Daniel Lamson 2015 Q&A: Volunteer Management

Note: Dan has withdrawn from the race, but he completed his answers before withdrawing, so they will be posted to the site.

What is your approach to people management and development?

My approach to people management is to treat everyone as I’d like to be treated. I don’t look down on people, even if they are subordinate to me. I generally ask for volunteers as opposed to issuing orders, but when the need arises, an order may need to be made. I find leading this way to be a good example for those I’m working with.

As for development, I feel that learning by doing is a good way to develop people. I like to show people how to act and how to do what they need to do. This encourages independence, but I always am available to my staffers if they need something.

Basically, I’ve found people learn by doing, and getting in their way can sometimes stifle their growth.

How would you build the organisation’s capacity and ensure we are making the most of volunteers’ energy and skills?

This is a question that could be posed to our volunteers and recruiting committee, and they may be better able to answer or have good ideas on it. I think for board’s part what they could do is to make sure that the OTW is an open and friendly place for volunteers.

I feel that making the most of volunteers is a chair issue, more than a board one. I wouldn’t want to micromanage other committees telling them how to use their staffers. That said, I would encourage all staffers to work as much as they feel they can, because burnout is an issue for our volunteers.

A lot of the tensions between the Board, Committees, Volunteers and the public stem from the fact that a lot of those volunteers over-invest because they are passionate about fandom, end up close to burnout, and tend to be overworked, which isn’t sustainable in the long run.
A) In your experience as an OTW volunteer/staffer/Board member, how did you deal with this, both for yourself as with people you were responsible for,
B) How would you promote an atmosphere where volunteers don’t feel this pressure?

A) I have been close to burnout myself, and it was only through good friends on my committee that I didn’t ditch the OTW completely when it was at its worst. There was a lot going on in my real life at the time, and chairing alone was a very difficult proposition. (It is so great to have a co-chair like mine now!) As to my staffers on DevMem, I encourage all staffers to do the best and most they can, but often offer to take responsibilities off their shoulders if it seems like they are doing too much. We’ve been lucky that burnout from DevMem has been rare lately.

B) I would be open and encouraging of the volunteers and their work. I think that doing that is all a board member can do without stepping in and taking over. If it is a chair that has the issue (as I did) I think contacting them to see if they were alright and if there was anything that board could do to help lighten the load. I am not sure if we could ever eliminate the pressure volunteers feel, because a lot is put on one’s self. Sure, there are certain issues that need immediate and total attention or else bad things would happen, but more often than not there is a lot of stuff that can be put off for a bit, or returned to the staff pool if you’re not able to do it. For the most part, it’s a smart thing to do if you are feeling close to burnout, and no one would think less of you.