We asked a number of experienced school business managers to share their tips to anyone starting in a new role this September.
Here's what they said, with our comments added.
"Don't try to undertake everything yourself." Karen Sayers, Sydney Russell School
Some tasks are just too big to take on alone. We ran a series of workshops on the future of the SBM role in spring 2013. There’s a strong view that the medium-term future will see ‘super SBMs’ running a number of schools, with a large team reporting into them, who also work across a group of schools: premises managers, finance officers, procurement officers, IT managers etc. Of course this is happening in some schools already.
The remit for SBMs is vast, and it’s unrealistic to expect any one individual to be an expert on all aspects of the role.
The implications of this of course is that SBMs need (in the long-term!) to develop their recruitment, management and development of staff, and external networking skills. Leadership skills will be especially important; by this, I mean that SBMs need to be creating a vision and inspiring and enabling their staff to work towards this.
But to get back to Karen’s point, as a new SBM you need to quickly find those local SBMs, those contractors and those internal staff who can take responsibility for some tasks, so that you can concentrate your efforts where they’re most needed, which leads us to Karen’s second point…
"Look at three priorities to address in your first year." Karen Sayers, Sydney Russell School
These should come, I’d suggest, from the school development plan, as well as your own impression of current areas of weakness for the school. Part of being an SBM, I know from the many I speak to, is learning to live with the fact that you will never have an empty inbox or a to-do list that fits on one page. However skilled and conscientious you are, you will need to learn to go home and switch off even when there are many tasks left untackled. Business managers also need to get used to juggling their own priorities (what they sense is important to do), with those of other building users (who always seem to want things done urgently). By the time you’ve had ten ‘quick’ interruptions, your day’s gone. So robustly dealing with competing agendas, and putting processes and systems into place that protect your time and automate elements of your role, is essential. Of course, this is the whole idea behind TES Foundation: templates, processes and automation to create more time for skilled SBMs to lead.
Those of you interested in time management in more detail, might want to remind yourselves of Steven Covey’s Urgent vs Important Quadrant in his “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” and actually start mapping out where you’re spending your time. Many SBMs express their frustration at the lack of time for strategic improvement work due to the pressures of last minute purchasing requests or reactive maintenance.
"Use your cluster schools and their SBMs for support. Regular meetings where you can share best practice, tips and share workload are invaluable." Lisa Bower, All Saints Primary School, Manchester
I don’t know how SBMs survive without their local school network meetings! If you’ve started and you don’t know how to access your local cluster group of SBMs, ring a colleague in a neighbouring school. Make sure your head knows why these meetings are important (share agendas, examples of things you’ve gained such as policy sharing, joint procurement, tips on suppliers) and protect the time you need to attend.
If you’re new, don’t be embarrassed to ask for help. A lot of new SBMs get a pretty poor handover from their predecessor, often due to the time taken for recruitment. And, as someone who’s worked with a variety of public sector leaders, I can honestly say SBMs are the friendliest, and most willing to help their colleagues.
As time goes on, don’t forget to also offer up to the group: whether it’s copying handouts from a conference you went to, or sharing any work you’ve done.