First-time management – a change in attitude

That transition to manager from non-manager is probably one of the biggest changes you’ll make in your working life. Usually, you’re working in the same industry sector – quite possibly in the same organisation – and that encourages a sense of familiarity. But in fact, it’s effectively a complete career change; you’ve switched into a job that is utterly different. It’s more of a quantum leap than a step up.

Naturally, this transition brings challenges. You have a lot of fresh knowledge and skills to acquire, but perhaps the biggest shift is in your attitudes, or, more accurately, the attitudes needed for your new role.

Take a managerial attitude towards…

  1. Your job and role

The key change here is that in the past you were probably lauded (maybe even promoted) for your knowledge, your expertise in whatever it is the business you work in does. Now, it’s different. Previously, you solved problems personally, with your own personal knowledge and skill resources. Now, you’re still a problem-solver (more so than ever) but you solve problems with and through others. Your job is no longer to be the ‘smartest person in the room’ but rather to be the facilitator, the supporter, the guide… someone who manages all the available resources so the team can arrive at the best possible solution (and not just the best solution you can come up with).

  1. The business itself

It’s a cliché, sure, but it’s time to see the bigger picture. As a member of the management team responsible for the organisation’s performance, your perspective must encompass more than just your role and your team. Wider strategic objectives, KPIs, metrics, the market… you need to understand the wider context and your team’s place within it.

  1. ‘The management’

Your membership of a management team should influence your behaviour in other ways. It’s common for workers and management to have some form of ‘us and them’ thing going on – a natural consequence of any hierarchical setup. The thing is, you just switched sides.

You’re still a member of your team but the rest of them will also see you as ‘the management’ and any general complaints about ‘them’ will also in some way be applied to you. Those complaints may be justified but you still don’t get to join in the gossip. Imagine for a second that you do, that you join a quick anti-management conversation – after all, they’re talking about the big bosses, the higher-ups, not you, right? And the team may even enjoy your participation; giving you brief, warm ‘one of us’ feeling. But who made you a manager, who appointed you to that role? Answer: the higher-ups, of course. Undermine them and sooner or later you’re undermining yourself.

  1. Confidentiality

Not all information is for sharing. As a manager, you may have inside details of job applications, promotions, projects and priorities, disciplinary investigations, etc. – all sensitive stuff. You may have heard this kind of stuff as a non-manager but then it was effectively rumour, gossip, hearsay, chitchat… But as a manager, you are in legitimate possession of this kind of knowledge, and also responsible for it.

Similarly, vice versa, if your team confides in you, where do your loyalties lie? If someone confides they’re applying for a job elsewhere, let’s say. It’s not fair to withhold information your management team that impacts on the business (your role is to support the business – big picture, remember?) Yet, you also want to respect your team member’s confidence. As a manager, you balance loyalty to both the organisation and your team members – some secrets you can keep, and others you have to share; the trick is to do it professionally.

  1. Relationships

The boundaries have shifted. Whatever your relationship with colleagues before, it’s different now because your responsibilities are different. This is especially noticeable if you’ve been promoted within the same organisation (or team). Maybe before, you were a co-worker and friend; now, you’re a boss. Of course, it’s still possible to be mates. But you need to be clear on the circumstances in which friendship is appropriate, and when you need to be the manager.

Warning: too much concern over this and you may end up trying to be a ‘cool boss’; on the team’s side. This means you’re more concerned about your image and how you’re perceived than doing a good job and ultimately, you probably won’t.

Becoming a manager for the first time involves a lot of physical changes: a new desk or office, different activities/meetings, etc. maybe even a new suit! But can you make the mental shift?


If you’re looking for support with the first steps into management, register for our free taster webinar on 4 December From team member to team leader; or give us a call on 01582 463460.

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