First Time Manager Tips and Challenges

First time manager stressed outInterested in a career in Management?

Wondering what the characteristics of a good manager are?

One of the best books I’ve ever read is “Winning” by Jack Welch. While not specifically a guide as to what managers do, it covers a lot of ground and provides excellent background into the mindset required to be an effective manager and corporate leader – whether you’re a first time line manager or an experienced middle manager moving into an executive leadership position.

I started my career as a programmer, and within 5 years was promoted into a project manager role, and from that point on I was in management – either directly managing small and large teams, or managing virtual cross functional teams.

Key Managerial Skills to be an effective manager

  • Communication – you have to verbally and via written communication be able to talk at the forest level [executives and peers], treetop level [more details for lower level audience], and in the weeds [the team you manage and their activities]
  • Domain knowledge to inform direction and validate your teams work. Many first time people managers assume they need to be experts in the work their employees do – however, they quickly they can’t be. However, as an effective manager you have to have enough domain knowledge to be able to call b******t on approaches, timing, and reasons why a job is not getting done. You also have to map higher level strategies into the work you need your team to do, which requires knowledge of the subject matter. Don’t try and be an expert in the weeds however – that isn’t what the company needs you to do – after all, that’s why you hire experts under you! Your job now is to manage getting the work done – not do the work yourself.
  • People Skills in Management – A good characteristic of managers is to be able to relate to people, treat each one different based on the work they do and what motivates your employees,  [each person is different], and from a good management perspective be able to drive your employees to deliver their best work.
  • Politics – don’t ignore this key managerial skill. As you move into management for the first time you have to build your network of support across the organization, and it may not be about what your team accomplishes, but more in how you relate to other people managers and teams and are viewed as their supporter. Managers in any organization form a symbiotic relationship with each other, as often business objectives and large projects require resources that span more than one person. Being able to acquire those resources [and lend them out] often will make the difference between success and failure.
  • Regulate your emotions – To be an effective manager, you will be put in many tough spots – having to fire under-performers, lay off good employees because of change in strategy or a down turn in business, and deal with employee issues. You have to ALWAYS keep your emotions out of it. Being objective and always keeping the health of the business in mind is a critical management characteristic. Emotional regulation is key to moving up the management career ladders.

Being promoted into your first management role and be scary, and often causes anxiety. Becoming an excellent manager doesn’t happen overnight – it takes work, study, management training, and sheer experience.

A career in management, hoever, can be very rewarding, but you have to ensure you are always working on improving your managerial skills by watching successful managers, reading management books by the gurus of the industry, and ensuring your skills are always aligned with managing people.

There is a ton of material available online, and some very good books you can read to learn how to manage effectively. Although first line managers are at the lowest rung of what I would call true business leadership, it is the first rung, and as you gain experience you should look to get promoted into higher and higher levels of management. These upper levels are where you start having input on a company’s strategy and vision – and at this point you’ve transitioned from people management to true business leader.

Typical Challenges of First Time Managers

Being promoted into a management role can be daunting at first. All of a sudden you’re not only responsible for your own work, but also the work of others. You now have to interface with other managers, run staff meetings, learn more about the business, and of course be responsible for the fact that the people that work for you are now your responsibility.

I won’t go into a lot of detail on some of the challenges and new skills you will have to develop. However, hopefully this list of what managers will face their first few months in the new job will help you focus your research and management training approach.

  • Time Management – You now will own a much larger portion of how your time is used each day. Think about the activities you’ve been told you own now, and how to structure blocks of time to address them.
  • Connecting with your new team as a people leader. You will need to schedule either weekly or biweekly one-on-ones. I typically limit these to 30 minutes, and drive half of the agenda and set expectations for my employees that they drive the second half.
  • Acting with authority. This includes being decisive, listening to perspectives, not being bullied into adopting someone else’s opinion, and making and sticking by your decisions on both trivial and major issues.
  • Dealing with personnel problems. As much as we’d like to believe people come to work and know what to do and how to do it, everyone has personal problems, problems getting along with others, good days and bad days, etc. You now will have to play a combination of therapist and babysitter for many people. Keep in the mind the goal is to get as much productivity out of your team as you can.
  • Setting goals and driving the team to accomplish the. This includes empowering your employees to do their job, make decisions within their scope of authority, and keeping both individuals and the larger group focused on near and medium term goals and objectives.
  • Coaching as an effective management characteristic. You can no longer ignore mistakes made by others, lack of performance, issues with showing up late for work or leaving early, communication style and conflict among people – these are now your problems to deal with. You have to get into a coaching mindset, seeking first to understand, then explain the impact a behavior is having on the business, and finally working towards improving an employees behavior and performance.
  • Don’t be a dictator. In my experience good managers set direction and enforce it, but they seek ideas and discussion around new ideas, but make it clear the authority and responsibility to make the final call is theirs. Be very careful here – you don’t want to be the manager everyone is afraid of or only hears from when there is a new mandate to be followed. This will not earn you respect.
  • Recruiting and hiring. You will now own working with human resources to source and interview new job candidates for your open positions. There will always be turnover, and in the best case scenario business is booming and you have to expand your staff. You will need to learn how to interview effectively, and also build a team of both peers and people under you that you trust to properly evaluate new job candidates.
  • Time management – everybody will want a piece of your time and you will rapidly burn through your 40 hours before you know it. Prioritize your time,schedule recurring events for things like staff meetings, one-on-ones, and upper management briefings. Always be responsive to both upper management requests and requests from your peer managers. You will find that the most carefully laid out plans will always shift due to issues that arise that are now your responsibility as a first time manager.
  • Learn and actively practice delegation. Even if you could get someone else’s job done faster, you have to let go and coach your employee to do it. Even if you know it may not be as good (initially) as if you had done it yourself. Your job now is to allocate, monitor, and deliver work based on others doing the job – not you.

I hope these tips for first time managers was helpful, and enables you to understand some of the challenges you will face in your new management role. Being able to handle the information presented above will put you on the right path to developing characteristics of effective management. People management can be a very rewarding career promotion  – put your best effort into it and you will be rewarded.

Good luck!


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