Are you Management Material?
It’s quite common for professionals to move into management because they have been seen as management material and they have assumed it would be a good career move. Although some of these people go on to have successful, satisfying management careers, others sooner or later find themselves doing work they find stressful and being obliged to undertake tasks they would rather avoid. It is likely that their move into management was based largely on others’ assumptions about their potential.
It is equally unfortunate when professionals actively avoid opportunities to move into management because they decide they are not management material based on unchecked assumptions about what management involves. Many of these individuals later regret having closed the door on a management opportunity that could have advanced their career in ways they had not imagined.
Common to these approaches is that the professionals concerned have made decisions about whether they are management material without properly evaluating for themselves whether they have the will, interest and drive to become a successful manager. Doing a careful assessment for yourself puts you in a much better position to make informed decisions about your own career direction – management or otherwise.
The self-assessment questions in the next section will get you started on a proper assessment of what is involved and whether you have what it takes to become a manager. After that you will find a checklist of things to do if you are serious about a move into management and want to be proactive about it. A few management myths to be aware of are covered in the final section.
Do you have what it takes to be a manager?
Knowing whether you are management material involves making an assessment based on a good understanding of what management involves and deciding for yourself whether a move into management makes sense for you. These questions will help you make a start on that assessment.
1. Are you willing to be accountable for the work of others?
Most management roles involve delegation of some of your responsibilities to others and being accountable for the outcomes of their work. In responding to this question think about what is involved in delegation; for example, defining responsibilities, setting expectations and ensuring that effective reporting mechanisms are in place. The article The qualities of successful managers has a lot more to say about management accountability.
2. How enthusiastic do you feel about the prospect of managing others’ performance?
Good performance management is a critical component of effective delegation. And for some managers there is a great deal of personal satisfaction to be gained from managing people’s performance in ways that enhance individual job satisfaction and produce needed outcomes. To be an effective manager you also need to care about how others feel about their work. There is more on this topic in Managing people with different personalities.
3. Are you a good listener?
Of course there is a lot more to management than listening and the point of listening when you are a manager is not about meeting everybody’s expectations. However, being an effective listener helps you understand what’s going on and, coupled with good analytical skills, makes a significant contribution to sound decision-making.
4. Do topics like ‘employee engagement’ and ‘learning and development’ interest you enough to invest time in really understanding the manager’s role in each of these areas?
These days it’s not enough for managers to set objectives and then monitor people’s progress towards them. It’s part of management work to involve people in the decisions that affect their work. People’s engagement is critical to achieving best performance – for individuals and for the organisation as a whole. For more on why staff engagement is important see the article Staff engagement; What’s the bottom line?
Also, staff members expect to have opportunities to learn new skills, gain relevant new knowledge and develop their careers. Whilst you might not know much about these areas right now, being ‘management material’ includes having a willingness to, and interest in, developing skills in these and similar people-related areas. For more on this topic see the article Training and developing people: a manager’s role.
4. Can you relate to people at work without needing to like them at a personal level?
As a manager you will need to treat all people fairly and with respect including when you are not particularly drawn to them at a personal level. This is relatively straightforward when you take on management of staff you don’t yet know as people. It can be very challenging when you take on management of people who are friends. For more on how to be a manager rather than a mate and about the importance of fairness and respect see the article Five lines managers should never cross.
5. Are you able to see the ‘big picture’?
It is true that managers need to pay attention to a lot of detail but they must also have the capacity to look beyond their own areas of responsibility to the bigger picture – ensuring that their own and their staff members efforts are aligned with those of other parts of the organisation and often with what’s happening beyond the boundaries of their own organisation. Good managers know how and when to adopt a helicopter view.
6. Are you able and willing to plan and organise?
You don’t qualify as a professional without a degree of planning and organising ability. But how do you feel about a role in which you will be obliged to produce a range of plans, and in which success will depend on your ability to organise the work needed to implement those plans. Not only that, you will also need to involve others in those plans and engage them in the organising effort.
7. Do you have what it takes to be the boss people want to work with?
All too frequently people leave their job because of bosses who break promises, fail to give credit where it is due, invade privacy and generally get in the way of people’s sense of wellbeing and satisfaction with their work. For more about what it takes to be the boss people want to work with see the article Boosting employee retention: Why people leave bosses not jobs.
When you’re serious about a move into management
When you are confident that a move into management is for you there is a range of actions you can take to increase the likelihood of success.
Do an honest assessment of your ‘soft’ skills
Whatever sort of management you are aiming for, you will be involved in dealing with people. Are your interpersonal skills good enough for helping others work through conflict in a constructive way? Are you able to communicate effectively with people from a range of disciplines? Are you a confident, interesting presenter? By identifying any soft skills shortfalls, you can take proactive steps to extend your skills well ahead of that ideal management opportunity presenting itself. The article The importance of soft skills for IT professionals expands on this topic and is relevant for professionals in many fields beyond IT.
Assemble the evidence
Once you are confident that a move into management is for you, it helps to make an early start on assembling the evidence that will convince your next hiring manager that you are the person for the job. For example, if you plan to claim that you are a good organiser, an effective communicator and perceived as a leader, make sure you can justify your claims with examples of what you have done and what has been achieved.
Work on your network
You might find your ideal first management role publicly advertised but it is equally likely to be known to somebody in your network and NOT advertised publicly. When you are serious about a move into management it’s not enough to know it for yourself – you must promote the idea to others. There is much more about this is Networking and the hidden job market.
In evaluating whether a management path is for you, it’s helpful to be aware of some commonly held assumptions concerning what management is about which turn out to be myths.
Myth 1: Expect to work longer hours as a manager
It is true that many managers put in longer hours than others around them at work who do not have management responsibilities. However it is not a prerequisite for being a manager. Many people end up working longer hours than necessary because of their inability to deal with one or more of the factors in the previous section. For example, when managers fail to address poor performance properly, the flow-on effect can involve a great deal of additional work that could have been avoided.
Myth 2: Its part of a manager’s job to motivate people
It is true that an important part of management work is to attend to factors that help people to feel motivated at work but, with the right conditions people find their own motivation – within. Management work associated with people’s motivation includes understanding the relationship between human motivation and performance at work and competently attending to factors such as rewards and recognition which fuel motivation at work. The article Motivation and the manager’s role provides more on this topic.
Myth 3: Managers are generally rewarded with perks and much higher pay
It is true that some management roles are associated with pay and other rewards that are significantly beyond what you can expect if you follow, for example, a technical specialisation route. However, these roles are not the norm. In the shorter term at least, a move into management might result in take home pay that is not more than you are currently on. Before you either rule out or commit to a move into management, check out the likely financial and other rewards.
Looking for more ideas?
In addition to the links embedded in this article, members with an interest in extending their reading about the topics covered in this article will find the following articles relevant:
About the Author
Janet Fitzell is an organisation development consultant and facilitator, providing consulting services through FourLeaf Consulting Pty Ltd. She has designed and delivered a range of training and professional development programs in both university and industry settings.