Moving from accessibility testing into management

There are several questions you should be asking yourself before you make the leap

My ex-boss (Jehad Affoneh, who recently moved from VMware Design to CDO of Splunk) did a very insightful series of tweets about things to ponder when contemplating moving from design to management. Here are my thoughts on the same topic, except as it pertains to accessibility.

Do you like accessibility testing?

If you live for performing hands-on accessibility testing and helping engineers fix bugs, you won’t get much opportunity to do that as an accessibility manager. Having these skills, however, is critical to being a good accessibility manager.

  1. Having accessibility testing expertise gives you a pool of experience to draw from when interviewing others for accessibility-related positions.
  2. Accessibility knowledge is instrumental when reviewing testing schedules to know if they are reasonable or not.
  3. There is nothing quite like responding, “would you like me to code that for you?” to a product owner who is being difficult about fixing accessibility bugs.

Suppose you like hands-on testing but still want to move into management. In that case, there are many other ways you can get your “testing fix,” such as helping non-profits in their accessibility efforts, mentoring people who want to be accessibility testers, or providing accessibility expertise at hackathons. You can even use a screen reader when shopping for groceries and report accessibility issues you find on others’ sites. I do that all the time 🙂

Are you considering a move into accessibility management for the right reasons?

Why are you thinking about moving into a management role? If management is the only available opportunity, that isn’t the best reason. If you have no other path for growth, maybe the real switches you should be considering are:

  • Work with your manager to extend your current job description in a way that satisfies your growth needs, or;
  • Changing your employer, not your role.

Though most companies treat moving into management as a “promotion,” it really isn’t. Management leads to a wholly different career path than do individual contributors.

  • Instead of producing accessibility test results, accessibility managers are responsible for overall project planning, budgeting, and the career growth of people producing the accessibility test results.
  • Senior accessibility managers and directors are responsible for an even more abstract level of responsibilities, managing other accessibility managers rather than managing individual testers.

Are you thinking about moving to management over frustration or boredom in your current role?

Frustration or boredom in your current role will likely not diminish by moving into management. In addition, if you are frustrated or bored, chances are your co-workers are too. As their manager, you will have to deal with their frustration or boredom without necessarily having the power to cure it. You may gain new frustrations through having to communicate impossible deadlines, for example. When you are a manager, your frustration and boredom will impact the entire team, not just you as an individual. You will, in essence, be swapping one small set of personal frustrations for potentially a more extensive set of team frustrations. Also, many of the frustrations (like budget, for example) will have to remain confidential, so you won’t be able to complain to your co-workers about these issues.

Is there more you can do to influence an accessibility-first culture without becoming a manager?

There are two types of influencing: influencing through power and influencing through persuasion. Think of influencing through power like parenting, where the parent says, “we are doing it this way because I said so.”

Influencing through power is what you might achieve if you move into accessibility management. You will receive the authority to dictate what is done, how it is done, when it is done, and who does it. However, on the receiving end (think of your reaction as a child who hears “because I said so” all the time), being told what to do solely based on power gets old, really fast. You want to influence through power sparingly.

  • Respect begins to break down because there isn’t alignment on goals or reasoning.
  • Employees start to disengage, and turnover may become a significant issue.

Influencing through persuasion is one of the most critical skills to have as an accessibility manager.

I frequently describe my job as getting people to do things that they don’t really want to do.

That is what successful influencing through persuasion is all about.

I try not to tell people what to do. Instead, I try to lead them to make the correct decision through carefully crafted, persuasive arguments. Using this approach, people are invested in the decision because they made it; the decision wasn’t imposed on them.

That being said, *anyone* can influence through persuasion. You can be an accessibility leader without being in accessibility management, don’t confuse the two.

Good reasons to move into accessibility management

I’ve covered several invalid reasons for moving into accessibility management. Here are some good ones.

  1. Driving higher impact. Many people move into accessibility management to help all areas of the organization integrate accessibility into their mission and vision.
  2. Help others with career growth. Managers spend a lot of time on this. If you enjoy being part of others’ career growth, moving into management will help you focus on this in your career.
  3. Improve accessibility maturity and culture.
  4. Build high-functioning teams. Being able to recruit accessibility talent is important in any high-demand technology area. This requires you to build a substantial social media presence. Since that takes time, you should start at least 9–12 months before moving into a management role.
  5. Drive accessibility strategy.

Bottom line:

  1. It is not inevitable that all good people move to management.
  2. You can always find ways to be more effective and influential in your current role.
  3. The grass isn’t always greener on the management side of the business lawn.

Before you make the leap, talk to others who have already made the individual contributor to management move in your organization (it doesn’t have to be in the accessibility field). Also, seek out anyone who has made a similar move and then returned to being a non-manager. Both of those types of people can provide valuable insight into your decision-making.

While you are awaiting the actual move (because moving to management is rarely instantaneous), if you haven’t been a manager before, this is a great time to do some reading and training on what it takes to be a good manager. The ability to have difficult conversations is crucial but not widely understood ahead of becoming a manager. Unconscious bias training is also essential, especially if you don’t identify as having a disability.