Technical managers usually work as technicians before being elevated to manage operations. They must be proficient in the technical skills required to discharge the tasks in the field they control.
That is why Mr Sammy Waite insists that as the technical manager at Chloride Exide Kenya Ltd, he wears two hats — that of a technician and of a manager.
He is the foreperson in all matters technical at the company and the one responsible for the technical staff and resources.
Mr Waite tells of the many times he puts on an apron and picks up the tool box to fix equipment, even though it is often to evaluate project implementation and task thoroughness.
A technical manager who cannot get down to technical work when the occasion warrants may not get things done, he says.
According to Mr Waite, the success of his team will depend on how he balances the two roles of managing people and resources and demonstrating technical work.
The company he works for, Chloride Exide, provides solar power systems, batteries, electrical inverters, wind generators, and solar fridges. Not only does the company sell these products, it also installs them, which is why Mr Waite’s job is crucial.
He confirms that indeed, his role is to provide technical direction for the overall business. This includes assisting in identifying products that meet set standards.
The technical manager also interacts with customers to ensure that the products or services on offer suit the specific needs of clients. This requires good listening skills and innovativeness to effectively translate the customer’s interests into a working solution.
The other important attribute is honesty. Mr Waite explains: “Some clients can push you to the wall and some managers may be tempted to lie to impress them. Often, clients come looking for over-the-edge solutions but with budgets that do not match their expectations. Such instances call for caution.”
In any project, Mr Waite oversees the scheduling of tasks and tracks the projects for correctness and timeliness.
If there are challenges in implementation, he has to identify the problem and find a solution. This implies that he is on call round the clock. “When a system fails in the middle of the night, the client will call and you have to respond,” he says.
The work of a technical manager also involves serving as a liaison between the technical staff and other sections of the organisation, including senior management.
At Mr Waite’s workplace, for example, the technical team works closely with the sales people for technical support. He then provides regular feedback and advice to senior managers. Good organisation skills are necessary for this.
To be a good technical manager, Mr Waite suggests, one must also be bold enough to take risks and responsibility in equal measure.
Because technical managers are judged according to the success of the team as a whole, Mr Waite must continuously evaluate the development of the team, identifying strengths, problem areas, and developing plans for improving performance.
He has to continuously scout for and keep a tab on industry trends and developments. The search for new knowledge, he says, enables him to evaluate emerging technologies and tools as opportunities for innovation and development.
Mr Waite got interested in electricity from watching his father, an electrical engineer, as he grew up.
He went on to study for a three-an-a-half-year diploma course in electrical engineering at the then Railways Training Institute. He then studied business management at the Management University of Africa.