Prepare for a management position

While not everyone aspires to manage people, for those that do, the path can be confusing.

Most management positions require prior management experience.  If that’s the case, how can someone become a manager for the first time?  Even entry-level manager positions are looking for experience that points to an ability to successfully manage people.

What is that experience and how does a non-manager get it?

There are some tasks that only managers have accountability for.  These are primarily related to budgeting, resource management and workload management.  Key elements of resource management include hiring, firing, development and performance management.

Any one of these responsibilities may seem like you can only get experience if you are already a manager.  However, that is not the case.

Here are seven areas of management responsibility, with suggestions for how non-managers can develop the skills necessary for the role.

Budget

While you may not own the budget at work, you can volunteer to do analysis or put together a business case for an idea you have.  Alternatively, if you are asked to manage a project, ask for any financial information you need to be able to reflect the true cost and value of the effort.

Volunteering to manage the budget of a charity or other organization you are a part of provides great insights to the skills necessary to tackle this task during your day job.  There will be differences, but the ownership is what can differentiate you relative to others.

These are all great ways to get familiarity with owning a budget, but actually running one for an organization or project, even a small one, can go a long way towards demonstrating this skill.

Workload Management

What is workload management?  It is task assignment, delegation and prioritization for one or more individuals.

Many companies have interns or cooperative education students who work part- or full- time and go to school.  These programs are great for building a talent pool, but it takes effort to get the students to the point where they can contribute.

Since students need more oversight than experienced members of the team, ask to take one under your wing.  Offer that you can take on another project or other work and delegate some of the tasks.

This demonstrates your ability to track and monitor the work of someone else.  You will still be accountable, and will learn valuable leadership skills.  Helping get new team members up to speed, and leading small project teams are also opportunities to demonstrate workload management skills.

Hiring

While managers are ultimately responsible for hiring, there is a lot of effort that goes into the process.  Offer to interview potential candidates to vet their technical ability or job fit.

As part of the process, provide constructive feedback on their abilities relative to the role.  You may also want to weigh in on anyone you think would be a good personality fit with the group.  Be wary of providing negative fit comments until you have established yourself as someone who provides consistently fair and impartial feedback.

Your manager may also conduct reviews of all candidates.  Volunteer to participate, so you can observe the process, and provide your input first-hand.  While there are more steps to hiring, interviews and candidate reviews provide a solid foundation for establishing experience.

Performance Management

Every employee needs to know how he or she is performing relative to expectations.  While this is ultimately the responsibility of a manager, others can provide feedback to the manager and/or the individual directly.

For example, remember the student referenced earlier?  On a day-to-day basis, you would provide feedback directly to him/her regarding progress and delivery of specific tasks.  You would provide periodic feedback to the manager regarding overall performance, any concerns, and receive input on how the manager thinks both of you are doing.

Feedback should always be constructive and based on reasonable expectations given the role, assigned work, and experience of the person.

Firing

Firing someone is the last resort for any manager.  No matter how much experience someone has, it’s a guided process that should include Human Resources.

It is also confidential, limiting the ability to gain experience until you are in the role.  However, long before someone is fired, there is an observation of a behavior or delivery that does not meet expectations.

Whether you are providing day-to-day feedback to a student, leading a project or volunteering at an outside organization,  providing constructive and timely feedback to a manager regarding an individual’s performance can demonstrate how you handle a challenging situation.

Development

Developing people is a key responsibility for any manager or leader.  There are a few ways to do this informally to gain experience.

  • Mentoring – Establish relationships with one or more individuals to help them in their career path or to work through challenges as they arise.
  • Coaching – Work with individuals within or outside your team, to help develop or improve a specific skill.  It could be technical, like coding or writing requirements, or soft skills like public speaking.
  • Training – Establish yourself as a subject matter expert in a given topic and help others through classes or sharing information in an internal blog.

Project Leadership

Managers are often asked to implement new processes, tools, or other changes in their organizations.  One of the best ways to demonstrate readiness for management is through project management.

You will rarely have management responsibility for a team, but you can own a budget for the project, participate in resource selection, provide development advice and feedback to your team members, as well as assign and track work.

In some companies, project managers are seen as a natural population for future managers.  If you have the opportunity to lead a project, it could provide insight to whether people management is something for you, and help build the necessary skills.

 

If you aspire to managing people, consider what opportunities exist in your organization to take on some of the responsibilities outlined above.  If some of them look feasible, make a proposal to your current manager and start demonstrating your readiness for that next step.

 

If you’re already a manager, what types of skill building did you do to prepare for the role?  Please share your experience in the comments to help others who aspire to become managers.  Thank you!