Now you're a manager�

Just landed your first job in management? Stepping into your new role need not be a daunting or difficult task. But there are basic errors that everyone makes - especially if they are 'accidental managers'. E&T presents a user's guide.

The 'Accidental Manager' is someone who has been promoted not through demonstrating any kind of particular management skill, but because he or she has demonstrated extreme competence as an individual contributor.

Too often new managers simply coast along, continuing to do what they excel at. Unfortunately, technical expertise alone doesn't make for a seamless transition into an engineering management role. In fact, it could be a career killer if it's all an individual has to offer. The black-and-white, right-answer-versus-wrong-answer mentality that makes for good engineering is at odds with the skills needed to manage people. Of course, technical skills are an excellent grounding for a management role, but key soft skills need to be in place to deal with people, and a 'big-picture' organisational perspective needs to be maintained to cope with finances and policy.

While a manager can still maintain friendships, new boundaries need to be drawn in order to establish authority and credibility. It's not about becoming demanding and asserting yourself in aggressive ways. Rather, it's taking seriously the need to refocus thinking in order to gain and retain the respect of the wider group.

It can be difficult for former colleagues to treat a new manager appropriately if the previous years have been spent working as peers. But the new manager is now encumbered with responsibility for assessing these colleagues' performance and giving important input into their work lives. This can place a manager at odds with friends and can involve tough decisions with which others may not agree.

How you can become a good manager

A good starting place in your transition into management is to have a one-on-one meeting with your new boss. When you walk out of that meeting, you should be clear about:

  • Your own manager's expectations of you in your new- found position;
  • The department's strategic plans, both long-term and short-term;
  • Your department's tactical requirements;
  • Your manager's perception of the quality of the work in your department and where he or she thinks there need to be changes or improvements;
  • An action plan for implementing your management and producing results;
  • What resources and tools your manager thinks would be advantageous for your own development.

That conversation should be nothing like your prior conversations when you were not in management. While you may have asked on those occasions about strategic plans and the like, the answers had a different relevance to your professional life. Now you need to demonstrate that you own the information and aspire to achieve it.

After an in-depth meeting with your manager, your next step should be to take time to observe the department from a management perspective and solicit input from the rest of the department about what's working and what's not.

Many new managers make the mistake of implementing changes too quickly without including those around them in the process. Sometimes that's necessary because of a particular business need. But in most cases, behaving that way can set a new manager apart from the other employees because they feel like they've been run over.

Communication and effective teamwork

Successful managers engage in open and ongoing communications. And it doesn't matter if the issue is company wide, department specific, or with regard to a particular employee. When you take the time to communicate, you create an environment of trust and respect. Employees who feel valued will give back to you more than you ask.

Before implementing any new ideas, processes, or other changes, start to establish a new relationship with the team that includes them in your growth and learning process. After reviewing all your staff's personnel files, their performance history, and action plans, set up one-on-one meetings with each of your direct reports. The goal of those meetings is to begin to establish your credibility as a manager. Include them in your thought processes about areas you think may need to change and some of the changes you are considering. Solicit their thoughts about the same.

Talk to them about their individual performance history, where they've been and where they think they are going. Ask them about areas in which they think your help is needed. But most important, be clear with them about your expectations. In the same way that you won't be able to manage without understanding your manager's expectations of you, they can't succeed without knowing what you expect of them.

If you treat your staff with respect through communication, you will be more effective as a leader. Leading is not all about daily control and direction. It's about vision and being able to share that vision with others. It's about being persuasive and making others feel included in setting and owning the stakes. It's about modelling ethical behaviour and demanding the same of others. If you take it seriously, you will be rewarded.

Being promoted into your first management position is exciting. Suddenly, you have the opportunity to move up the organisational ladder and do some of the things that you've always wanted to do. The resources to act on your good ideas are now at your disposal. But being a new manager also brings a whole new set of responsibilities. New managers need to identify the challenges they face during an often difficult first year. Three things - getting comfortable with being a beginner again, scoring some early wins, and learning how to ask for help - can make the transition smoother.


Salma Shah the Founder of Beyond (Talent Assessment and Development Consultancy) is passionate about talent capability, great leadership, excellence in teams and cross-cultural diversity. Prior to setting up Beyond Salma had a solid track record and a background of consultancy and business development in the Technology sector.

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