So You Want To Be A Manager
12:15 pm, April 18th | by Beth Devin, Manilla.com
A major milestone in my career was the transition from being a high-performing individual contributor to my first management role. I waited longer than many of my peers to make this change. It felt so good and safe to be only in charge of me and tackle each assignment with gusto. It was a daunting proposition to step away from the hands on work and trust others to get the job done.
As a technology leader, I often talk to software developers, quality assurance (QA) staff and system engineers who want to know what they need to do to be considered for a management position. They see this as an important next step in their career — sometimes the only way to move up. Unfortunately, the role and responsibilities of a manager are often misunderstood.
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Different industries require different styles of management, but there are some common threads that describe what managers do and how they spend their time.
Generalist not specialist – Managers tend to be generalists, not specialists. They often have past experience in one or more functional areas. For example, prior to becoming a manager, I had been a software developer, a database administrator, and a systems analyst. All of these experiences served me well as a manager. However, my focus changed as I looked end to end at the entire team’s contributions, how each person performed individually, and my team’s interactions with other teams. I was much less involved in the detailed project work and more focused on the health and performance of my organization. While I sometimes miss being able to design and develop software, I get tremendous satisfaction and reward from the camaraderie of my team and the work that they do.
People, people and people – Much of a manager’s time and attention is spent on the people they manage. Creating a high-functioning and results-driven team is job one. To accomplish this, you are involved in hiring, training and development, coaching, team building, and firing (the least fun part of the job). These important tasks require a significant amount of time and attention. An amazing array of people-related issues can arise during a typical week — examples include an employee with health issues, a request for training, interest expressed in increasing responsibilities, or a disagreement that escalates. Management is a people skill — it’s not a job for someone who doesn’t enjoy people.
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360 communication – Good managers are always communicating. They provide context and the whys and whats to their staff. Great managers energize their team by making certain that they know how their work and projects support the company’s objectives. Equally important is the outward communication to peers, upper management, and perhaps partners and customers. They keep these important stakeholders informed about the status of work underway and proactively manage expectations about milestones and deliverables. In today’s connected world, communication comes in all forms, including email, text, presentations, video, and walking the halls. Communication is a powerful tool used effectively by the best managers.
Issue management – Managers always have their antennae up — they manage risk and address issues before they get out of hand. You work hard to remove obstacles for your team and keep the trains running on time. If all work and projects went as planned, we wouldn’t need as many managers. To do this well, managers have to make countless decisions each day and to know how best to navigate an organization and its processes and policies. The best managers learn from issues and mistakes, and they implement changes that result in better plans and performance next time around. There can be a lot at stake, and you’ll need to stay calm under pressure. If you’re putting out too many fires, you have bigger problems to solve.
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Looking ahead – The best managers have an eye on the future, whether the future is tomorrow, next week, or next year. They are strategists and planners. As a manager, your staff is generally heads down working on today’s objectives and commitments, while you are thinking about what’s next. This may take the form of planning the next software release, adjusting a project plan due to resource changes, preparing the Q2 budget forecast in light of the Q1 actual spending, and prioritizing projects based on work underway. You regularly prepare estimates and plans and then make adjustments based on results to date, changes, and new demands. It’s an imperfect process but critical to navigating the path forward.
Great managers rarely start out that way. They learn through experience, by making mistakes, and from the people they manage. If you are ready to let go and put your trust in others, be confident and yet still humble, and serve as the communicator and coordinator that keeps it all together, then perhaps the management career path is the right next step for you!
Beth Devin is the chief technology officer of Manilla.com, a free, award-winning and secure service that helps consumers manage all of their bills and accounts in one place online and via mobile apps. Get the chance to win $2,500 in cash when you take the Manilla Get It Together Challenge. Learn more here.
[Photo via Shutterstock]