The only way is up

So it’s happened at last. After years of passing the buck with “I’ll talk it through with my manager”, it’s Monday morning, you are wearing a suit instead of your jeans and sweater and have invested in a new briefcase because you are now that powerful, mythical creature: someone else’s manager.

You don’t feel any different. If anything, you feel slightly less empowered than you did on Friday. Your signature, say-so and opinion have overnight become things that may or may not harm your defence in the future. It’s all quite scary but, at the same time, it’s what you wanted. How do you square the circle?

Promotion from the ranks can be a difficult thing to manage. You can compare it to packing for a long holiday. Ask yourself what you need to take with you and what can you leave behind.

Presumably you will have been promoted because of your maturity (not age), skills, experience and ability. Keep remembering this: you are there legitimately.

It will be human nature to want to prove yourself. Be careful. It does not mean running yourself ragged. If you are stressed you will leak stress into the team. Just because you are the manager it does not prevent you expecting a lot out of others. Your team will feel valued if you learn to take pleasure in their achievements as well as your own. You need to manage your own expectations of yourself. And don’t beat yourself up if you do not achieve everything on day one. You have to prioritise.

At times, the people you manage and even people outside the organisation will have unrealistic expectations of your knowledge and power and you need to manage these expectations. Try to be realistic about what you promise and you will be more likely to deliver. Remember not to underrate managing as a function in its own right. You may not be “doing” in the way that you used to, but that does not mean you are lazing around or being unproductive. Just because you still have your old skills people have no right to expect you to continually use them. There will be times when it’s all hands on deck, but you are no longer able to delve into the detail or carry out those simple tasks, even if you enjoy them: delegate.

Be honest with yourself. You might be struggling but it does not mean you have failed. You might need training to acquire the right skills – people are seldom born managers. It is probably a good idea to identify your gaps in these areas at the earliest opportunity and agree a personal development plan with your line manager which will help you to address these gaps.

You will also find that your decision-making suddenly has wider implications. Instead of concentrating on outcomes for individuals or families you have to support your colleagues to locate the needs of service users within a wider agenda.

Another hurdle which confronts many a new manager is how to deal with the them-and-us culture. It was easy, wasn’t it, to heap vilification on “them” – the managers – because they were not as caring, as generous with care packages, as quick to fill vacancies as “us” – the practitioners – would have been were we in charge? They have forgotten that social workers, nurses and so on are in the business because they care. Between Friday, when you were a front-line practitioner, and Monday, when you became a manager, the realisation has dawned that managers are in the main trained in exactly the same professions and still care deeply, but managing scarce resources in a highly political environment presents undreamed-of dilemmas which you have a duty and responsibility to resolve.

It is a particular challenge if you have been promoted in the same organisation and now have to manage colleagues with whom you had previously shared the same gripes and possibly lunchtime cups of coffee. It will be important to have a plan in your head for dealing with those colleagues who see you as having “crossed over” and to ensure that you have your line manager on board.

Some of the most lasting friendships are made in the workplace and there is no need to lose friends because you have become a manager. But this can be a delicate area and a test of your competence in managing sensitivities. There is a message to be conveyed to those you manage that accountability and loyalty to the organisation is as much their responsibility as yours because in the end you are all working for the greater good of service users. You will need to show that being the boss is not the same as being bossy.

The transition to management is challenging and fraught with unknowns but it can also be immensely enjoyable. So let’s look at what we have packed: legitimacy and with that comes confidence; self-discipline, the ability to prioritise; and sensible expectations, your own and other people’s. We have packed a range of competences we already have and we have a shopping list for the rest. And we have shed a few things and unpacked old skills to make room for new ones.

This is where your journey as a manager begins.

Daphne Obang is director of social services and housing, Bracknell Forest Council, and Claire Smart is purchasing manager, Gloucestershire social services.

“When I was…

…first promoted to management in social care I was mostly left to my own devices, which I appreciated because I thought and think that’s how I best work. But because I was taking over a relatively new service I tended to do things piecemeal with the inevitable result that, although particular parts worked, the service was spluttering generally. Inheriting a new manager I confessed things weren’t clicking together too well. We stepped back and looked at the service and asked if we were to start again would that be how we would do it? The answer was “no”. So, with political backing, we stopped and started again, taking time out to plan properly focusing on the wider objectives before nailing the specific. The result was a unique take on a service that proved innovative and effective.” (Graham Hopkins)

Top tips

  • Don’t simply carry out tasks just because you used to once or because you can. Delegate.
  • Don’t think you have to be perfect.
  • Be confident and nip gripes in the bud.

Rubbish tips

  • You have to be perfect or else.
  • Be afraid to get help and training – it’s a sign of weakness that others will exploit.
  • Keep your office door closed – show them how important you are.

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