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The leaders of a Home Usability Network need a variety of management skills to effectively engage the network. These are skills the consumer and CIL staff may want to further develop to effectively facilitate the home usability improvement process. They are skills for leading, communicating, networking and organizing the work to be done. For example, a consumer may be excellent at scheduling a contractor to complete the work, but does not feel capable of initiating communication with potential funding sources. In that case, the CIL staff may engage the consumer in the networking process to identify potential funding sources. Even when the CIL staff takes a leadership role in some aspect of developing a usability solution, they can do so in ways that share decision making and solution implementation.
Because there are many different home usability issues and solutions, there are many different management skills needed to address home usability. Sometimes these skills may be developed by getting advice from the HUN on specific issues. The HUN members may teach each other and become an increasingly effective team. For example, consumers may bring particular skills to a HUN, like the ability to network with disability organizations, which may help the other HUN members develop those skills. In general, the following management skills are shared across the HUN and all members may benefit from participating.
Key Management Skills
Leadership – As the convener of the Home Usability Network, the CIL staff member takes on a leadership role. Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” As an effective leader, you will build confidence, trust, awareness, and a sense of cohesiveness that comes from organizing the network around a common purpose. Anyone can develop leadership skills.
Having knowledge of community resources available in your community, the skills and abilities of the support network, and the expertise already present in your center will be critical to this project. You will be working with consumers to identify the best resources available to help solve their usability needs. Knowledge is fluid and changes just as resources change and develop. If you don’t have a strong knowledge base now, don’t fret, but spend some time with someone in your center who does and who can direct you to information about your community and potential partners. This is likely to be the resource or referral specialist in your office. Does your office have a resource list? If so, grab the list and spend some time online researching the different organizations and services listed. This can help give you recruiting ideas for the HUN.
Communication – Good communication skills consist of two main parts: content and process. The content is what is said and the process is how it is said. The following elements contribute to developing effective processes and content in your communication with others.
- Listening – Communication begins with listening. Even if you are contacting someone for the first time, knowing something about them can help you frame your message effectively. Then, as dialogue begins, listening carefully sets the stage for effectively communicating about any issue.
- Summarizing – In addition to being a good listener, being able to reflect on and summarize others’ thoughts and positions will help move the process of finding a solution forward.
- Clarity – Developing clear messages starts with listening and helps you progress toward developing content that accurately reflects your ideas. To communicate clearly, you might think of telling a story. Include the who, what, where, when, how and why of the story as you develop your messages about the Home Usability Network. Learn to tailor these messages so that the person you are communicating with can relate.
- Respect – It is vitally important that you communicate respect for all network members. One way to do this is by avoiding criticism and, instead, learning to see the positive contributions of all members even as you educate them about the mission and values of home usability. Respect also means understanding the work that HUN members do and being considerate of their time. Being on time for scheduled meetings and keeping to a schedule demonstrate respect. Good organizational skills can help with this.
- Empathy – Realizing where an individual is in their disability process and understanding that she or he may only be ready to address a small issue first is part of communicating empathy for the challenges an individual faces. Some people may need more support than others, depending on their comfort level and previous experience with self-determination. For example, someone who has moved out of a nursing home in the past few years may not have the same confidence as someone who has been living in the community for 20 years.
- Methods – Your method of communication depends on the content and purpose of your message. Electronic communication can reach large numbers of people frequently, but lacks some of the personal features that are necessary for network development. Face-to-face communication is very personal and useful for developing relationships, but is also costly, both in time and money. Between these two are letters, personal emails, text messages, phone calls and video chat. You will develop a mix of these methods that evolve over time to establish and maintain the network.
Organization – Organizational skills can help you manage your work more effectively. You will need a system to help keep track of those in your HUN as well as the consumers you are working with. Being organized in your work will help you achieve home usability solutions in a timely manner and will help maintain your relationships with members of the home usability network and the consumers you are working with.
Networking – Good networking skills can help build the Home Usability Network. It is after all a network of individuals and organizations that you have helped organize around a common cause or goal: improving the lives of people with disabilities in their community.
Personal experience – You may understand that standard accessibility features (like a roll-in shower) do not necessarily fit diverse disability needs. Also, your own experience will help you develop creative solutions to usability problems that someone who has not experienced or worked with disability may not know.
HINT! Even if you are the only facilitator/staff person tasked with managing this project you can still benefit from the skills of others. Other CIL staff members may be crucial resources to addressing a usability problems and it may be a good idea to recruit them into the network.
Looking for more resources about developing your facilitation skills? Check out some of the resources below:
Forbes.com has some good suggestions for developing leadership skills: Top ten qualities that make a leader
Check out this resource from MindTools.com for some more information about the importance of communication skills: Understanding Communication Skills
Check out this link for some tips on improving your networking skills: Improve Your Networking Skills – Right Now.