5 Tips for Project Management in University Administration

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As an operations assistant in a busy office, I’ve learned through a lot of trial and error how to effectively streamline my days. I’ve learned some tips from scouring the web for faculty questions, or from picking other admins’ brains at conferences or in other departments.

If you’re looking for ways to improve your own systems as an administrative professional — keep reading because this is for you!

5 tips for project management in university administration I wish I had known about!

1. Using a CRM to manage client or student applications.

In my division, we’ve purchased salesforce licenses as a way to track incoming student prospects and keep all our communications in a central unit. Using a shared outlook inbox caused a lot of issues because the replies wouldn’t always show up, and people would mark stuff as read when it hadn’t been replied to yet. It took some getting used to using Salesforce cases as an inbox, but it’s much easier to track our communications with students and link together like-cases.

2. Vetting new software support services.

With new CRMs being installed in my office like Salesforce, it was critical for my team to meet with our university support person and get a clear picture of who would be able to train us. At the same time, I wish we had taken more time to explore the free training and services Salesforce offers — like the trailheads and trail mixes that allow people to become more familiar with the salesforce system as a whole.

It’s critical to talk to other departments and admins who may be using similar systems to discover where their aches and pains are in relation to the software before purchasing if possible. Odds are other universities have a similar system in place, and it can be worthwhile to reach out to them for feedback or advice.

3. Managing outlook schedules.

As an admin, it’s been my responsibility to manage a few people’s schedules. Again through some trial and error, we’ve found that color-coding different meetings improved my ability to schedule and my delegate’s performance throughout the day if they knew what types of meetings to expect. I now do this with my personal calendar as well. Since I often schedule meetings on behalf of others, I’ll also update whether I’m actually “free” during a meeting or “busy” so other folks trying to schedule with me can see whether I’m actually available. The same goes for any out-of-office events or travel.

4. Setting clear expectations.

I had never heard of scope creep when I started in university administration, but as I spoke to other operations managers in different fields, it became a regular subject of conversation. As administrative professionals, it is absolutely critical to have an up-to-date job description (really really critical if you are an hourly employee versus salaried) to prevent scope creep as much as possible. If something seems to be getting assigned to you on a daily basis that falls outside of your responsibilities, you need to bring it to your supervisor or manager’s attention.

If the issue cannot be resolved, then it’s time to bring documentation along with your job description to HR to document that you are being assigned work outside of your responsibilities. HR is not always solution-oriented, and they may try to placate you or your supervisor, but this is where it’s also important to keep an eye on other openings in departments for the same position. Is there a job posting with your title in another area being advertised at $2 more an hour? What does their job description say? Bring these facts with you when you speak to your supervisor or with your HR representative.

5. Keep a copy of everything.

In my experience I have found more often than not, people do not keep a backup. They will often forward emails, rely on outdated templates, or ask me to draft up something completely new because the original is nowhere to be found. After I did this a dozen or so times, I finally realized how important scripts and template copies were. I started to track all of the email templates I was using for job searches, for example, in a single google doc or Microsoft word file. I kept everything in there for my phone interview invitation to virtual interview invitation to copies of messages I shared with faculty inviting them to open forums.

Keeping those scripts and lists of resources for troubleshooting technology effectively saved me 5–10 hours of emailing and troubleshooting every time we ran into an issue on a job search. By the 4th virtual interview, I had it down to a system, and all the candidates complimented me on the organization and how effortless their interview day felt -despite being in interviews for roughly 6 hours. If you feel like you’re having to repeat yourself a lot, start keeping a copy somewhere you can find it easily — and document it. This will also make transitioning from your job a lot easier because you’ll have backups of your regular communications and will save the new recruit time as their onboarding.

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Liz Brinks

Hey, I’m Liz Brinks (they/them) I’m a queer gender-non-conforming writer, business coach & cat-parent (@itsjuustliz everywhere) based out of Wisconsin!