At some point in your career, with the expertise and experience you’ve accumulated, it’s about time you advance to a management position or leadership role. While not everyone is born a leader, it’s important to acknowledge that anyone can learn to become one. And here’s how to start off on the right foot.

What does it mean to be a first time manager?

When you start your career, it’s common to find comfort and security under your manager’s wing. There’s room for mistakes and learning, and your success largely hinges on your work. Of course, you bring fresh perspectives and initiatives to the table. Still, to a great extent, you operate and perform according to the expectations set by your manager.

But as you grow in your career, so does your title (and everything that comes with it).

Being a first time manager means transitioning from an individual contributor role, where you focus on your own tasks, to a leadership position where your success depends on guiding and supporting others.

This shift requires a significant change in mindset from being a “follower” to becoming a “leader” — and it affects many aspects of your daily work. Your success now depends not only on your own work, but also on the performance of the people in your team.

Instead of hyperfocusing on getting a task or two over the line and calling it a day, you will likely spend your typical day in meetings, supporting your direct reports, and aligning team efforts with the broader organisational goals.

Without proper leadership skills and development, this transition to management for the very first time can be very daunting and isolating. In fact, 60% of first time managers fail within the first 24 months of their role. Yet, it’s very much achievable with time, patience, and practice*.

What are common challenges faced by new managers?

What makes the transition for “first time” managers really different from that of more experienced ones is the complete newness of it. On top of new responsibilities that come with the new role, first time managers often face psychological adjustments, such as:

  • From being one of the team to leading the same group – it can be awkward and somewhat difficult to adjust how you interact with your former peers who are now under your supervision. This requires establishing authority without undermining existing relationships and balancing professionalism with the camaraderie that already exists.
  • A change in self-perception – It takes time to see yourself, or actually believe in yourself, that you are now the leader, decision maker, influencer, or even role model. Internalising this new identity is a significant mental and emotional shift.
  • Self-imposed pressure – Since it’s your first time being a manager, it’s only natural you feel pressured. However, this self-imposed pressure may stem from not feeling enough or being the right choice for the promotion. This can lead to stress, overworking, and, eventually, burnout.

What’s more, having observed and learned from previous managers/leaders of your own, you are likely to have clear opinions on what you would follow and do differently. But this can be a double-edged sword. In efforts to prove their worth, first time managers might become too rigid in their approach and overly focused on their own ideas, which can potentially disconnect them from the actual needs and dynamics of the team.

Ultimately, when it’s your turn, you want to become the manager you have always wanted for yourself – following in the footsteps of your role model and the qualities you admire – not the one you lost respect for.

12 practical tips for first time managers

Transitioning into a managerial role for the first time can be both exciting and challenging. But it’s not impossible to be a good manager who people want to work with and for.

Keep in mind that you are only human, and it’s unrealistic – and unproductive – to master new and different skills all at once. With that in mind, let’s explore what you should prioritise based on a roadmap for your first 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, and 6 months in your new role.

Your first 30 days

The first 30 days are extremely important. It’s where you set the tone for how you manage, interact, support, and collaborate with your team. To build a solid foundation with and for your team, focus on understanding team dynamics and company culture and establishing your presence as a leader. This fr m is about observation, learning, and laying the groundwork for future actions.

1. Build trust

Trust is a hallmark of any relationship, including those in the workplace. We have covered the topic of trusted leadership quite extensively, with a strong emphasis on how employees are increasingly looking for leaders they can trust. Echoing this, a 2023 survey showed that 69% of UK workers cite trustworthiness as the #1 must-have skill and attribute of a good manager.

So, to build trust, you need to be transparent, reliable, and consistent in your actions. Show genuine interest in your team members by actively listening to their concerns and aspirations. You can make promises, but make sure to follow through, as this will demonstrate your commitment and reliability. Remember, the speed at which trust is destroyed is generally faster than it is built*.

2. Communicate effectively

Leadership is all about people. To be a successful leader, you need to be an effective communicator.

Clearly articulate your expectations, goals, and feedback. Practice active listening to understand the varying needs and perspectives of each team member. Two-way, open communication not only helps you avoid miscommunication but also grows trust within the team.

Additionally, body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice all play a significant role in how messages are perceived. Effective leaders are aware of these non-verbal cues and use them to reinforce their messages.

3. Lead by example

Set a strong example for your team through your actions and behaviour. Demonstrate the work ethic, integrity, and professionalism you expect from your team members. Show dedication to your role and respect for others. At the same time, it’s equally important to show your team how to maintain a healthy work-life balance and take care of overall well-being.

Show your team not just how to work, but also how to rest. Your team is more likely to mirror these positive behaviours when they see them consistently displayed by their leader.

4. Be receptive to feedback

Encourage an open feedback culture by showing that you value and consider the input from your team. Actively seek feedback on your management style and decisions to understand their impact. Be open-minded and willing to make changes based on constructive criticism. Consider asking:

  • Are my expectations of you and the team clear?
  • Are there any specific examples where you felt my communication could have been better?
  • How can I better support you in your role?
  • Have I provided you with enough feedback on your work?
  • Are there any team issues or conflicts that you think I should prioritise my attention on?
  • Are there any areas of my management style that you think could be improved?
  • Do you have any specific suggestions for how I can be a better manager?
  • Is there anything else you’d like to share or discuss about your experience working with me so far?

First time managers often face a steep learning curve and can be particularly hard on themselves, so it’s important to be kind to yourself and remember that the feedback is on your work, not on your personal character.

Your 60-day mark

By the 60-day mark, you should be more familiar with your team’s strengths, weaknesses, and dynamics. This period is about refining your management style and starting to implement strategic changes.

5. Delegate wisely

Identify the strengths of your team members and assign tasks that align with their skills and career goals. Wise delegation not only maximises productivity but also empowers your team to grow professionally.

Remember, perfection is unattainable, and you cannot do everything on your own. Trust your team members to take ownership of their responsibilities, and provide them with the necessary support and resources. This, again, goes back to why building trust is literally the first thing we recommend for first time managers — and not only for your people to trust you, but also for you to trust them.

6. Practice empathy

Empathetic management fosters a supportive and inclusive work environment, which in turn encourages loyalty and productivity. In fact, 86% of employees believe empathetic leadership boosts morale while 87% of employees say empathy is essential to fostering an inclusive environment.

Take the time to understand the personal and professional challenges your team members face. Show compassion and support when needed, and be flexible with their needs. As an example, if one of your team members is a parent, offer flexible hours to accommodate school pickups and/or the option to work from home on certain days to help them manage unexpected childcare issues.

7. Stay organised

Staying organised is not just about maintaining a neat desk or a tidy schedule; it’s about creating a structured environment where productivity thrives, stress is minimised, and goals are achieved efficiently.

Keep track of tasks, deadlines, and the team’s progress through tools and regular updates. Prioritise tasks based on urgency and importance, and ensure that everyone is clear about their responsibilities. For a first-time manager, developing these habits early on can set the foundation for a successful managerial career.

Your 90-day mark

At 90 days, your role as a manager should be more defined. Now, you focus on solidifying your leadership style and driving your team toward achieving their goals.

8. Be decisive

As individual contributors, your primary focus is on executing tasks and projects, which typically involves fewer decision-making responsibilities. Once you transition to a managerial position, you are required to make decisions constantly, from strategic planning to daily operational choices.

Gather relevant information, consider various perspectives, and weigh the pros and cons before making a decision. Once decided, stand by your choices confidently and be prepared to adapt if necessary. Regardless of the outcomes, owning decisions builds trust and credibility within your team and with your superiors. It shows that you are accountable and willing to learn from your experiences.

9. Never stop learning

As a first time manager, it’s almost a part of your job to always be curious. Curiosity drives a deeper understanding of team dynamics, organisational culture, and operational challenges. Continuous learning enables new managers to adapt quickly, make informed decisions, and gain the team’s buy-in for the longer term.

Stay updated with industry trends, management techniques, and new tools that can benefit your team. Encourage your team to do the same by providing opportunities for professional development. A culture of learning keeps the team innovative and competitive.

10. Balance the big picture and small details

As first-time managers, it’s natural to focus on the big picture and strategic vision. However, be careful not to fall into the trap of being too visionary without paying attention to what it actually takes for successful execution. Surely, you don’t want to be the boss who dumps big ideas on their team without providing clear direction?

Set clear long-term goals and break them down into manageable tasks. Keep an eye on overall progress without neglecting the daily operations. This is also where your delegation and organisational skills become critical. This balance ensures strategic alignment while maintaining day-to-day efficiency and quality.

6 months in

By six months, you should be well-integrated into your role and have a clear vision for your team’s future. From this point onwards, you sustain momentum and continue to build on your foundation.

11. Be patient and resilient

Management is a journey filled with challenges and setbacks. Practice patience and resilience in the face of obstacles. Learn from failures, adapt strategies, and stay focused on the goals.

For example, part of a manager’s job is to drive change, which is often met with resistance. Patience and resilience allow new managers to communicate the vision behind the change, provide the necessary support to team members, and align them towards the goal.

12. Make peace with the fact that not everyone will like you

Last but not least, it’s impossible to please everyone. Understand that the decisions you make might not always be popular, and that’s okay. Focus on fairness, consistency, and the best interest of the team and organisation. Building respect and trust is more important than being liked by everyone.

There’s a first time for everything.

After all, people say, “employees don’t quit their jobs, they quit their bosses” for a reason. Let’s not be the reason people quit, but, instead, be the one who inspires for the better.

If you are a first time manager (or even an aspiring one!) looking to enhance your capability to lead and navigate through the complexities of your new roles, you are in the right place!

ChangingPoint’s 1:1 Leadership and Executive Coaching offers a comprehensive framework that not only enhances the managerial skills of first-time managers but also aligns your development with the strategic objectives of your organisation.

We ensure that new managers – like yourself – are well-equipped to lead the team, drive performance, and contribute to the overall success of the organisation. Book a discovery call today to see how we can help you get it right from the get-go!

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Written by Jayne Ruff

Jayne Ruff, Occupational Psychologist & Managing Director at ChangingPoint. To find out more about how ChangingPoint can help you align minds to transform your business, get in touch.

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