Career

Advice For First-Time Managers

Securing a role as a manager is a tremendous acknowledgment of your skills and hard work. It means you’ve got a track record of success, you can think strategically, and that you’re trusted enough to lead people and projects.

If you’re stepping into this senior position for the first time, it can be a little nerve-racking. What should you expect? And how do you hit the ground running? Here are five tips to ensure success as a first-time manager. No David Brent types, we promise.

#1 Understand the organisation’s purpose and values

Whether you’ve been promoted internally or are starting as a manager with a new employer, it’s critical that you know intimately what the company does and why they exist. That sounds like stating the bleedin’ obvious, but it’s more than just knowing that McDonald’s sell burgers, for example.

It’s about understanding the organisation’s image, its purpose and how it positions itself in the market. Most organisations have a mission statement or values that guide operation and inspire employees to do their best work. Knowing these inside-out will ensure meaningful work and best practice in your team.

#2 Know your staff

While there’s likely to be a lot on your plate as you settle into the role, devote time early to understanding your team members and what drives them.

Fleur Bennett, Graduate and Internship Program Manager at Adecco Group says, Formally and informally, getting to know your team personally helps you manage and lead them in their roles, as you’ll understand more deeply what motivates them.”

You might get familiar with your team initially by running a workshop or taking them out to lunch, but the key to truly knowing your staff is to ensure catch-ups and communication are regular. People and their goals change over time, and sometimes personal and professional worlds collide with unexpected consequences. Understanding both your team and this reality will make you an effective and empathetic manager.

#4 Learn to delegate  

When you step into the role of manager, one of the biggest shifts is that instead of having your goals and work set for you, you’re now determining the work your team needs to complete. You may also be responsible for developing strategy with other leaders in the organisation. Managing all this can be tough.

“Finding the time to support your new team, while letting them make mistakes along the way, as well as managing your own workload can be challenging. It can be tempting to take control of all tasks, however this is not effective management and team members won’t be learning. You have to delegate and trust in your team’s capabilities,” Bennett says.

#3 Get ready to manage performance

If the role title hadn’t already given it away, being a manager requires you to actually manage people and their performance – for better or worse. According to Bennett, being resistant to managing performance is one of the most common mistakes first-time managers make.

Finding the time to support your new team, while letting them make mistakes along the way, can be challenging.

“They feel they don’t want to intimidate staff or be authoritative, but the longer you leave performance issues the more complicated they become,” she says. “Being open, fair and honest from the beginning will lead to a new manager being respected and challenged. It will also create an open dialogue in which the team feels comfortable and inspired to reach the goals set for them.”

#4 Lead by example

This is one of the most critical parts of becoming a manager, regardless of the industry you work in. If you want staff to feel energised and motivated by their work, show them that you are too. If you want them to participate more actively in team meetings, let them see you getting involved. If you want them to be ready for a team brainstorm every Friday at 9am sharp, then please, avoid waltzing in at 9.15am distracted by something you heard in the lift.

As a manager, immerse yourself in the work of your team. Leading your team with actions, not just words, shows you’re genuinely committed to the goals you’ve set for your staff. It exhibits that you work together as a truly unified team and fosters a sense of equality between staff.

#5 Reward good work

If your staff members achieve their goals, exceed expectations or teach you something you didn’t know, celebrate and reward this.

Managers who take the credit for their team’s work are some of the most loathed out there, and it will quickly drive good employees away. Reward spurs motivation, and knowing this will help you find innovative ways of acknowledging your team’s accomplishments. Better still, ask them how they want to be celebrated. While some staff might like the public praise afforded by a team lunch, others will prefer the quiet congratulations of a timely thank-you email.

Being a manager doesn’t mean you know everything, so be open to learning. There’s no doubt it’ll make you a better leader. Bennett concludes by saying that “Everyone in your team will like or need to be managed differently, so be prepared for this.  People management can’t be a one-size-fits-all approach. But embrace your role as a leader – if your team is succeeding, you’re succeeding as a manager.”

Who knows – if you take the right approach, you might be CEO one day.


Izzy Tolhurst is a copywriter and editor. She writes about music, the arts, employment and international development. She also sings and plays an impressively amateur level of guitar in Melbourne band Go Get Mum. Find her rambling on Twitter @izzytolhurst