From the magazine: Mayday! Mayday!

The role of the school business manager can be an isolated one. So, what happens if something goes wrong? In the May issue of Education Executive, Working SBM reminded us that ‘Mayday’ is a powerful word which we mustn’t be afraid to use and that, if you seek, you’ll find a strong support group of colleagues and peers ready to answer your call

I’m sure you will agree with me, it’s not easy being a school business manager (SBM). To be effective we need to demonstrate patience, flexibility, adaptability, emotional intelligence and resilience. In order to successfully handle the daily challenges of our role we need to have tools in our armoury which promote wellbeing and stress reduction – not only our own but also that of our teams and the wider staff.
We take a lot of responsibility on our shoulders. Of course, officially, that responsibility is shared with other members of the SLT and it is important that we distribute it across the team as much as we can. But, in reality, the SBM is the leader of the support function in the school and takes on the burden of that duty, acknowledging that the other members of the SLT have a considerable amount of pressure in the areas of teaching and learning, staff recruitment, retention and development, community relations, pastoral care, curriculum planning, data and results.
So, there will inevitably be times when the pressure cooker of conflicting demands which make up our role reaches an excessive psi and looks like it is about to explode. What do we do then?
A Mayday in May
The term ‘Mayday’ has nothing to do with the month of the year (even though I’ve shamelessly used it here). It was actually coined in the 1920s by an airport radio officer as a word that could easily be recognised to indicate distress over the airwaves. The expression is derived from the French ‘m’aider’, which is shortened from ‘venez m’aider’, or ‘come and help me’.
Over my years as an SBM I’ve found myself in situations when I’ve been at, or very close to, crisis point. Some of the occasions I have managed well; some, I can now see looking back, not so much. The difference has always been whether (or not) and when I asked for help.
Everyone needs a safety net
Let me give you two examples. Back in the relatively early days of my SBM career I dropped one of those proverbial plates that we all work so hard to keep spinning. Not a massive plate. Not a vital plate. But it was the first time I’d really dropped one and it had the unfortunate effect of sending me into a complete tailspin. I felt I had no-one to turn to.
I’d let everyone down. I was isolated and there was no option but to eject. I was devastated by the events of just a few short weeks. It was only Barry’s (who blog followers will know as my husband) unsympathetic response, in that he booted me out the door to apply to another school, that kept me in a role he knew that I loved. More recently, my role has been undergoing a massive change that has been, at times, overwhelming.
I accept, looking back, that some of the challenges have been due to the alterations in operations I have proposed, but this doesn’t make the results any less difficult to manage or any less stressful. The difference, this time, is that I have maintained a professional support structure, both deliberately and by the welcome surprise of a brand new network which has enabled me to work through the change, remain engaged and retain my sanity.
Support for you in your role as a SBM is out there, but it makes sense that you need to access it in advance of any crisis, building relationships, offering friendship, putting your situation and personality out there so that, should the worst happen, there will be someone who is able to support, advise or just listen.
A wider community
Where to find these wonderful colleagues? Of course, your local SBM group is the first place to look. If you don’t have a local group, consider starting one or, if you would like a wider reach, you will find that many established groups will welcome members from outside their immediate area. ISBL (formerly NASBM) is our national body providing advice and support; have a look online at all they can offer.
Myself, I have found inspiring support and friendship on Twitter. I know it can seem scary – I was terrified when I started that I would say the wrong thing – but when you get involved you will find a great many SBMs who are pleased to listen, advise and chat. If there is one thing I have learned, it is that you can’t do the SBM role on your own, so don’t try.
Get involved and accept the support on offer from others, such as Education Executive, ISBL, Twitter and your local groups so, when you are really under pressure, you’ll be able to say ‘Mayday!’ and know that we’ll all be there for you.

WorkingSBM has worked as an SBM for over 14 years – ‘supporting constant change and running the engine room!’ An active member of the SBM community, you can find her on Twitter @workingsbm2017 or you can read her excellent blog at
This article featured in the May issue of Education ExecutiveSubscribe now to keep up-to-date with the latest in school business management and leadership.
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