5 ways to step up and become a manager

Moving into a more senior position can help you gain influence in work and boost your pay. Here are five ways to do it.
Written by Mark Samuels, Contributor

"Good leadership is really about listening, having empathy, and putting yourself in other people's shoes."

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Being successful at work is all about showing your talents. As you gain experience, you'll find people start giving you more responsibility. And as this happens, you might think you're capable of leading others. But if that's the case, how you can step up and show the boss you're ready to become a manager? Five executives give us their top tips.

1. Take a risk

Carter Cousineau, vice president of data and model governance at Thomson Reuters, says professionals need to recognize that there are many different ways to develop a career -- and that includes stepping into a management position.

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"You don't necessarily have to grow into being a people leader," she says. "I think it's important to create an environment where you can explore if going into a management position is the right way for you to go."

Cousineau says one way to explore your potential for leadership is to manage interns and to see if it's something you enjoy doing. 

If you're in doubt, Cousineau says the key message is to take a risk -- put yourself in a new position and you'll reap the rewards.

"I would definitely always encourage any team member -- if they're feeling comfortable in their role -- to do something with a little bit of stretch to make them feel some form of discomfort that means they're continuing to grow in their career, whether that's being a people leader or not," she says. 

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"So, I would never shy away from that. After all, going into management involves a big change. Some people know right at the beginning it's not for them -- and that's OK."

2. Follow your inner urge

Kavin Mistry, head of digital marketing and personalization at TSB Bank, says you'll know when the time is right to move into management because you'll want to have more influence.

While Mistry is a digital leader today, his background in financial services is based on developing commercial products, including in the areas of mortgages and credit cards.

"I got to a point where I needed to diversify," he says. "I really wanted to broaden my career in alignment to where the industry was going."

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Mistry could see finance firms were having to find new and interesting ways to meet the fast-changing requirements of customers, especially online. 

He moved from products to digital marketing four years ago and into his current managerial role at the start of 2022.

"For me, the trigger point to take on a more senior position was an inner urge to do the right thing by the customer and to have an influence in that area," he says. 

"I wanted to have more influence and that's what encouraged me to take steps into other areas. And I think I'm ready now to do more to help people as a senior manager."

3. Wear other people's shoes

Cynthia Stoddard, CIO at Adobe, says that being a successful manager is all about developing the skills to lead staff.

You'll be ready to step into a more senior role when one of your key concerns is ensuring people are confident and comfortable.

Stoddard says effective managers are empathetic to people's feelings. They always think carefully about how individuals are reacting to the circumstances they encounter.

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"I've had so many situations where people on my staff have said, 'Oh, what that person is doing is just totally wrong.' And I've sat down with them, and I've said, 'Have you actually tried to understand what they do, day in and day out? Do you know why what they're saying is important?' And they're like, 'No.'" 

She sends those staff members back to talk with the individuals in question. And they almost always come back with a different understanding of the situation.

"So, I think good leadership is really about listening, having empathy, and putting yourself in other people's shoes -- making sure they're having the same experience that you would want to have if you were over there sitting in their shoes."

4. Carry on learning

Jay Meyering, senior manager for software development at CrossFit, suggests that it's important to recognize no one is a born manager. 

Even when you step into a senior position, the type of management roles you take on vary widely by department and company.

Meyering formerly worked for tech giant Oracle and moved to CrossFit, which is a much smaller business, three years ago. With the switch came a shift in managerial focus.

"At Oracle, which is a big organization, I was responsible for a specific realm," he says. "At CrossFit, I've got three teams that I'm managing, and it's a lot broader than what I was doing before. So, while management was something I had done before, that scope change was new."

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Meyering says he never had a lightbulb moment where he knew he was ready to be a manager. Even now, he continues to look for ways to develop his leadership skills.

"My management style is all about understanding there are things we need to do technically and figuring out the steps to get there," he says. 

"I think moving successfully into a manager role is about taking different elements and making sure you can get just enough visibility to at least feel like you're not slowing people down."

5. Enjoy the ride

Most people will have an idea of the job that they'd like to do one day, but far fewer people will start their careers saying they want to become a manager. 

Take technology, for example. An IT professional might want to be a developer or a data scientist, but you're unlikely to find someone who straight from the outset sets their sights on leading a team in their chosen field of work.

That's something that certainly resonates with Wulstan Reeve, head of data marketplace at Legal & General Investment Management (LGIM): "For lots of people, becoming a manager wouldn't necessarily be a conscious decision. It's organic."

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Reeve honed his skills in consultancy and finance before moving into a senior executive position in his current firm.

It's a similar story for his colleague Matt Bannock, who is head of data engineering at LGIM. He says most people will gain a taste for managing people as they climb the ladder and are given additional responsibilities.

"It's about scales, isn't it?" he says. "You start off in small leadership roles, transition into team management, and then eventually you'll move into divisional management."

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