Successfully transitioning from an individual contributor role to a management role is straight forward and very intuitive… for very few people! Yes, some people have natural instincts that make them good managers. For the rest of us, we need a paradigm shift to help us be successful as a manager. As an individual contributor, you had to implement plans and tactics that had specific outcomes. You were measured on how effectively you did those things and how much success those things brought your company. As a manager, you are still responsible for getting these tasks done and making sure they have a positive impact on the business. However, instead of working on implementing tactics you are now focused on: transition individual contributor to manager

  • developing processes
  • formulating strategy
  • structuring your organization
  • maximizing the success of your department
  • communicating across the organization and up the management chain

This is a big shift for anyone. We work with many individuals trying to make this transition. Here’s an example. Our client was quite adept at using a particular piece of sales software. She devised creative solutions and solved many issues for the sales team. She was outstanding and given the chance to lead a group of 7 people. The goal of her team was to solve even larger problems and expand their ability to help the sales team. Through our engagement with this client, we developed the following tips for individual contributors to transition into managers.

Communicate With Employees

One thing that hasn’t changed is that you still have a boss. It is your job to understand what communication your boss expects from you and your team on a weekly, monthly and quarterly basis. You will no longer be “heads down” in the software you are familiar with. You need to spend more time educating your boss on your progress towards your goals and educating the entire organization on your approach to accomplishing those goals. You may have gotten away with under-communicating when you were an individual contributor but that won’t fly anymore. Find out the expectations and over-communicate!

Maximize the Effectiveness of Your Team

When you are given the title of “manager” you often receive something else… a much larger workload! You will now be expected to get a lot more done. This list of things will undoubtedly include tasks you didn’t work on before. You have a team now and they are the ones to execute the tasks. Your job is to:

  • make sure your team executes tasks well and meets the success metrics your manager expects
  • knock down any obstacles standing in the way of your team’s ability to meet goals
  • communicate your progress and raise any concerns about missing your goals early on
  • look for procedural or organizational opportunities to improve efficiency or effectiveness

Figure Out How To Get It Done

As a manager, you won’t sit down, log into the software and start taking care of tasks. If you think that is the answer then you aren’t focused on solving the problem that is blocking delivery of your team’s tasks. You need to see the problems your team is having – the early you see them the sooner you can communicate them and then solve them. If your boss expects 200 sales cases to be solved each day then you need to determine if that is possible and what it will take to solve that many. Do you need better trained team members? Do you need head count? Do you need system or workflow changes to improve efficiency? These are the questions you ask and then go about solving – you don’t sit down and try to do the work!

Say “No”

You can’t do everything. Your team can’t do everything. Sometimes, you just have to say “no”. There’s an art to saying “no” that you need to figure out. Don’t say “no” to things that will impact your goal or company’s goal and don’t say “no” to something your boss would say “yes” to. Keep in mind the saying “no” is really saying “not right now.” Most initiatives at your company are important and should not be rejected. Saying “not right now” is about knowing your priorities and knowing your team’s capacity. If you get push-back from saying “no” then you can always direct the requester to your boss. If your boss is the one asking you for something you can push back and ask him or her which existing priority should get pushed out to accommodate the new one.

Focus on Your Job Goals

On a daily basis you should ask, “Is what I’m about to work going to get me closer to my goals?” If the answer is anything but “yes” then you shouldn’t be doing the work. Your boss won’t accept the excuses below if you don’t accomplish your goals by their deadline:

  • too many other requests came up
  • we didn’t have the capacity/expertise to accomplish this
  • other people/departments caused us to miss this

Focusing on your job goals day-in and day-out will help you see and address those potential problems before they cause you to miss your goal.

Knowing how to get all of these things done won’t come naturally. It will take discipline to force yourself to look for potential issues and it will take leadership to figure out how to solve them. This may be confusing or overwhelming and make you wish you were an individual contributor again! Remember, you aren’t alone and shouldn’t keep your challenges to yourself. Help comes from a mentor, your boss or your fellow managers. If you are communicating effectively throughout the organization then use that to raise concerns and get others to help with the solution. Most importantly, communicate often and proactively with your boss – that is the only thing that saves you when you miss one of your goals!


, How to Transition from an Individual Contributor to a Manager

Amy Wolfgang

Amy Wolfgang is a career coach who founded Wolfgang Career Coaching and co-founded Coaching 4 Good. She brings over 15 years of corporate and coaching experience to help organizations boost employee engagement while simultaneously helping her clients excel in their careers. She is a certified PCM (Professional Career Manager) and has a Master’s degree in Educational Psychology from The University of Texas at Austin.

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, How to Transition from an Individual Contributor to a Manager

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