Stepping into the Role of a First-Time Manager

So you just got promoted into your first management position. Congratulations! Now what are you going to do? Believe it or not, everything has changed and you need to adjust accordingly.

Transitioning into a management role for the first time does not need to be hard. But it takes forethought and the ability to be introspective and self-regulatory. It’s not business as usual because now, even though you may already have longstanding and strong relationships at work, the expectations are different. It’s important that you realize that your focus needs to shift and how you communicate with former peers must change.

As a new manager, you need to set new boundaries with former coworkers. While you can still maintain your friendships, you need to draw these new boundaries in order to establish your authority and credibility. It’s not about becoming demanding and asserting yourself in aggressive ways. Rather, it’s taking seriously your need to refocus your thinking so that you position yourself as a leader deserving of the respect of others.

It can be hard for former colleagues to treat you as a manager if they have worked with you for years as their peer. But you are now in a role that gives you responsibility for assessing their job performance and giving important input into their work lives. It can place you at odds with your staff/friends and may sometimes require you to make tough decisions with which others may not agree. That’s part of being a manager so the sooner you accept that, the better.

A good starting place in your transition into management is to have a one-on-one meeting with your new boss. When you walk out of that meeting, you should be clear about:

  • Your own manager’s expectations of you in your new job
  • The department’s strategic plans, both long and short term
  • Your department’s tactical requirements
  • Your manager’s perception of the quality of the work in your department and where he or she thinks there need to be changes or improvements
  • An action plan for implementing your management and producing results
  • What resources and tools your manager thinks would be advantageous for your own development

That conversation should be nothing like your prior conversations when you were not in management. While you may have asked on those occasions about strategic plans and the like, the answers had a different relevance to your professional life. Now you need to demonstrate that you own the information and aspire to achieve it.

After an in-depth meeting with your manager, your next step should be to take time to observe the department from a management perspective and solicit input from the rest of the department about what’s working and what’s not. Many new managers make the mistake of implementing changes too quickly without including those around them in the process. Sometimes that’s necessary because of a particular business need. But in most cases, behaving that way can set a new manager apart from the other employees because they feel like they’ve been run over.

Successful managers engage in open and ongoing communications. And it doesn’t matter if the issue is company wide, department specific, or with regard to a specific employee. When you take the time to communicate, you create an environment of trust and respect. Employees who feel valued will give back to you more than you ask.

Before implementing any new ideas, processes, or other changes, start to establish a new relationship with your coworkers that includes them in your growth and learning process. After reviewing all your staff’s personnel files, their performance history, and action plans, set up one-on-one meetings with each of your direct reports. The goal of those meetings is to begin to establish your credibility as a manager. Include them in your thought processes about areas you think may need to change and some of the changes you are considering. Solicit their thoughts about the same.

Talk to them about their individual performance history, where they’ve been and where they think they are going. Ask them about areas in which they think your help is needed. But most important, be clear with them about your expectations. In the same way that you won’t be able to manage without understanding your manager’s expectations of you, they can’t succeed without knowing what you expect of them.

If you treat your staff with respect through communication, you will be more effective as a leader. Leading is not about daily control and direction. It’s about vision and being able to share that vision with others. It’s about being persuasive and making others feel included in setting and owning the stakes. It’s about modeling ethical behavior and demanding the same of others. If you take it seriously, you will be rewarded.

Barrie Gross is former Vice President and Senior Corporate Counsel (Employment Law) for an international Fortune 1000 company and is a regular contributor to She is the founder of Barrie Gross Consulting, a human resources training and consulting firm dedicated to assisting companies to manage and develop their human capital. Visit to learn more about Barrie and the services BGC provides.

Note: The information here does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as legal advice. If you have a legal issue or wish to obtain legal advice, you should consult an attorney in your area concerning your particular situation and facts. Nothing presented on this site or in this article establishes or should be construed as establishing an attorney-client or confidential relationship between you and Barrie Gross. This article is provided only as general information, which may or may not reflect the most current legal developments or be complete.