I’ve often thought that assertiveness is a key skill for the School Business Manager. We need to be able to communicate clearly, be positive and say ‘no’ occasionally. I consider myself to be a very positive person but I’ll admit I’m rubbish at the ‘no’! Also, I am also aware that my communication skills could do with some improvement, especially when it comes to Financial Reporting. I know what the numbers are telling me but is it clear to the Governors? Sometimes I think not. If I am going to progress further on my career path, I need to address this.
What are the assertiveness principles for the School Business Manager?
- Believe in your skills and the value you are bringing to your organisation. Know that your role as leader of the operations and support staff is crucial to the success of your school. Never allow yourself to feel like a ‘non-teacher’. You are as important as everyone else.
- Manage your emotions. As someone who has succumbed to stress and cried on the shoulder of a Head of Department at the end of term 6, this one is always easier said than done. Have a walk and calm down is the official advice. I would say that walking out of meeting because you are about to get upset might be counter-productive. We are all human. I chose to stay and sob and with hindsight, I’m glad I did.
- Set clear boundaries. Decide what you are willing to do and stick to it. For the SBM this is going to be working more time than your contract allows. Holidays, evenings and weekends. We all do it. My advice would be to regularly discuss it with your Headteacher so that they are aware how much time your role is taking. While you may be happy to put the extra time in now, personal circumstances might mean this is not always the case. Don’t leave them with a future surprise that they could have planned for.
- Choose your battles. A previous Headteacher of mine used to call it ‘the nonsense’. There is a lot of it about in a school and, in the grand scheme of things, it is not important. Don’t let it sap your energy.
- Rehearse. Yes. I need to do more of this. Prepare in advance of a meeting or conversation so that you get what you want to say over clearly. Preparation gives you confidence, which will show.
There are ten of these…
- Use positive body language. How you say things is as important as what you say. Use open body language. Be friendly and make eye contact.
- Be direct. Let’s face it, no one has got time for unnecessary flim-flam. Say what you mean and mean what you say.
- Speak in the first person. We always use the “all views my own” on SBLTwitter. Make sure your audience knows it is you talking. Use the word ‘I’ and be sincere when talking. I’m not a fan of sarcasm in the workplace. Being genuine gives you impact.
- Ask for what you want. The SBM is constantly on the receiving end of requests but do we ask for what we want? In our position we are often the first to know that the budget can’t afford the assistant, new desk or pay rise we’d like, so we don’t ask. Discuss the issue with your Headteacher. You will eventually become resentful, especially if you are the only one working on your own, at an ancient desk, on the wrong pay point.
- Say ‘no’ occasionally. This is a good way to feel in control of your role in the school. Accept that you can’t do everything and can’t afford everything. You can dress it in gentle terms of ‘ask me again in 6 months’ if it makes you feel better. I’ve been worried about saying ‘no’ to a member of staff recently, only for them to be perfectly fine about it when I finally told them.
We tick the boxes
In my experience, School Business Managers survive the challenges of the role because they already tick most of the assertiveness and confidence-in-speaking boxes. However, I do know I still have room for improvement. Keep learning and practising how you can express yourself more effectively. Ask for more opportunities to step out of your comfort zone and don’t be afraid to tackle difficult issues or give someone bad news.