The most common response I get when I ask the question “how did you get into quality?” is “I just kind of fell into it.” It’s even my own response to that question–it feels like one minute I was an administration coordinator and the next I was working in quality management.
But if you want to seek out the opportunity, rather than wait for one to come your way, there are things you can do in your early career to help position yourself for quality management or internal auditing work.
Any job in quality–whether you are an auditor, a project officer, a reviewer or document writer–requires a few key skills. I see these as:
1. Soft skills or emotional intelligence: All quality roles will require you to consult and/or collaborate with others. Sometimes you may have to say something they don’t want to hear. Being able to listen, read other people’s emotions, and respond appropriately is vital. How can you learn this? Do a course or some
training in customer service – the concepts are the same.
2. Be a good administrator: I have often stated (to the horror of some) that good quality management is just good administration. I stand by this statement. Firstly, you need to set an example–if you’re not following procedure or best practice yourself you can’t ask others to. Secondly, if you need to keep track of multiple improvements across multiple departments, schedule internal audits and manage document reviews, you are going to need to be able to keep your head. Administration work is not beneath you–it is the foundation of good practice no matter what position/role you’re in. Get in early and get good at
3. Write like a pro: Guess what? In quality not everyone loves you. You will need to be able to develop an argument clearly and persuasively and this will usually need to be done in writing. For me the basics are: write about the problem / issue / nonconformity citing the criteria you are basing your judgement on, back it up with the evidence you have gathered, and have a suggestion for improvement (more than one is good). Writing concisely in a narrative style and making good use of dot points makes for better report-reading too.
4. Communicate well in other ways too: This relates to point 1, but basically the most fundamental thing we do in quality management is communicate with others. We inform, we recommend, we support. Learn how to present data well (learn how to read and use it too), practice your public speaking (one day you want to be talking confidently with the Board), make sure you respond promptly to all enquiries and contacts–doing all of this well gives you credibility. Credibility gives you the opportunity to advance, to be the one picked for a new project. Foster credibility with good communication and you'll be a frontrunner.
There are other things you’ll need to succeed in quality management–real life experience and some qualifications in the area of quality you’re interested in (e.g. food safety) are also important. But I don’t think qualifications make a great quality manager or auditor. For me, the above is more important.
Please add your thoughts as comments.
Thanks for reading,
The Quality Nerd loves all things Quality Management and Internal Audit...too much is never enough!