When we started gathering material for this booklet, many of the experts in the field – OT’s PT’s, Special Educators, Psychologists – gave us the same advice: “When you do the career section,” they said, “don’t forget Admin – it’s essential!”
They had found out the hard way. Many organisations which were established to serve people with disabilities were started by people who had never run an organisation before. With no management skills, they fumbled along, making up new rules whenever a new situation arose. They invented systems one day and changed them the next. They kept haphazard accounts and did no long range financial planning.
It didn’t work. Sooner or later, every organization, regardless of its values or aims, needs systems to keep things functioning smoothly. And why re-invent the wheel? The systems already exist and people go to college to learn what they are and how they work.
Nowadays, organisations for the disabled recognize their need for trained professionals in the field of administration. It is a field with many different facets ranging from reception skills to accounts and secretarial work. It includes personnel management, human resource development, counseling and a host of other things.
You might consider a career in NGO administration if you are organised and enjoy putting systems in place which allow people to work to their full potential. The corporate sector has only recently begun to appreciate something which the NGO world has always known: people perform best when they are happy and when they believe in the value of the work they are doing.
A good administrator, then, is primarily a people person. Although she must be able to work closely with others as part of a team, at the senior level, she must also have the leadership qualities which enable her to guide, direct and inspire them. She must develop systems which allow open communication among staff members, from the professionals to the chaprasis, so that the entire group functions as a team. With this approach, problems are recognized and dealt with in the early stages, and staff needs and strengths can be addressed in a way that benefits both the individual and the organisation.
Another critical role of an administrator is to facilitate the development of a “vision” for the organisation. A vision is a set of long range goals and the values which will allow them to be realised. Getting any group of individuals to agree on the articulation of a vision is a delicate and complicated task, but a good administrator recognizes its importance and makes it a top priority.
A natural corollary to the development of a vision is the development of evaluation tools. An administrator can never be satisfied simply with listing goals, however noble. She also needs to know how progress can be judged: to know whether the organisation is moving in the right direction and at the right pace.
An administrator must also be a skilled counselor. Because hers is a human services job, she must be prepared for a wide range of personal and work related problems where staff members are concerned. Although most people do try to leave their personal lives at home, every administrator has to deal with employees’ marriage problems or health crises, or personality flaws which affect their jobs. There are also staff who require career counseling or who need encouragement to try something new.
Not all admin jobs are as high level as the one described here. Admin also involves accounts (ranging from book keeping to full financial responsibility including investments, budget planning and allocation of funds); reception (greeting guest, answering the phone – critical PR skills!); secretarial work (correspondence, setting up appointments, filing) and so on.
Training for an Administrative job in a rehab organisation is the same as training in the corporate world. Depending on your particular interests and ambitions, you will need to do a degree in Accounts (CA), business Administration (MBA), Human Resource development (HRD), or secretarial skills. Knowledge of computers is now essential in most organisations, as well as a good command of English.
Certain essential qualities make the difference between a corporate administrator and one who wants to work in an NGO. These include empathy for the people being served, commitment to a cause, a willingness to work for less money and a belief in the power of the people.