When looking at a clock, it is easy to become mesmerized by the gears turning. When marveling at the precision and beauty of the meshing of gears, it can be easy to overlook the box that the gears are in. Yes, the gears drive the hands of a clock, but they can’t do it without the structure provided by their case. The learning manager provides the structure for a learning delivery team. When things are running smoothly, no one really notices the value he or she brings.

What Is a Learning Manager?

One part firefighter and one part strategist, the learning manager steps in when needed and works to see that stepping in isn’t needed. The role of learning managers is first and foremost to keep the learning creation and delivery engine running. Once the engine is running, they can focus on optimization, including ensuring that the engine will continue to run by offering development opportunities for their team and implementing technologies that will make the process easier.

Learning managers also works with the rest of the organization to ensure that the courses being created are the courses the organization needs most. They constantly scan the horizon to ensure that the team is adding as much value as possible to the organization.

What Is Expected of the Learning Manager?

Most learning managers advanced through the learning production and delivery system. They’re familiar with how the system works and understand the components – even if they can’t do everything that every person does. Good learning managers work with their teams to understand and value their skills.

Political savvy and diplomacy are key skills for learning managers, as they’re the bridge to the rest of the organization. The organization will view training through the “large” investment it makes in it, and each department will believe that its issue is the most important one. Like any shared service leader, the learning manager must find a way to balance the needs of the organization with the desires and needs of the divisions or departments.

Training is a contradiction: In some ways, we train the way that we did a hundred years ago, but in some ways, technologies pressure learning managers to find new, innovative and less expensive ways to deliver the courses. More and more courses are moving to electronic delivery, either entirely or with remote access to real-time training. New approaches are requiring research, but they’re improving retention. Metrics push toward better optimization. The learning manager must establish and maintain a rate of change that allows his or her organization to benefit from innovation without creating the challenges that come from changing too rapidly.

What Is Not Expected of the Learning Manager?

Sometimes, managers feel as if they should be able to do the jobs of each of their employees. Because of the diverse set of skills required, it would be impossible for a learning manager to know everything about training. Knowing and respecting the skills of the team is all that a learning manager can be expected to do.

Where’s the Role Going?

In the past, a great deal of the work in training was done through delivery of classes. The move to electronic delivery means that some instructors need to change their skill sets. However, the degree of change and the volume of training needed by organizations makes it more important than ever that someone can coordinate activities and ensure that the strategy is sound.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The learning manager is the lead dog in the pack. That comes with some definite advantages – and some definite limitations as well. Here’s the good, the bad and the ugly:

  • Good: Of all the training development roles, the learning manager is generally the most highly compensated.
  • Good: A well-running team means that you’re able to focus on strategic optimization and adding value to the business.
  • Bad: Too often, the team isn’t running well. It means rolling up your sleeves, finding a solution to the challenges and getting the system back on track.
  • Ugly: Because you’re tied into development, project-critical paths and operational execution, there can be high stress and interruptions.