Influential Leadership

Enforcing CAD Standards Without Authority

There’s a myth among CAD and BIM managers that authority is the secret to success. A common belief is unless you are given the authority to enforce what you create, the odds of being successful are stacked against you. Struggling to get my firm to adopt the standards I had developed for it, there was a time where I too subscribed to this belief. I thought to myself (and sometimes out loud), the company’s CAD standards will remain a dream of unrealized opportunity until I’m given the authority to enforce the standards.

Like so many I’ve spoken to over the years, the mystery I couldn’t solve was why the company had made it my responsibility to build CAD standards but not given me (or anyone else for that matter) the authority to make sure they were used properly? How could a company I admired for its history of smart business decisions fail so badly with this one?

Focused on solving this mystery, I tried everything I could think of to convince the company to give me the authority I needed to make pure awesomeness happen with respect to our design software. I did everything I could to navigate the corporate hierarchy both above and laterally to me; making my case to anyone who would listen. Still, days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months, and while I got the politely cooperative head nod affirming the merits of my arguments – I made very little progress. Put simply, the company had a CAD standard that no one used because no one had the authority to make sure it was used. Or at least that’s the version of the story I firmy believed in.

That belief didn’t change until I finally took a step back to reevaluate what I was asking for. After all, didn’t Albert Einstein say the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results? By every objective measure I could think of, I was a certifiably insane CAD manager.

In taking a step back, I quickly realized I was asking for and pursuing the wrong thing. What I needed to enforce our CAD standards was influence, not authority. Some might say influence and authority are synonyms, and in many ways you’re probably right. The net result from each of these terms is largely the same; having the power to affect the way people use design software at my company. Who cares what you call it so long as people use the software the way they should be?

Frankly, not many people should care what you call things, and fewer than that probably do care inside your firm. My advice to you is not to waste your time trying to promote your definitions of the words authority and influence. Afterall, wasn’t it a series of tell and ask assertive behaviors that got you here in the first place?

Although the net result is the same, the difference between authority and influence is how you receive the power you need to oversee the use of standards inside your organization. The quest for authority is just a disguised way of asking for this power to be given to you as a singular action. By contrast, the quest for influence is a form of authority earned through a series of actions. Put another way, authority is something given by your superiors, influence is something you earn from your peers.

As a CAD/BIM manager you’re expected to be as much a leader as you are a technical expert. Strong leaders know authority is something that’s earned, not given. I suspect it’s for this reason so few company’s give their CAD/BIM manager the authority to enforce standards. They instead leave it to the CAD/BIM manager to find ways to lead the use of things like standards within a orginization.

There are numerous tactics one can employ to earn influence within a orginization. I’ll share some of my own thoughts into that topic in future blog posts. In the meantime, let me know in the comments whether you were given the authority to enforce standards at your company, or if it was something you had to earn? What tactics did you employ to earn that status within your company?

Donnie Gladfelter
Donnie Gladfelter

Donnie is author of the book and Autodesk Official Press, AutoCAD and AutoCAD LT: No Experience Required, a columnist for AUGIWorld Magazine, Autodesk University speaker, and former member of the AUGI Board of Directors.


  1. Very good post! I feel it is important to have some level of support with management. With my current employer, upper management is bought in to standards and it gives the coordination team more support with implementing changes. I have been with a company where management wanted standards revised, but they themselves would encourage side stepping processes when they were in a pinch. That type of environment can make it difficult to get traction.

  2. I was selected to fill the newly created position of CAD Manager 6 years ago. I had a lot to learn. Throughout this journey I was told I had to get users to “buy-in” to our CAD standards.
    From my perspective, I knew this would be a challenge but not impossible. I thought, I’ll just explain the advantages of CAD standards and show my users how CAD standards will save them time and effort and make them more productive. Right?
    After the first 2 or 3 years, the standards I’d developed and implemented were still not being used by the majority of 300 + users. Some users commented that our standards were too complex and hard to follow. So, I turned my focus towards doing everything I could to make our standards “User Friendly”. My revised standards included new everything from the bottom up plus custom tools designed specifically to meet our user’s needs. This monumental effort cultivated some additional followers, but still, the majority remained non-compliant.
    Year after year I tried different approaches and method to persuade users to adopt our standards. (I’m a persistent fellow and I don’t give up easily.) I tried to establish local office CAD managers to enforce our standards. This effort failed due to administrative costs. I tried to enforce our standards through our Quality Control Department, but the department head was unwilling to get involved.
    With frustration levels at the breaking point, I forced the issue to the top. Unfortunately, our Corporate Management is unwilling to support or fund a sustainable CAD standards governance system. Sad but true. I’ll be resigning my position as CAD Manager in the weeks ahead and return to my previous role as a CAD Designer.

  3. I actually left a job after 18 years due to being held responsible for users not following standards after being told that it was my responsibility, but without authority. At the time, we had tools to influence the standards, but during the development of the standards, I could not get management’s buy-in to devote the time or effort in not only developing the standards, but to get input and feedback.
    The end result was managers were telling the users that the standards did not “look right” once plotted and making them change the drawings. But nobody gave us any feedback on these issues so we could “correct” those areas that they disagreed with.
    My email name comes from that time – I was told they did not want a CADD Cop. At the time, we were still in the infancy of PC CADD and were storing files on a mainframe but it was up to the user to pull them down and put them back manually. And we did not have a true network where you could mount drives, so even if changes were implemented, it was a time consuming task to get those changes onto each PC.
    Now, we keep all support files on a server and setup profiles that automatically launch with the network setups. The only complication now, is when a client uses a different layer standard.
    Thankfully, many are adopting NCS compliant layers and we even sometimes get DWT files with Civil 3D styles already setup.
    The software is much better these days at controlling what users create once all the support files are in place.

  4. Very good post. I agree completely. Influence can be much more powerful than authoritative approaches. It may take time – years even, but if you can gain the support of your colleagues through influential approaches many great things can be achieved.

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