The Top 5 Leadership Skills for Instructional Designers

There are legitimately 20 or so core skills that could’ve made it to the top of this list, depending on the particular instructional design program, but the ones that bubbled to the top of the list are mainly around managing people, product, and process.

1. Instructional Content Production Project Management

  • Definition: The process by which humans and non-human resources are orchestrated around the tasks involved with bringing a single piece of instructional content from the back of a napkin all the way through to production.
  • Why did it make the list?: Cuz if you can’t do this, you can’t get content produced. Pick a method (ADDIE, SAM, etc) that works for the type of content you’re building, and go for it. There is no “right” way that works for all situations.
  • Resources:
    • Explanatory video
    • I couldn’t find any worthwhile resources on actual content project management beyond the usual suspects we find for ADDIE, SAM, etc. So, here is a good resource for generalized project managment.

2. Instructional Content Process Management

  • Definition. The management of content/media during its entire lifetime (not just its initial development), from: development, to production, to storage, to delivery, to localization, to evaluation, to redevelopment, and eventually to retirement.
  • Why did it make the list?: There is an enormous, sometimes multi-year process, that has to be well-defined in order for instructional content to remain accurate and relevant after its first production cycle. Without it, the overall body of work you produce will grow stale, at best, or completely atrophy, at worst. Knowledge and information move very quickly these days, so it is safe to assume that any piece of instructional content will need to be updated, completely revised, or even retired after some time; and the same holds true for localized versions of that content. How good you are at managing this process end-to-end will define the legacy of your instructional content.
  • Resources:
    • A discussion on project vs process vs program
    • A relevant blog that identifies the lack of focus on this concept in our craft/discipline on end-to-end lifecycle media and content management.

3. Instructional Content Pipeline Management

  • Definition. The standards- and evidence-based discipline by which you determine what content gets produced next. The goal of content pipeline management is to build a body of instructional content that takes your target learner from beginner to master practitioner – e.g. from learning the alphabet to writing books.
  • Why did it make the list?:  If you do your job well, the law of attraction kicks will kick in. Those around you will see the value of what you do and will request more of it. How do you decide which requests to take on? How do you say “no” to requests in a way that is substantiated by evidence and standards? Get ahead of the onslaught of requests by using data to define full learning journeys and end-to-end, multi-year curriculums, if possible. Bonus points if you can get this done using AI-informed decisions.
  • Resources:
    • Education software that accommodates standards-based curriculum planning.
    • Curriculum process tips
    • I blogged about AI-defined learning journeys

4. Collaborative Leadership

  • Definition. I prefer Linda Hill’s defintion: “… at the heart of innovation is a paradox. You have to unleash the talents and passions of many people and you have to harness them into a work that is actually useful. Innovation is a journey. It’s a type of collaborative problem solving, usually among people who have different expertise and different points of view.”
  • Why did it make the list?: For one, most of us are women, and let’s face it, if we practice regular, assertive leadership, we are perceived as unlikeable. (Really, can you imagine a female leader acting like a loveable grump like Belichick and getting away with it in the workplace? We don’t.) For us, collaborative leadership is just self-preservation because we aren’t afforded the dignity of respect with “regular” leadership. The 2nd consideration is that ID projects can involve a ridiculous number of people and professions: the writer, the copy editor, the graphic designer, the SMEs, publisher, the printer, the audio artist, the videographer, and so on. Your ability to drive collaboration among these professionals using well-defined processes and communication protocols can help ensure that no single professional becomes a bottleneck or a silo.
  • Resources:

5. Instructional Design Talent Management

  • Definition: Selecting and developing instructional designers.
  • Why did it make the list?: Your ID’ers (and, arguably, your graphic designers) are the ones doing all the heavy lifting in an ID project so hiring correctly and then managing that talent will help you produce the best body of work in the long term.
  • Resources:
    • A good overview of the profession of instructional design. I found the sections on Career Path and Professional Development most useful.
    • Common sense guide to hiring in general
    • General discussion of professional development for IDs.
    • Many ID’s are introverts; resources provided below
      • Understanding introverts infograhic
      • An introvert’s first day at the job
      • Read Susan Cain’s book: Quiet
      • An introvert’s guide to the first day of work
      • A guide to managing introverts

Call to action: Send me a comment about 1) How might we further define leadership in this profession, and 2) which linked resource did you find most helpful and why. 

Thanks for reading!


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