The Leap to Line Management

by Elizabeth Harrin (London)

The perfect job appears on the company intranet. You know you could do the job; it would be just the stretch you need to shake yourself out of your rut and make the next career move. But it comes with line management responsibilities. Is that too long a leap?

Professional women are often very good at making a name for themselves as market specialists. Many are happy to stay in the specialist role, taking on leadership positions within their company that play to their strengths without having to manage a team. However, companies need fewer thought leaders than middle managers, and that means the route of career progress is paved with people management.

There are many benefits to having line management experience. It provides the opportunity to learn a new skill set and improve your delegating and coaching techniques. It shows your manager that you have the skills to lead others. It broadens your business knowledge and allows you to explore your preferred work styles. It puts you into another career bracket and may push you into a management grade, which will help your peers take your career development seriously, which, in turn, will open other doors for you later on. Above all, it is hugely rewarding to see your staff grow as a result of your management and guidance.

Even taking all these benefits into consideration, moving into a line management role is not to be taken lightly. There is an incredible amount of work involved in running a slick team. Having made the jump myself, my advice would be to do it with caution. In the beginning, I underestimated the amount of effort it takes to keep on top of team administration: who is on holiday when, what training courses are coming up, team meetings, inductions for new employees, and one-to-ones and appraisals for everyone.

On top of the practical business of keeping things moving forward, I am also expected to be available for advice and guidance and to represent my team at various management meetings and committees, turn in weekly and monthly reports and forecast resource effort and budgets. If line management is something you are considering on top of your normal day job, then be warned that the two things aren’t compatible unless you are prepared to put in some serious hours at the office to do it well. This time is well spent, as doing it badly will seriously undermine your efforts to progress in your career.

So you’re ready? You will probably find yourself up against people with line management experience in your industry; if you have none, it will seem like there’s no chance you’ll be successful. Preparing for your application is really important. Focus on highlighting your key skills that show you already perform some, if not all, of the tasks of a people manager. Consider:

  • project work, when you have lead a team of people to achieve a specific objective;
  • cross-departmental initiatives like office moves, which show your ability to work with others, make decisions and follow through;
  • your role in your professional body, i.e., leading a specialist interest group or hold a regional administrative or committee role; and
  • times when you have mentored or coached a more junior member of staff, or been part of the recruitment process for new hires.

Your application should highlight that you are capable of working with others but also taking the lead. Make it clear on paper and at your interview that you have the communication skills and planning ability required to guide a team towards its objectives. You’ll also need to demonstrate strategic insight to show the interviewing panel that you can help define and prioritise those objectives.

My experience has shown me that line management is tough. I’d challenge you to find someone who tells you that being responsible for others at work is easy. Having said that, it is not so tough that only a gifted few can do it. Some will be better than others, but if you put in the effort and take a real interest in your staff and what they do, you too can be a good line manager.