Profitable Times Newsletter

How to Cope with Added Responsibilities

It may be somewhat comforting to start by recognizing that increasing individual responsibilities is happening in most museums and across all industries. For example, I fly a lot and the decreased number of gate personnel handling the same or additional boarding responsibilities is obvious. I don't know of many museum store managers who haven't been assigned or have volunteered to take on additional responsibilities over the last two to three years.

There are advantages to this trend. Where there is synergy among the core and additional responsibilities, for example if retail, admissions, management of non-docent frontline volunteers and maybe a coffee bar are managed by one person, there is a better chance for the delivery of a seamless visitor experience. On the other hand, if there isn't a thread of commonality to the responsibilities, such as adding development or data entry supervision, there can be incremental stress and the results may not be positive.

There are four levels of responsibility and it is important to understand where your assignment falls within this range in order to assess how best to move forward.


This typically applies to those who actually do the work.


This is a direct supervisory role. You may be accountable for, but not directly involved in the execution of, a responsibility. It is not unusual in the museum world of limited staffing for someone to be both responsible and accountable for a task.


You may or may not be directly involved in an activity but because of your knowledge or experience you are consulted. For example, because of your retail background it would be advantageous to the museum if you were a resource for the publication department as they determined the print run and retail price for an internally produced book.


In this role you are kept informed about what's going on but you typically don't have an active role in the activity.

When faced with additional responsibilities the following checklist is helpful:

  • If there is a pool of people among whom additional responsibilities are going to be assigned each person should go through the process of listing those related things they do well, like to do, don't do well, don't like to do and responsibilities about which they are neutral. Under the assumption museum management wants the best possible job done and a staff that is relatively happy, allowing these preferences and perhaps a little horse-trading to enter into the assignment process can result in a more effective, efficient and successful execution of a plan.

  • Regardless of final assignments a list of responsibilities for each staff person and written job descriptions will help to assure clear understandings, codify expectations, and limit responsibility creep. This is especially helpful if the assignments are new or unfamiliar. Although it may seem trivial, and execution in educational and government settings is particularly difficult, try to make sure your title reflects your job description. Even small changes from Store Manager to Retail Manager to Guest Experience Coordinator (or whatever) can add prestige and clout to your position and lay the groundwork for increased compensation in the future.

  • "Necessity is the mother of invention." Be creative. When you have a lot to do and your current routines and time management don't result in everything getting done, become an innovator.You probably know more about how to execute the new responsibilities than museum management. By creatively approaching the responsibilities and staying positive you will be perceived as being more valuable to the museum.Asking for suggestions from and involving your staff in solutions often results in surprisingly effective and simple ideas for handling new responsibilities.

  • Remain upbeat and positive especially when interacting with the visitor and the staff for whom you are accountable. Look at all sides of the changes including the positives and the negatives. It most cases if you systematically look at all facets of the change you'll see some positives that will help to counterbalance the negatives. Focusing on the positives and being an optimistic leader will go a long way towards making the new arrangement work and give you leverage to make changes.

    As an aside, creativity and positive attitude are two of the most important aspects of gaining influence within your museum that will be explored in the How to Build Influence and Visibility Within Your Institution seminar I will be presenting on Monday May 2, 2011 at the MSA Retail Conference in Chicago.

  • Delegate some responsibilities and train your staff. It is my experience that too many store managers believe only they can do a task or they think someone else could take on additional responsibilities but they don't want or can't take the time to train someone else. At the same time, boredom and not enough to do are frequent reasons for losing paid and especially volunteer staff. Considering how difficult it is to get and retain qualified paid and volunteer staff and the many advantages of delegation,it can be to your great benefit to train staff to take on additional responsibilities.

  • Improve lines of communication so all participants know what's going on. Even though everyone's already busy, this may result in more not fewer meetings to make sure coordination stays intact. However, it takes much more time to backtrack and correct problems than it does to pro-actively address coordination in advance.

  • As best you can, protect your leisure time. It's during times of change and stress that doing what you like to do, which may include doing nothing at all, becomes more important.

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