What Is a CAD Manager?

And what do they do? Much more than you expect

A set of calipers on architectural blueprints
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Computer Aided Design (CAD) managers manage a CAD group, but that doesn’t come close to describing the scope of work that the position entails. Depending on the firm, a CAD manager may cover processes from scheduling workload to doubling down as the company’s entire I.T. department. The larger the company, the better defined a CAD manager’s duties are, but there is no simple way to know exactly which hats you'll have to wear. However, there are a group of skills that are the most common functions you might be called upon to handle when you seek a CAD manager position.

CAD Troubleshooting

Even a small architectural or engineering firm has a go-to CAD tech. This is the person everyone turns to when things start going wrong. Whether it’s annoying bugs and glitches or total CAD system crashes, there’s always one person who seems to know how to fix the issues. If you want a career as a CAD manager, that person had better be you.

A good understanding of the primary CAD packages—AutoCAD and MicroStation products, at a minimum—and a clear idea of the problems that may arise from how they interact with other programs and peripherals is necessary. Search engines and CAD-focused discussion boards may provide some help because no one can know all there is to know about a high-end CAD package. A CAD manager has to know where to find the answers needed in a short amount of time.

Workload Scheduling

Workload scheduling is an acknowledged stumbling block for many people who step up from the lead drafter to the manager position. The manager has to develop a good feel for how long each specific task and drawing takes to complete. This knowledge requires a thorough understanding of all the CAD staff and their particular strengths and weaknesses. All too often, new CAD managers schedule based on their personal capabilities and then are surprised to have cost and time overruns. Often the manager is the best drafter in the firm; other folks aren’t necessarily as quick or reliable. A large part of managing is directing the work to the person who can do it most efficiently. You need to know that Drafter A is reliable but slow, so not the best choice for projects with tight deadlines

Drawing Review

Being good at reviewing drawings may be the difference between being a success as a CAD manager or having every designer in the firm hate you. Your job includes reviewing every single drawing that your CAD folks complete before they are handed to the design engineer. You need to review each drawing for readability, presentation, and adherence to standards. If you don’t look for all three of these, no one will, and the files will either go to senior staff before mistakes are noted or—worse—out to your client. Look for lines of text that overlap, lines that are too thick, too thin, or have incorrect line types. Make sure each plan looks like it was professionally drafted and the information on it is understandable. 

Building Standards

Building the company CAD standard processes and libraries fall squarely on the shoulders of the CAD manager. In between the day-to-day workload, you’ll need to find time to build templates, detail libraries, layering systems, and a hundred or so other odds and ends that are needed to keep a CAD group efficiently working. That includes delving into new releases of your software programs and making the needed changes to your standards to keep them compatible. This is the fun part of being a CM but, sadly, it’s the one you’ll have the least amount of time to address. Senior management is going to want you to maintain your own billable time at levels nearly as high as the rest of your CAD staff, despite the additional overhead duties that come with the job.

Manage Your Staff

Last, but not least, you’ll still need to do the job of a manager. That means performance reviews, interviews, hiring and firing, scheduling vacations, and a hundred other issues that come up. The larger your firm, the more time this is going to take. You’ll need to develop a thick skin and be flexible to find last-minute solutions. You’ll figure that out the first time you have a can’t-miss deadline, and half your staff members call in sick with the flu.