Use it wisely!
4. Practical business sense
It is often said that engineers and quality folks don’t have an appreciation of cost, and this is certainly a fair critique. The successful quality manager needs to balance the best interests of the customer with the best interests of the company, and cost can be an important consideration. Just as engineers sometimes overdesign a product, quality managers sometimes don’t consider the financial implications of their decisions. Most times there is more than one way to do the right thing. Decision-making with a cost/benefit mentality is key to the success in the quality manager position.
5. Marketing mindset
Today’s quality manager, along with every manager, must wear a sales hat along with their functional hat. What I mean by this is, every decision a quality manager makes must be made through the lens of the customer. How will this be perceived? What light does this put my company in? Can I make this into a win-win? These are all questions that the quality manager needs to think through on every decision.
6. Innate understanding of human nature
Having a working knowledge of human nature, behavior and psychology will be the difference when negotiating a successful resolution of a difficult situation. Like playing chess, you must always be three steps ahead of the other person, and to do that in business you need to anticipate reactions and plan counter reactions. Whether working with an internal employee responsible for scrap, or with your customer on a product warranty issue, your skill level on this will determine the outcome.
7. Ability to convert tribal knowledge
Tribal knowledge is the entirety of a company’s expertise, experience, tricks of the trade, and idiosyncrasies of the job that have been learned by employees that may not be captured anywhere. Why is this on the quality manager? It’s not—it is on everyone, but the quality manager is on point here. Driving the organization to implement best practices is clearly a role a world-class quality manager should not only fill, but embrace. Converting this tribal knowledge into a sustainable system is part of preserving how your company “makes its sausage,” and is critical to a company’s long-term survival.
8. Personality that fosters trust and confidence
I have seen a great many technically competent quality managers epically fail because of their people skills. This goes along with charisma in that the way you relate to others will greatly impact your success. It is critical that employees, management, suppliers and customers trust the quality manager, and have confidence that he/she will be a good steward of their interests.
You can build trust by being honest, using good judgement, being consistent, and focusing on the problem, not the personality.
9. Ability to remain calm under extreme pressure
Now this is a skill that is mandatory for a world-class quality manager to possess; as they say, never let them see you sweat! By definition, working in quality is a nonstop, high stress environment where emotions run high when discussing things that went wrong. It is imperative for the quality guy or girl to remain cool, calm and collected in the face of product quality challe nges and be seen as the adult in the room. The ability to manage your emotions and remain calm under pressure has a direct link to your performance. A recent survey by TalentSmart that included more than a million people found that 90% of top performers are skilled at managing their emotions in times of stress in order to remain calm and in control.
Calmness is contagious, as is agitation. The quality manager often needs to keep people focused on finding a solution without finger pointing, fault finding or creating drama. Problems are hard enough to manage on their own without adding to the problem with emotion.
Let’s take a lesson from sports; it’s not the best athlete or team that always wins. Instead, it’s the athlete or team that is best able to maintain their composure and stay calm under the heat of intense competitive pressure that is most successful.
10. Ability to be part of the solution
I work with a lot of first-time quality managers, and one of the first things we typically need to overcome is the tendency to feel their job is done once they identify and communicate a quality problem. For example, issuing a corrective action to manufacturing with the “get this back to me when you figure out what happened and have fixed it” attitude. There is enough natural conflict between quality, manufacturing, engineering and sales without creating a quality silo; we are all on the same team and want the same thing—customer satisfaction. Did the quality manager create the problem? Probably not. Does he or she have significant engineering or manufacturing expertise? Probably not.
But they can damn sure be part of the solution! World-class quality managers roll their sleeves up and get their hands dirty right next to the operator and figure it out together. One of the most powerful questions a quality manager can ask is “How can I help you?”
I have put pen to paper outlining Steve’s Particular Set of Skills for quality managers that want to step up their game, but also as a type of job description for companies looking to hire a world-class quality professional. Good ones are hard to find; exceptional ones are even harder, but following this roadmap makes it possible to grow your own. Relentless dedication to developing these 10 skills will guarantee results and put the average quality manager on a path to achieve greatness. PCB
Steve Williams is the president of The Right Approach Consulting LLC. To read past columns, or to contact Williams, click here.
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the October 2017 issue of The PCB Magazine.