Transitioning to Management

In the Career Corner column of CEP's June issue, columnist Loraine Kasprzak, CMC, interviewed senior executive coach Mike Martorella to learn about making the transition from engineer to manager.

CEO and founder of MMI Communication, Mike works one-on-one with senior leaders at Fortune 500 companies and major non-profit organizations.

More from Loraine's conversation with Mike:

1. What skills and qualities are required to be a good manager, and how do they differ from being a good engineer?

Engineers are highly skilled professionals who have developed their skills over years of experience, studying, and practice. It's not unusual for someone who's a really good engineer to be moved into a managerial role. But the technical skills aren't what you need as a manager. As a manager, it's more about how do you get others to get things done, rather than doing them yourself. It's knowing how to identify and manage specific jobs or tasks and have the right people working on the details of those jobs. Many people don't recognize that this is significantly different from what an engineer typically does.

Engineers are detail oriented and know how to go from root cause to solution, so as an engineer you may think: of course I have the right solution, everyone should see it as quickly as I do. But you need to go from this mindset to allowing others to contribute - you need to be able to ask for advice, solicit input, challenge and allowing others to challenge.

Part of your role as manager is to engage, to allow your team to contribute to a solution. Your job as a manager is to nurture talent. You do this by empowering others.

You also face a predicament when you start with a group of engineering peers, and then become their manager. It could be that you were well liked as a peer, but now you need to distance yourself and become the manager. Having this distance is important.

One of the first questions you need to ask yourself in the new managerial role: am I willing to look my former peers in the eye and give them feedback? Perhaps you will even need to tell them they're no longer needed in that role. This takes some soul searching.

2. How does someone know when the move to manager is right for them - what key questions should they be asking themselves?

Taking on the managerial role shouldn't be just about the money and promotion - although these are important too. Ask yourself that if besides wanting the new job title, do you want to be responsible for other people's well being? Ask yourself, "am I willing to take this on, do I really understand what it means to take on the responsibilities of a manager?"

One piece of advice I give new managers is to get a management mentor. Find out from them what it takes to be a good manager. You may think you know what it takes, and you may have even read about it, but until you're in the role, a mentor can help you understand what is really involved.

A mentor can also help you navigate through those unknowns of your new responsibilities once you're in the job - and there will be many, especially when there's line of people outside your door and you're on the hot seat.

3. What does the manager's boss really want from them?

On the task side, the boss wants results. He or she doesn't want - or have time for - detailed explanations. It's not about what you know. It's how you communicate in ways that are important to the listener, in this case, your boss. You need to communicate clearly and concisely - summarize the key points quickly, in a minute or two. Leave the binders out in the hallway and come in with the 5 sentence summary.

As a manager, your job is to meet the boss' expectations. You've got to make your boss look good and support him or her. The boss wants you as the manager to be able to provide the right information so that the boss can clearly explain to upper management.

4. What other advice would you give to someone who has decided to make the transition to management?

Before you take on the job, write down your observations about what you'd like to accomplish in your first 3-6 months. Before you start is really when you have time to think and put together reasonable expectations.

Once you start, your 30 days should include meeting with your direct reports and finding out what's important to them. You'll be under pressure to deliver results, but you must make the time to do this so that you can begin to build trust with your people. Make a conscious effort to do this, even if it's just 15 minutes a day.

Identify the strengths of your team - who are leaders, where are the weaknesses, and where are the opportunities for them to get better? Which members of the team should be moving on because they're not a good fit?

Articulate what is most important and find ways to motivate your people. When you enter into the job, you've got a group. Your job is to make them a seamless and highly functioning team. To get to this level, you have to be clear with your people on your expectations.

You have to put measurements in place and measure regularly - give feedback and measure regularly. Hold your people accountable regularly.

What's your advice/experience transitioning to management?