Perhaps you have been thinking about management from the beginning of your career, or recently developed a desire to take on a more challenging role. Or maybe you have suddenly been presented with the opportunity to take on a position with more management responsibilities. Alternatively, in the age of COVID, you might be newly unemployed and considering your next career move into the management arena. Whatever your impetus and motivation, it is absolutely possible (and probable!) for you to orchestrate a logical plan to achieve this goal.
You have many things that are on your side for this adventure. Perhaps, for example, the most exciting magical power you possess is the fact that you understand process engineering. You know how and why to develop processes for safety, efficacy, and quality assurance, all the while moving towards an overarching mission. Why not use this same process engineering expertise for career development and advancement? In particular, let’s consider the process to pivot your career into management.
Be honest with yourself
Why are you considering the management role? Are you excited about the idea of being able to contribute to others’ success and guiding teams and projects? Are you interested in having a larger impact in your organization, field and/or profession?
Perhaps you have suddenly been offered a new job that has distinct management elements to it and you want to ensure you excel. No matter the circumstance, it is crucial to make informed decisions based on data. So, take the time to collect the most important set of data: that from your own brain. Think about what is motivating you to possibly move into this new playground. Qualify it — ask why? Why now? What’s the goal? How is this connected to my career goal and why will it help me accomplish it? And then quantify it — how many months or years do you want or need to achieve this objective? How exactly will pursuing management allow you to do what you want? For example, if you can demonstrate that you can lead projects worth more than $10 million, that could be a metric to afford you the chance to go for management roles with budgets of $50 million.
If your aim for management is tied to a longing for a higher salary or more influence, that’s fine too — after all, it is your life. But please do yourself a favor and clearly articulate what you want and why. When you solidify your reasoning, you can move to the next step.
Make a management roadmap
Leveraging your process engineering background is especially useful in this step. Make a roadmap to know where you are going and all of the steps and actions you need to take to get there. To do this, begin with your objective, essentially the aspiration of the future you envision for yourself. Then consider what milestones you will have to achieve to get here.
For example, if you want to be the head of R&D for a major chemical manufacturer, you will undoubtedly have to showcase that you have led smaller teams that are contributing significant value towards the bottom line. Each step will get you to the next point on the map. Add milestones, and timelines too. This information will be culled both from your own career desires as well as from the insights you obtain through networking and researching the field and management track in the profession.
Proclaim your pivot potential
Most organizations are thrilled to have employees who want to invest their careers in their enterprises for the long haul. In exchange, they are more than willing to nurture talent and are flexible enough to do what it takes to keep that talent on their payrolls (and not lose you to the competition!). Smart companies know that the best managers are often grown from within. Do some sleuthing and see if this is the case with your employer, and if so, when performance review times come around, let your supervisor know that you would like to move into management.
But what if you are aiming to take on a management position in a new company? No problemo! Share with your network your management intentions. The more your support network knows about your experience, skills, and ambitions, the more its members can rally to find you the right opportunity or give you early notice when a new job in management is opening up. Or better yet, they might even create a management role especially for you. But none of these hidden opportunities will happen without the appropriate self-promotion in which you must engage.
Take advantage of internal resources and opportunities
If there is any way to demonstrate your leadership potential in your present community, seize it! Is the Employee Resource Group (ERG) looking for a president? Does the community action committee need an event manager for a charity drive? Does the mentoring network need a coordinator to arrange for mentors to proliferate across the company? Similarly, you can pursue leadership roles in AIChE and in your geographic community. All of these are relevant and useful opportunities to strengthen your management skills and promote yourself to your colleagues as someone who is a leader.
In my own career, I can easily trace how I ended up in promotions with higher and higher management responsibilities, and it all stems from taking advantage of every opportunity I could to manage a small team, a small project, and so forth. In general, management and leadership roles beget management and leadership roles.
There is still much more to do. “I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep,” wrote Robert Frost, and although he probably didn’t intend it to apply to career advancement, I think about this quote a lot as I counsel people in their professional concerns. The path to and mastery of management is a difficult one, but it is also deeply rewarding. To have the chance to lead projects and personnel, to enable the success of those around you, to scale your impact in a holistic manner, to make a difference — this is what managers do. This is what you want to do. And thus we propel the start of your management journey. Onward!
Note: Concepts in this blog build on and have appeared in other works by the author, including her presentations, articles, columns, and book, Networking for Nerds (Wiley, 2015).