The leap from individual contributor to manager can feel enormous, especially for people who have limited experience supervising others.
How do you position yourself as someone capable of managing when you haven’t officially done it before? What kind of experience will help demonstrate you’re management material? And, most importantly, what skills do you need to be successful if and when you finally get the opportunity to make the leap?
Here are a few of the most important elements to focus on as you position yourself for a move from individual contributor to manager.
Create opportunities to “manage” others
Sure, you might not be a manager yet, but you may still have opportunities to unofficially manage people or relationships. For example, perhaps you can take the lead in supervising a contractor, or managing a vendor relationship, or overseeing a new hire as they transition onto the team. Such situations can be useful ground for exercising your skills. You can practice the art of delegation and learn what it takes to keep people on track (which is often more difficult than you’d think!).
Managers are inherently different from individual contributors because their primary focus is getting things done with and through others. It’s not so much about what they know; it’s about what they’re able to guide others to accomplish. Once you start looking for ways you can do this within the confines of your current role, you’re likely to find at least a few opportunities.
Demonstrate your ability to lead
Of course, being a manager isn’t just about managing the work of others; it’s also about being a leader. That means having a clear vision and the ability to influence others to work towards that vision. Strong leaders know how to motivate their team members, persuade them to their way of thinking, and inspire them to action.
Practice these skills by accepting leadership responsibilities on projects. Be vocal about your ideas, take initiative to implement them, and bring others on board. Be someone your manager can rely on to help rally the troops around decisions. In short, use your influence to lead others where you want them to go.
Think more strategically
Generally speaking, individual contributors are more tactical while managers are more strategic. Rather than focusing on how to do things, managers focus on defining what things to do. Consequently, if you want to transition to management, you need to start thinking at this strategic level.
Make efforts to understand the big picture and how all the various pieces are interconnected. Consider why certain things are priorities, and how they impact the organization. Don’t merely look at the tasks that have to be done; instead, ask yourself, “What role do these tasks play in helping us reach the organization’s objectives?”
Also watch: How to Think Strategically, Like a CEO
Inquire with your manager
Finally, talk with your manager to better understand exactly what is required to make the leap. Take a look at the job description of the managerial role you’re interested in, and try to identify skill gaps. The more transparent you are about your desire to transition to management, the more support you are likely to get. Your manager may be able provide opportunities to help you fill the experience gaps; he or she may even be willing to mentor you. In any case, your manager surely will have a useful perspective to share if you’re willing to ask for it.
While this leap may feel like an uphill battle, it’s been done by many, many professionals in the past. You can move into management, even with limited experience. But don’t discount what it will to take to make it happen. Take these strategies to heart and you’ll be well on your way.