You put in the work, honed your skills, took the training, and excelled as an employee over the past few years. Now your hard work has brought you to the next step on your career path: management.
Or is it the next step? You might just be at a fork in the path.
Becoming a manager isn’t for everyone, and that’s OK. Managing isn’t easy, but it can be rewarding. You’ll take on new responsibilities, grow as an individual, and help others reach their potential.
But here’s the problem: how do you know if you want to be a manager if you haven’t managed? And, how do you get hired (even internally) to do something you’ve never done before?
Let’s go over how to know if you’re ready to become a manager and what you need to earn that managerial position.
Signs you’re ready to become a manager
The requirements of manager roles vary depending on the industry, but many soft skills span disciplines. Here are some signs you’re ready:
1. You put the team’s best interest ahead of your own
As a manager, you’ll be responsible for a group of people. Effective leaders need to do the right and honest thing, even when it’s inconvenient for them. If you’re comfortable with this idea, it’s a good sign you’re ready.
2. You set a good example
Your energy is contagious, and a negative attitude will bring your team down. Instead, improve everyone’s spirit in the face of adversity by offering motivating words. Bring positivity to build morale among your staff.
3. You accept people’s differences
As an employee, it’s easy to fall into cliques with those you get along with. Outgrowing that by learning to separate personal from professional means you’ll better adapt to your team’s varying work styles and personalities.
4. People trust and respect you
Do you have a history of walking the walk and talking the talk? Do people know they can count on you?
People also trust down-to-earth and humble leaders, so being honest about your strengths and weaknesses encourages others to do the same. This is a critical part of being a leader, and you’re set if you already have it.
5. You’re a problem solver
When roadblocks pop up, you take action and help. You always seem to have a solution up your sleeve. And if things don’t go as planned, you see it as a lesson learned, so you’re ready for next time.
11 steps towards becoming a manager
Here are some things to help you win that promotion if you think you’re ready:
1. Join a growing company
The first step is to make sure your organization has room to grow. Many not-for-profits, for example, consist of small teams — so you’re unlikely to find a management position there. On the other hand, growing companies open the door to new roles and offer more opportunities.
2. Grow your skills
Being really good at your current role is a prerequisite. In many companies, especially larger ones, you need to demonstrate you’re already acting as a manager or practicing the skills of a manager before you ever get promoted. The skills and capabilities of leaders are different from those of an individual contributor, even a rock star one.
You need to keep growing and developing your managerial skills, which means refining yourself in and out of the office. Show a growth mindset. Look for opportunities to pick up new skills, knowledge, and experiences that will prepare you to lead a team in a new role.
Effective managers need a wide range of skills, from project management and communication to technical. Consider obtaining certifications and attending workshops to both improve technical and soft skills and show superiors you’re willing to work for a promotion.
Speak with your supervisor or a human resources rep about employee growth stipends or other continuing education initiatives. They might be able to point you to courses that align with skills required for managers.
3. Add value to your team
Hard work pays off. Apply yourself to show your worth in your current role. And make sure you’re realistic about what you can actually accomplish — stretching yourself too thin and failing to deliver is more detrimental than helpful. Pay attention to time management and work quality.
Check in with managers and mentors. They can keep you accountable and help you be the best version of yourself on your journey to a management role.
4. Volunteer for high-visibility projects
Found out your boss is working on a big new project? Volunteer to help. Heard your coworker’s behind on their monthly quota? Lend a hand. This shows initiative and care by proving you’re willing to work hard and want coworkers to succeed.
You’re more likely to be noticed by upper management and you may enjoy more professional development opportunities working with superiors or new clients.
5. Don’t fear risk
Great leaders are bold. Advocate for your ideas and back them up with data and examples. Suggest strategic projects and create a work plan for your pitch. There’s always a risk of failure, but what’s gained is worth it — you’ll stand out to senior leadership and potentially land a management position.
6. Be a mentor
When someone has a question, practice teaching and being a good mentor, demonstrating vital skills for good management. Keep yourself open to your team members and let them know you’re there if they need any help to practice these skills.
7. Find your voice
Don’t be afraid to speak up in meetings. Always come prepared with intelligent questions, insights, and suggestions. Open the door to discussion, and be ready to change your mind if someone else has a good idea.
8. Understand the bigger picture
Develop your business acumen. If you can, ask to attend meetings with the leadership team. Pay attention to the way managers express their ideas and take in information from others, and always take notes. This shows you’re interested, and what you learn will be helpful in future interviews.
9. Ask for advice and seek support
Your manager isn’t a mind reader. Unless you tell them you want to move up in the company, they won’t know you’re interested in a new position. The best managers will help you succeed. They might even give you a preview of upcoming job descriptions.
Make sure you trust your boss. Many toxic leaders would either deliberately work against you or let their insecurities and territorialism get in the way. A 2019 Gallup report suggests that “talent hoarding” managers short-sightedly try to keep their best employees close by not promoting them if the new opportunity would be off the team. Be careful.
10. Show empathy
Being vulnerable and empathetic are vital communication skills. Know how to communicate authentically with others and see things from their point of view. Practice your emotional intelligence skills.
Relationships are vital to your career development. Try to have coffee with at least one new person per week; it could be a member of the management team or a coworker at your level.
The point is to meet new people and build rapport to show your team you care about them and have the potential to lead. And don’t hesitate to add them on LinkedIn. You never know where someone will end up and what opportunities they might offer you.
You got the job — now what?
Congrats. Now it’s time to flex your leadership skills in your managerial role. You need to move thoughtfully and confidently to own this role. There’s no formula dictating how to be a good manager or leader, but here are five ways to start on the right foot:
1. Keep building relationships
As a new manager, you now represent your team to the rest of the organization. You’ll be working with other leaders and department heads. Build a relationship with everyone. This will help you in the long run.
2. Set up one-on-ones with your team
If you’ve been promoted, you may already know your team. Meet them again, for the first time. One of your most important early goals is to build trust and confidence in your team. Not everyone will speak up in a group context, and people often keep their concerns and questions to themselves.
One-on-ones are an effective way to receive feedback. They can also lead to frank conversations and highlight issues you didn’t know about but have the power to address. Taking the time to show your support in a less intimidating setting may encourage employees to share their ideas in collaborative environments.
3. Manage up
Being a great manager is about handling your bosses just as much as your staff. People management encompasses the whole team, so maintain your relationship with higher-ups, but defend your employees when necessary. Know your team’s limits, and don’t make promises you can’t keep.
4. Celebrate your wins
Even the smallest victories count. Find reasons to celebrate with your team. This will make you look good to senior management, build morale, and improve teamwork.
Plus, studies show that workers who feel connected and validated by their boss are less likely to accept other job opportunities and more likely to spread positivity, improving overall well-being and decreasing the probability of burnout.
5. Get support
All managers need support to develop their leadership skills and get an objective perspective on how they’re doing. New managers benefit greatly from coaching and formal or informal mentoring. New managers also typically require management training programs.
Being a first-time manager is overwhelming, no matter how strong your management skills are. Rest assured that moving up the ladder doesn’t happen overnight, and never happens alone. Lean into the people around you, and always keep your eye on the target.
Connect with friends, family, and coworkers who’ve made similar career changes to discuss worries and anxieties. Ask someone you trust to hold you accountable if you’re taking on new habits or tackling issues like imposter syndrome.
Motivate yourself to prepare for management by outlining short and long-term goals and celebrating every milestone. And acknowledge that your initial interest in leadership is impressive in itself.