Are you, or is someone you know, an individual contributor who wants to move into a management role, either with your current organization or a new one? But, how can you sell yourself as a manager when you've never actually been one?
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The basic fact is that every manager originally lacked professional management experience; and yet, of course, many people end up as managers. The chasm between individual contributor and manager can be crossed, but only if you can effectively demonstrate and describe your management skills.
So how do you begin making the transition?
First, ask yourself whether you really want to move up. A certain proportion of the people who do their jobs well eventually get promoted into management, but some actually find that they miss their individual contributor roles and dislike managing other people. A management title or salary can be appealing, but in the long run, management may not be the professional role that you really want. If you're convinced that it is what you want, or that you at least want to try it, then get to work convincing other people that you're ready for it.
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Then find out what's needed to achieve a management position in your organization and strive to resemble that management candidate. Start by showing management capability with the tasks you're already doing as an individual contributor. Consider Eric, a young man who has been very successful in a tech company he recently joined. He quickly decided that he needed to create a dialogue with upper management to assure that he could work his way up to a management position as promptly as possible. He asked:
- What are the requirements needed to advance?
- What are the skills that I'll need to demonstrate?
- How can I best demonstrate them?
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By asking these questions, he was viewed as a serious contender for a higher role and learned what was most valued in his company. He realized that part of his efforts would hinge around how well he managed himself. He would need to be proactive about setting his own agenda, so the people managing him wouldn't have to. He found that his boss could then become the person who approved, rather than directed, a number of his initiatives.
Eric showed that he was taking the bigger picture into consideration in how he approached his work. He treated each assignment as if he was the project manager, showing that he could "own the project". He over-communicated with his colleagues and his boss. By taking a proactive approach, he would not be seen as a passive participant, but as someone who could make things happen.
By actively showing what he could do, Eric was swiftly promoted to a management position that has developed and grown, much to his satisfaction and that of his company. He did this by making sure that the powers-that-be observed his efforts and were fully aware that he was ready to advance.
So what, exactly, should you say to your manager and when should you say it? Put in an early request for those watching you to be aware of your ambition so they can see it enacted. You can say things like:
- "I'm ready to move ahead in the organization" or "I will be ready soon."
- "I'm enjoying what I do and I look forward to taking on more."
- "I'd like to be a candidate for the manager position that's coming up."
- "I've only been here for two years, but I've learned a lot and I want to keep learning and growing."
Notice that each of the sentences above takes an upbeat and confident approach to staking your claim. Readiness, a positive lookout, self-knowledge and willingness to learn are the main themes. These kinds of pronouncements don't guarantee that you'll gain traction on your goals, but it can make their achievement far more likely than if you don't speak up. Your current manager — or a potential hiring manager — is busy; you want them to be alerted to your professional abilities and desires.
How else can you boost your case for becoming a manager? You can procure and share endorsements: "Jane and Joe will tell you that I organized a way for us to attack the Jones account and that it worked well for us all." You can discuss your eagerness to help solve problems: "I'm glad that I was able to find a new way for us to handle the volume of online queries," or "I'd like to help the group brainstorm about making the upcoming event really productive." These messages focus on taking the lead, helping others, and solving problems for the organization.
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There will no doubt be other extenuating circumstances that factor into your chances of moving into a management role. If there's currently someone in the position that you'd like, and he or she is not moving any time soon, you can acknowledge that reality, express your interest in moving up some day and, meanwhile, enrich your current job so that you're in training for a larger role when the time comes.
If your boss or mentor is someone who has strong beliefs about employees needing a long tenure in an entry level role, or a particular academic or training credential that you don't have, acknowledge it; for example: "I know that you value a longer stay at my level, but because of the current expansion of the business, I've been able to jump into a lot more projects more quickly than I would have otherwise." And, of course, you can often move up the ranks more quickly by looking outside of your current organization.
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As you contemplate the management role you'd like to obtain, review your own experiences in managing a goal, a group, or a process and the insights and skills the experience has given you. Lay out very clearly what you have learned about managing, inside or outside of a professional setting. State the additional management skills that you look forward to learning, and your plan to learn them. Make the pitch, and demonstrate that you are the upcoming management talent that the organization needs.
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