Stepping up – the first-time manager

We’ve all had a bad boss at some point, maybe more than one. But what happens when you become the boss or, at least, a boss? In terms of changes in responsibility and outlook, the shift from non-manager to manager is arguably one of the biggest you can make in your career. But what are those changes?

Management – a new perspective

It’s not quite on the scale of Morpheus’ red pill but entering the world of management does demand a significant change of perspective. In a nutshell, it’s no longer your job to do the work (whatever what work may be: providing a service, manufacturing a product, sales, etc.) Instead, you now manage other people who are doing the work. Though you may well chip in at ‘the coalface’ in an emergency, the basic principle is that you get things done through your team and whereas previously your technical knowledge (of product, process, whatever…) was sufficient, you now need a very different set of skills.

Your worldview (well, ‘workview’) needs to expand too. You need to understand the bigger business picture – longer term goals and how short-term targets align, the performance of your team as a part of the whole company, wider priorities. This is not to say you couldn’t have understood it before (quite likely you did, otherwise why did they make you a manager?) but now it’s your job to understand it.

Remember also that your relationships will change. This can be especially marked if you’re now managing your old team. Where once you were a comrade, you’re now a boss. This can be an advantage because you already know the people and the team’s work. However, while you don’t have to lose old friendships, the boundaries have shifted and on work issues you may need to agree new rules of engagement that better fit your new responsibilities.

Knowledge and skills to acquire

Again, not to suggest that as a new manager you are unskilled… but there is a skillset essential to being a good manager. You may have developed some (or all) of these skills in a non-managerial role but the environment in which you use those skills is now different. Here are the core skills for a manager:

  • Managing the work – Prioritising, goal-setting, focusing on deliverables, assessing dependencies establishing timescales, controlling workflow… basically, we’re talking about project management-type skills (though applied to an ongoing situation and not just a limited-timescale project). The key shift is that you’re not just managing your own time now, you’re applying these skills with a team of people as your resources.
  • Understanding teamwork – Speaking of teams, theory helps you understand (and manage) your own. It’s important to grasp the basics of how teams form, develop and perform.
  • Motivation – Management is about more than just dishing out work and collecting it back when it’s done. Your role is to motivate and encourage team members to do that work to the best of their ability. A committed and engaged team is a high-performing team and as the boss, you need to know what makes them want to work.
  • Delegation – Again, in principle, you’re not there to do the work but to ensure it gets done. Delegation done well not only gets things done but also skills up your team in the process.
  • Feedback – If we oversimplify some of the above to ‘telling other people what to do’ then feedback is the skill you need when you tell them how they’ve done. Both positive reinforcement of good work and constructive, performance-improving criticism are solid management skills.

If the above skills get the job done, there are others that – over time – get the job done better; which is also your role. Coaching, conflict management, dealing with difficult people, managing change… all are essential skills for improving your team’s performance, both individually and as a single, coordinated unit.

Member of  a larger team

You’re still a member of the team (albeit with a radically different role) but there’s also a larger team that you’ve joined: management. And as  member of the management team, you need to understand the wider agenda, how your team and role align and support the wider strategic objectives of the company.

And, sometimes most difficult of all, you have to support management now. there’s usually some kind of ‘us and them’ between staff and management (even if it’s quite good-natured) and now you’re ‘them’. that doesn’t mean that management is always right. And if there’s fair criticism or constructive suggestions you may well be part of communicating those on behalf of your own team. But if there’s any kind of complaining culture, you can no longer join in (even if it’s tempting to curry favour with a new team). Ultimately, the decision to promote you came from the management team. If you start undermining other decisions, you’re effectively undermining that one too… and yourself.

There are many different kinds of manager. Which one do you want to be? Remember that ‘bad boss’? Think about the good ones too. How did they manage you? What did they do to obstruct you OR help you perform to your best? What can you learn from the actions (and mistakes) of others? When your team are down the pub without you (or wherever it is they go), what do you want them to say about you and the way you manage?


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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