How to become a manager
"With great power comes great responsibility." No one seems to know where this famous quote originates from – but whether it was first said by Voltaire or Spider-Man's Uncle Ben, it's definitely true where becoming a manager is concerned. There are plenty of pluses to taking that next step up the career ladder, though – and we're not just talking about the financial reward. If you're excited by the thought of extra responsibility and feel confident enough to take the stresses in your stride, then you might just be ready to apply for that management role you've had your eye on.
What makes a good manager? Well, it's not just about the shiny briefcase – you're going to need great leadership qualities and people management skills too. Here are some key points to bear in mind while you're brushing up your CV.
What are the qualities of a good manager?
It's a given that you need skills in your field (be it marketing, IT, finance, or however else you earn a crust) to manage your team properly. Being able to draw on your experiences at the coal face will make it easier to guide your staff and lead them towards the best solutions. No matter how good you are at your job though, the most important skills for being a manager are communication, persuasion and leadership.
Upwards, downwards and sideways – when you're the boss (or even just a few rungs up the ladder) you need to communicate with people in every direction. To be a good communicator you need to:
- Be accurate. Exaggerating or embellishing the truth will only get you a reputation for being unreliable. Always put your case forward honestly and sensibly.
- Be clear. Sometimes you can say more with fewer words. Time is money, so they say, so if you have (or can develop) a talent for summarising things clearly, concisely and understandably, people are likely to appreciate it.
- Be constructive. Take a problem-solving approach and look for possible solutions to an issue.
Whether you're trying to convince your team to put in a bit more effort, or get the board to sign off more resources for your department, persuasion is one of the most important leadership traits a manager can have:
- Be confident. Certainty is compelling, so avoid words like 'may' and 'might', and expressions like 'I think' – it will make you sound like you're hedging your bets. You'll have done your homework beforehand (of course) so you won't just think – you'll know.
- Be credible. Your staff will only let themselves be persuaded if you demonstrate that you know what you're talking about, so make sure you know your onions.
- Emphasise the benefits. People are always easier to persuade when they can see a clear positive outcome. When you pitch an idea, be sure to emphasise why cooperating will benefit the person you're talking to. In other words, let them know what's in it for them.
Some people are born with leadership qualities, but most of us learn them. Being a good leader means taking charge, and others respecting you enough to follow:
- Be positive. A positive attitude is contagious, and always looking on the bright side will keep your team relaxed and focused on the goal.
- Be passionate. To inspire others, you have to be inspired yourself, so be enthusiastic about what you and your team are doing and let it show.
How do you become a manager?
Rome wasn't built in a day, and learning how to be a manager takes time and practice, just like everything else in life. Read on for a few guidelines to bear in mind while finding your feet.
Ask for guidance
No one's going to expect you to know the job back to front from day one. In fact, it's a great idea to ask more experienced colleagues for their advice on how to be a good leader – this shows you take a proactive approach to your job. If you can find a mentor, even better – it will boost your confidence and help you learn the skills you need for your new role.
Learn to delegate
Now that you're a manager, you have a little more clout, which gives you a great opportunity to shape your own work environment. A big part of this is learning to manage your workload, which is where delegation comes in. Trying to do everything yourself isn't just a recipe for burnout – it's also not a great advertisement for your leadership skills. By delegating some of your responsibilities, you're giving your team members added experience and accountability, which boosts their career profiles as well as helping you manage your stress levels.
Managers have to take a long view of the company strategy, especially as they rise higher up the ranks. So you'll need to think about things like setting goals and making sure you can achieve them in a cost-effective way. Think carefully about the consequences, resources and budgets of each plan before you make your decision. Being a manager is all about being accountable, so ensure you don't over-promise on deadlines that your team can't realistically meet.
What does it take to be a team leader?
If you read every book on team management that's out there, you wouldn't have time to go to work, but the basics aren't rocket science. (Unless you happen to be a rocket scientist, that is.) Effective leadership is essentially about building on your existing people skills and applying them on a wider scale. Follow these general principles and you'll be on the way to becoming the type of manager people talk about for years – for all the right reasons.
- Lead by example. Your team will be more likely to work hard if they see you're putting in some hard graft alongside them. Similarly, you can't expect your followers to give up more than you are willing to. So if you're asking staff to stay late, you need to as well.
- Manage across, not down. This basically means working alongside your team, rather than issuing commands from on high. Spending time in the trenches also helps you to understand the team dynamics that could be getting in the way of reaching goals.
- Trust your staff. Showing confidence in your employees and giving them ownership of projects will motivate them. Resist the temptation to micro-manage, as this may give them the impression you don't have faith in their skills. Trust their ability to get on with the job in hand.
- Be attentive. When staff ask for your time, give them your full and focused attention. Not only will it reassure them that they're important to you and build trust, it also gives you a chance to implement constructive ideas. The best managers know when to listen rather than speak.
- Share the company vision. Discussing the bigger picture with your staff will help them understand where their project fits into the big picture. Sharing what you know with your team will empower them, as well as motivating them to make the best decisions.
- Provide relevant training. Encouraging your staff to be the best they can be will improve your team's performance, and also show that you care about their development.
- Set goals. Employees with no goals have nothing to aim towards, which isn't great when it comes to motivation. Sit down with each member of your team in turn and develop some SMART goals that work with their career aspirations and the company's mission.
- Be specific. Whether you're providing positive or negative feedback to your staff, it's important to outline where things went wrong or where they went well. This helps to educate your staff and increases the chance of good performance in the future. No one enjoys receiving (or giving) negative feedback, but clear communication here is especially important – it lets your staff know exactly what they need to do in order to improve, which helps avoid stress and allows them to be at their best.
Build positive relationships
- Create a positive work environment. We're not saying you should act overly chummy like David Brent, but being friendly and approachable will work wonders for your team's performance. If your team functions well as a unit, it will make your job as manager easier.
- Praise your staff. A bit of praise is better than a caffeine fix when it comes to productivity, as it releases energising endorphins, and a recent study by Harvard Medical School revealed that employee recognition can boost productivity by 50%. Consider highlighting their achievements in the company newsletter or creating an 'employee of the month' award to implement during team meetings.
- Have an open-door policy. Staff should be comfortable popping into your office for a chat, as this encourages a collaborative culture. You should also swing by people's desks occasionally for a quick five-minute catch-up. Casual chats are often when small bugbears and inefficiencies are raised.
- Build team spirit. Hold regular meetings, track team performance and reward success. The occasional night out or away day can be helpful here too.
- Make time for fun. Being able to have a laugh and relax around each other makes for a more positive work environment. Forget about forced fun (does anyone really get excited about 'silly tie Tuesday'?) and just focus on general chat about things that interest your staff in their day-to-day lives.
How to become a manager – step by step
Stepping into your first managerial role is an exciting time in your career. Bear these tips in mind and you'll soon be on your way:
- Work on your communication, persuasion and leadership skills to become an effective manager.
- Speak to senior colleagues to find out what makes them skilful leaders.
- Never underestimate the importance of delegation and time management in a leadership role.
- Cultivate a positive and honest relationship with your team, and show willingness to muck in when times are tough.
- Take the time to train and motivate your staff, and give them responsibility. Micro-managing them will only damage morale.
- Create a positive atmosphere, with a touch of fun thrown in. Happy staff are productive staff!
Ready to make the leap into a management role? Browse Monster's job search page for vacancies in your area of expertise.