Unflappable: Traffic Management Requires Empathy and “People Skills”

Unflappable: Traffic Management Requires Empathy

Traffic management in a busy ad agency or marketing firm is a tough, often thankless job. It is also essential as the agency grows. The more accounts and active projects an agency has, the more critical it is to have a good system, and someone to track and guide those projects through the agency, on time and on budget. 

Aside from scheduling skills and attention to detail, a good traffic manager must have empathy and a positive, upbeat personality. These traits are needed because s/he has to gently manage account executives, harried production people, designers and art directors, the creative director, estimators, media planners, account planners—in fact even the agency president if she is involved directly in a project or campaign. Everyone has different concerns and their own objectives and schedules to deal with. That means the TM needs to listen, understand… and then still manage to get people to do all the things needed to meet daily deadlines and objectives.

Empathy and Communication

While checking some Twitter feeds for article ideas, I found a blog-post from Developware, Inc., makers of workflow management system CurrentTrack. The key finding in the article is this: You first have to know what motivates individuals, and then communicate in a way they understand.

Who knew that traffic management requires a mix of psychology and behavioral science to get the job done? Only every traffic manager, ever.

If the creative director is needed to approve a concept for a client meeting that was just moved forward, but the CD claims to be too busy with another deadline, it is the TM’s job to offer suggestions to smooth the CD’s path and give them an hour to review and discuss the hotter job.

When the proofreader calls in sick just as a big project needs final sign-off for outside production, the TM must alert the production manager to call in a freelance editor and put the printer on standby, and sooth the AE about the minor adjustment to timing.

If an account executive rushes in between client visits with a demand to “drop everything” to work on a new project, the TM must be ready to reasonably discuss scheduling to slot in the new project, and quickly suggest how to redistribute assignments without creating chaos throughout the agency.

Adapt On the Fly

The traffic manager’s job is to be the calm at the center of the agency’s daily storm—an unflappable hand on the helm and a clear vision of all the jobs on the schedule, and how all the pieces fit together. The TM, in fact, has to constantly adjust to the changing view of the kaleidoscope of daily agency workflow. Every time we twist the kaleidoscope, the elements fall into a new pattern. The traffic manager must be able to quickly understand the new pattern, and communicate how it will affect the daily schedule to everyone impacted by changes. The goal is always to keep the daily schedule on track, and make everyone in the agency feel comfortable that deadlines will be met, and their needs are being satisfied.

And you thought TM’s were just there to bug people for timesheets or send out change orders!

Today’s traffic managers have better tools to track deadlines and nudge people to provide their portions of project assignments. But people management skills come into play daily, and are critical to meeting the agency’s goals and objectives. Make sure your traffic manager is a people person with good communication skills and a desire to help the agency staff accomplish their work, smoothly and efficiently.



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