Learning To Be a Manager

Linda’s comment to my last post has made me realise that I have been unnecessarily cryptic about the work I’m doing this winter.

So, let’s see if I can clarify that a little. I’m managing a four-building, 119-unit, apartment complex. How I got this job is still a little beyond me. I interviewed for a receptionist/accounting assistant position, but they were looking for long-term. Happy with my credentials, they sent me to do rent collection at their two apartment complexes, saying that I would be part-time and bouncing around until they got permanent managers for both complexes or I chose to leave, whichever came first.

I spent one afternoon at the other complex and then found myself here full-time. I think it was on my second paycheque that I noticed a notation that said I was being paid for being a manager. Um, okay, I guess that means I’m in charge of this complex!

I’ve never been a manager before. Oh, I’ve been a low-level supervisor, but I’ve never had any real sort of empowerment like this. I also have absolutely no training for this level of responsibility. I’m learning by the seat of my pants and the experience has thus far been successful. I’ve made plenty of mistakes in how I’ve dealt with certain situations, but my over-all performance has been surprisingly satisfactory. I have discovered that I am someone who can handle having power over others. Even the tenants with whom I have had Words have said I’m great to deal with, approachable, flexible, and fair.

One of the biggest challenges about being a manager is learning to go from jobs that were very task-oriented, where my days had a set pattern with specific things that needed to be done, to having a job that is situation-oriented. That is, while I do have a certain number of tasks to complete, they are not on a set schedule and the bulk of my time is spent dealing with issues that crop up. I can’t really ‘plan my day’ because any number of things could come up to derail that plan.

This job has taught me a lot about dealing with people. One of the first lessons I learned was to talk to people before sending ‘official’ letters of reprimand. If I had done that, I would have known that their file was very one-sided, that they were not dealt with fairly, and that an on-going long-term battle could have been resolved years ago. Well, I learned all of that, but only after having very hot words with a tenant. But I listened, mediated the issue he was having with a staff member, and resolved it. It’s amazing how people can be so convinced that their stance is the correct one that they fail to see an obvious resolution. That tenant and I got off to a very rocky start, but we’re on amiable terms now. Another thing I learned with this case was that saying “I’m sorry, I was wrong” does not lessen your authority.

This was evidenced by the same tenant who taught me another lesson, to look at the big picture. His wife asked if they could have a cat. They had been denied on numerous grounds for reasons I won’t get into. I approved them. My reasoning was thus, number one, they asked; they didn’t try to sneak the cat in. Number two, they didn’t balk at the conditions, which included paying a non-refundable deposit. I could have said no, they would have gotten the cat any way, and we wouldn’t have had that extra money set aside in case the cat trashes the carpets.

Another thing that I have learned is that while I don’t usually need to be told twice to do something or to have my work inspected, I am quite possibly an exception. If I tell a contractor to go do X and Y, I can’t just take their word that these things were done, unless I want to spend an hour cleaning up a mess.

One thing I haven’t had issues with is delegating. I’ve had plenty of jobs with subordinates to delegate to. I just sometimes have a hard time sitting and doing my bookkeeping while the housekeeper is vacuuming around me. I always feel like I should be helping her when we are both doing our job! I do do small repairs and maintenance jobs since our maintenance man is overworked, like changing light bulbs, unclogging faucets and sinks, and changing washers in leaky taps. I am also responsible for monitoring our boilers, a job that amuses me since it involves walking around with a giant wrench.

Being an apartment complex manager also means being a counselor, a mediator, a parent, a friend, a confidant, a teacher, and even an adversary. I am like the governor of a small community and it is my goal to see that this community hums along smoothly.

That said, unlike some managers, I am not on duty 24/7. In fact, only people with access to the building in which my apartment and office are located can reach me after hours as I do not have a phone hooked up (I negotiated the right to use the office phone for personal calls), nor am I reachable via the intercom system. This was something I stipulated before agreeing to work for the winter so that I can keep my own business as my top priority. I work about 30 hours a week, with weekends and most of the morning off, and this is working out just fine. Tenants are aware that I am available evenings and weekends by appointment and many are taking me up on that.

So that’s what I’m up to this winter. Feel free to ask questions in the comments and I will answer them if I can.