Managing Managers Requires Good Leadership Skills

I have a question for all my readers – How many of you have a manager or supervisor?  OK, so everyone has a boss.  Now, how many of you manage people who manage people? Moving up the management career ladder often includes progressing from team leader, to project manager to portfolio or department manager or higher.

I think that you will find that with each upward step, you become more removed from daily individual contributor supervision and more involved in managing managers. Although this progression does not require an entirely new set of skills, it does require modification and enhancement of the leadership and management skills honed earlier in your career.

How is managing managers different from managing projects?

  • Trust becomes even more critical when managing managers than it was in managing a project. You will have to rely on the observations and reports of others, rather than directly experiencing situations.
  • You will lose some of your technical edge, as your time is devoted more to business development and money matters.
  • You will find that you know less about “how” and more about “why”. (This one bothers many people as they move up).
  • You will be evaluated primarily on financial success, rather than products or schedules.
  • You will spend time with non-technical people, many with whom you must communicate successfully. Communicating upward in the organization will consume more of your time.
  • Your opinion carries extra weight and concomitant responsibility.  You can no longer make rash or “off the cuff” opinions.
  • You may find that management techniques that worked well to motivate young, inexperienced team members are less effective in managing managers.  Just look at the sports coaches who move from college to pro teams and find that their techniques don’t work with professionals.
  • Character matters even more, since employees may copy your behavior and solicit your support more aggressively than when you were a technical lead or project manager.

Important leadership skills for senior managers

  • Set the vision. It is essential that you communicate the long-term goals of your department or organization to your managers clearly and often. A shared vision provides the touchstone to help your managers make decisions and solve problems.
  • Networking with other managers and technical resources to get things done across your organization.
  • Set straightforward, measureable objectives for each manager and project under your authority. Have short-term and long-term goals for each person who reports to you and reinforce those goals in monthly or quarterly meetings.
  • Talent management-hiring (see previous post on Staffing for Success ), giving effective feedback, and developing talent for the project work.
  • Demonstrating accountability and holding team members and project managers accountable.
  • Influencing others- both up (your leaders), across (your peers), and down (your project managers and team).
  • Facilitate problem solving. It may be tempting to jump in and solve a problem yourself. You have been there and solved that problem successfully before. However, your managers need to learn and they need to put their own stamp on projects. Do not micromanage. Let me say that again – Do not micro manage.  Rather, offer advice and ask leading questions to help clarify a situation and your subordinate manager’s options. You are also in a better position than before to break down barriers to solving problems by using your position and influence.
  • Be a role model. Social learning theory, also called social cognitive theory, supports the idea that people learn new behaviors and change existing ones based not just on their experience, but also on their observations of significant others, such as senior managers. Your values, priorities and even your mode of dress may be copied.  One of my favorite phrases in leading is watch the “Shadow of the Leader.”

I have worked with and managed many managers throughout my career and there are no easy answers or techniques that will make you successful.  Follow these tips and use your best judgment and you should be successful as a manager and more importantly as a Leader!

I hope you will share your insights into the challenges and opportunities of managing managers.

IncMagazine: How to Manage Managers

Purdue University: Social Cognitive Theory

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