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How to make the jump from non-manager to manager

Take these five steps and you'll have your very own direct reports in no time.

How to make the jump from non-manager to manager

Got your eye on a management job? You’re not alone. Millennials are hungry for leadership positions, with two out of three saying in a recent Deloitte study that they expect to leave their current jobs in the next few years to land such a role.

While you can be a leader without a staff underneath you—managing projects and vendors, for example—many people associate “leadership” with “management.”  So if you’re among those who are interested in climbing the ladder and having people on the rungs beneath you, follow these five steps to make it happen.

1. Know thyself

The first step in your quest for a position in management is understanding your strengths, your weaknesses and what you need to be working on, says Silicon Valley-based Lisa Orrell, a consultant and author Millennials into Leadership and Your Employee Brand is in Your Hands.

“It’s taking a serious look at yourself and saying, ‘OK, what do I need to be doing,’ and ‘How is my personal brand being perceived?’” says Orrell, who recommends using personality assessment tools for self-discovery. Do you have a temper? Are you shy? “It’s not just who you are, it’s who you aspire to be and what you need to do to get there,” she says.

STOP HERE! Before you read on, you also should seriously question whether you’ll actually enjoy the role of manager.

Amanda Gerrie, a career consultant in the Bay Area, recalls a client who loved the creativity and project-based work of her job, then moved into management and realized she didn’t enjoy coordinating details and managing people.

“Sometimes people assume that they want to move into management because it’s the next logical step,” Gerrie says. “But I see a lot of people who love their job and when they assume a leadership role, it completely changes for them.”

2. Lay the groundwork

OK, you’ve decided management is the track for you. Feel free to continue reading…

A manager, first and foremost, is someone who leads others. As noted earlier, you don’t have to be officially anointed as a manager by your company in order to lead.

“Act like you already are a manager,” Gerrie advises. That means behaving with the decorum and professionalism of a leader all while you seek out leadership opportunities in your current capacity. “Demonstrate your ability to assume leadership of projects or people by looking for problems in your work environment that need solving that no one is working on.”

For example, say you’re a UX designer and your company is trying to find a way to present a deal to customers. Now, you realize you’re not technically on the e-commerce team, but you think you can find a way to optimize the site to drive more traffic. Go to the director of that department and present your idea. Offer to show some samples, or to help coordinate a team of UX and e-commerce associates to talk about the idea.

Company leaders look for proven results—exceeding expectations, offering ideas and solutions, connecting and driving other team members—before promoting employees into management jobs, says Jill Jacinto, a millennial careers expert and associate director at WORKS, a New York-based career consultancy.

“Try to understand, as much as you can, the big picture,” she says. “What are the company’s goals for the next few years and how can what you’re doing now really affect those goals and help you move along as well?”

3. Speak up

Make your ambitions known, to your boss and others in positions of power. “It’s OK to have aspirations,” Orrell says. “It’s not just an ego thing.”

Young women, especially, often make the mistake of assuming that higher-ups will notice and reward their hard work, both Gerrie and Jacinto say.

“You really need to be your own advocate,” Jacinto says. “When it’s raise time or promotion time, you need to remind them of the great work you’re doing for the company and your goals for the next several months and the next several years.” Make known that you’re interested in a path that involves people management, and put your hand up when a position at the next level becomes available.

4. Devise a roadmap

Work with your supervisor to make a plan for getting you into the position you want, including a timeline and action steps. It may involve co-leading an important project, shoring up your skill-set or spending time cross-training in other departments or roles.

This is where you’ll want to lean on your manager. Ask, tactically, what you can do toward getting that promotion you want. He or she should have some good guidance on this. And if not...

5. Widen your sights

It’s time to look for a new job.

“It might take time and patience to gather enough experiences to demonstrate your leadership capacity,” she says. But don’t just keep toiling away if the management prospects at your current company seem murky. “If they don’t see your impact, then it’s time to look elsewhere.”

In the meantime, look to volunteer gigs like nonprofit boards, neighborhood or school committees or pro-bono side projects to get some leadership experience, she suggests.

Whether you’re pursuing that in-house promotion or cutting bait and looking for a new job, Gerrie says, make a priority of documenting and talking up your accomplishments, both on the job and off. “Evidence helps when it’s time to make your case.”

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