Leadership and the solo technical writer


It’s easy to feel like you are kicked to the side as a technical writer at times. I’m convinced that in order to prosper in today’s climate being a technical writer requires a certain amount of leadership skills in order to be effective. While it may not be, the traditional leadership in the sense of a PMP certified project manager but leadership nonetheless.

Avoid taking meeting minutes. When I was just starting out, a programmer told me that as a technical writer I should always avoid taking meeting minutes. His reasoning was that once a technical writer accepted the role of taking meeting minutes the technical staff could never consider the technical writer as anything more than clerical help thus diluting the role. I’ve written before my disdain of meeting minutes in general and have come to see that a technical writer needs to have a seat at the table just like the other members of the project team.

Be the voice of technical documentation. Even in organizations where technical documentation isn’t an afterthought there still needs to be a voice for technical documentation to provide management and senior staff expert guidance on the technical documentation elements of the projects. When a technical writer can take away some of the worries that can abound about technical documentation on a project can they be seen as a leader by the rest of the organization.

Be technically aware. Another piece of advice I got from an engineer early in my career was to try to at least figure out technology myself first before getting help from a programmer or other technical team member. This advice also led me to have some technical interests of my own. While, along the way, my technical interests have changed with the state of technology, but I can call them my own and speak to them accordingly.

Know your audience. Depending on the organizational culture, some technical documentation decisions are best left to the technical writer which requires having the confidence to make a decision on a technical documentation issue and sell it to management and the rest of the team. It is also important not to get lost in discussing the minutiae of technical documentation with other team members unless they specifically request it. Knowing your audience begins at the interview stage where it is important to qualify what the hiring manager is seeking in a technical writer, how you can fulfill their requirements, and take some of the pain of technical documentation off them and onto yourself to deliver technical documents that meet or exceed expectations.

How do you show leadership as a solo technical writer?

Image by freeimages.com user:pnijhuis

Will Kelly is a technical writer and analyst based in the Washington, DC area. His writing experience also includes writing technology articles for CNET TechRepublic and other sites. Will’s technology interests include collaboration platforms, enterprise mobility, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), project management applications, and big data. Follow him on Twitter: @willkelly.

Originally published at willkelly.org on March 14, 2012.

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