If you’ve recently made the switch into management for the first time, congratulations!
You’ve just made a huge step in your career, promising higher pay, decision-making authority, and—oftentimes—more benefits and cool project management tools.
If you’re a new manager, you may be experiencing both anticipation and apprehension—and that’s an encouraging sign, as it demonstrates three things: you are enthusiastic about your upcoming role, you want to perform well, and you have a healthy respect for the work it will entail.
There are universal truths that every manager needs to learn throughout their career. The project management discipline is dedicated to changing your managerial behavior to promote smoother, more efficient teams.
Using research from this field, consider employing these three tips to launch a successful management career.
Soft skills are more important than industry-specific expertise
Up until now, many of your goals were based on the tangible contributions you made to your company—for example, the number of sales you made, the number of blog posts you wrote, or the number of customers served.
The numbers game is a little different for managers. Goals become fluffier, such as “directs take full ownership over their tasks” and “communication inspires buy-in.”
No matter how naturally you communicate, empathize, organize, and delegate, emotional competence is a skill you can learn and improve on.
The Project Management Institute notes that almost three-quarters (74%) of all projects fail due to some communication error, so investing in your ability to effectively communicate is one of the best moves any new manager can make.
Management is a little lonely
According to research from the Center for Creative Leadership, the biggest challenge for well over half of new managers is “displaying authority and adjusting to people management.”
That’s especially hard if you have good friendships in the office.
Leadership experts Michael Watkins and Robert Sutton both agree: tight-knit friendships are a luxury managers can’t afford. “You can’t continue to have relationships in the way you did before… If you’re not feeling a little bit lonely and left out, that can be a sign that you’re not distancing yourself enough.”
Even though project managers spend up to 90% of their average work weekcommunicating, they generally aren’t close with their colleagues. Isolation is a commonly cited blind spot in the profession—so much so that Kolbe-certified project manager and CEO Sylvia Pencak declared, “It’s lonely at the top.”
To help assuage impossible expectations of sustaining friendships through your management career, program manager Cynthia Maxwell writes, “Instead of thinking of your team as a family, think of your team as a collection of individuals you are coaching and stewarding for a finite period of time.”
Organizational psychologist Jessy Zumaeta adds, “Senior managers are usually seen as support providers rather than recipients. The most effective source of social support identified were friends and external peers, such as former colleagues or classmates.”
Look for social support outside of work, especially as you climb further up the corporate ladder.
Adopt an Agile mindset, even if you’re not managing an Agile project or team
If you have an Agile mindset, in any of its forms, you fundamentally believe that there will never be a time when innovation expires.
The Agile philosophy is an idea from project management that grew out of IT into business at large, and research shows that it’s particularly effective for people management.
The idea that perfection is an untouchable asymptote should apply everywhere: to your projects, to your team, and especially to yourself. There are always ways to improve, regardless of how high or low your starting point is.
For example, one study found that growth-minded managers “tend to notice improvements in their employees’ performances and are more willing to coach employees.”
Another study discovered that “an entrepreneurial environment can increase project manager effectiveness by an average of 8.5%.”
The science is clear: if you want to be the most effective new manager you can be, learn that there is strength in humility and willingness to grow.
Project managers have been intentionally practicing the Agile mindset since 2001; as a new manager, you’d be ahead of the curve by adopting it today.