Find Your Localization Leader: 4 Traits of Great Candidates


Who handles hiring? Who owns sales? Who leads localization?

Although all three functions are intimately tied to business growth, many companies answer the final question differently than the first two. Instead of proactively appointing a dedicated leader, they let key localization responsibilities drift across many desks.

This absence of a centralized authority affects localization just as it would hiring or sales. Decision-making slows, confusion grows, and results never quite reach their potential.

Admittedly, the interdisciplinary nature of localization does make recruitment more challenging. While the career paths to HR Director or VP of Sales are paved with clear prerequisites, an effective Globalization Director or Head of International may rise into the role from any number of professional backgrounds.

Regardless of their history, however, there are at least four common areas where every great localization leader excels.

Communicator of the Business Case

Few companies develop a unified localization strategy before they first start translating content.

More often than not, one department head reluctantly adds translation management to their job description after deciding it’s time for their team to address a wider audience.

This low barrier to entry is good for agility but bad for sustainability. The lack of a long-term vision inevitably creates inefficiencies down the line.

But by the time they realize their improvised processes are creating problems for other people, colleagues across the organization may already be writing off localization as a costly misadventure.

These negative perceptions represent the first obstacle every successful leader must overcome, and the most persuasive arguments always spring from a carefully crafted business case.

Defending the legitimacy of localization begins by retraining focus on the market impact of multilingual content. Until a significant revenue upside is plain for all to see, securing sufficient investment will be a constant concern.

On the other side of the equation, localization leaders will also need to codify plans for maximizing the resources they receive. Developing data-driven frameworks and articulating concrete goals will send a powerful message regarding the accountability of localization activities.

Ally of Every Department

Clarifying the business case will help win crucial support for the mission, but successful execution will depend upon timely contributions from multiple departments. Localization leaders must establish a productive dialogue with each functional area as soon as possible.

Localization will impact each division differently, however, and leaders must tailor conversations to these unique priorities.

A CMO may want to know which safeguards will protect brand identity, for example, while a Product Manager might be exclusively concerned with the allocation of developer hours.

In either case, acknowledging and addressing their specific needs helps build valuable social capital that will enable localization leaders to assert their own requests more confidently in the future.

Considering all the important relationships that must be built and maintained across the business, savvy companies often appoint localization leaders with clear expertise in Marketing, eCommerce, Product Management, or Software Development.

Speaking the native language of at least one of these tribes can help reduce friction and accelerate collaboration.

Citizen of the World

Business jargon isn’t the only desirable language skill, of course. Localization leaders must come from a bona fide international background as well. This pedigree can be achieved by multiple paths, however.

The most obvious attribute is multilingual fluency. A strong grasp of syntax, grammar, idiom, and style will help localization leaders validate content quality and deliver constructive feedback when necessary.

It should come as little surprise, then, that so many successful recruits come from a linguistics industry background.

Location can be just as important as language, though. There’s no substitute for directly observing the intersection of words and culture, which is why many companies prefer localization leaders who have lived and worked in multiple countries.

This on-the-ground understanding of a market and empathy for its people can be a dramatic advantage when trying to deliver resonant content.

Manager of Multiple Priorities

Whatever the organizational structure or ongoing strategy, the one thing all localization leaders can count on is competing priorities and simultaneous demands.

Stakeholders will want to be informed, translation agencies will need to be reminded, and enabling technologies may have to be procured.

And until localization strategies scale to support the hiring of dedicated project managers, all these responsibilities (and more) will fall on a single set of shoulders.

Effective localization leaders need to be unquestionably organized, structured, and time-sensitive at every turn.

They’ll need the flexibility to shift between tasks and teams throughout the day. They’ll need the poise to identify the top priority among a list of several pressing needs.

And perhaps most of all, the best localization leaders will exude a quiet confidence that assures colleagues everything is going according to plan.

Learn More

See our Hootsuite Case Study to learn how Smartling helps small localization teams accomplish big things.