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12 Tips for the accidental manager

Rachel Farrell, Special to CareerBuilder

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Scenario: You're a working as a business analyst on a project for your employer, determining scheduling, scoping requirements and identifying problems. The next thing you know, you're working as the project manager and you're totally unprepared. What do you do?

"Accidentally" becoming a manager happens more frequently than you think. And it's easy to be unsuccessful in your new role if you don't know what you're doing.

"The biggest mistake you can make if you accidentally become a manager and know that you are quite clueless is to convince yourself that it doesn't matter," says Ann Latham, president and founder of Uncommon Clarity, Inc., a Massachusetts consulting firm. "Being smart and generally competent is no substitute for knowing what you are doing. The consequences of stumbling along could be extremely painful for you, your direct reports, your colleagues and the entire company."

But figuring out exactly what you're doing can be the most difficult part of the transition, says Carol Stewart, Ph.D., an adjunct professor of management at Southern Connecticut State University and Quinnipiac University.

"We have all worked for great managers and not-so-great managers. What was the primary difference between the two? The difference most likely had to do with how we were treated and/or respected," says Dr. Stewart. "If a manager values our input, respects our opinions and understands the best way to meet the objective is to work collaboratively and freely -- the chances of success are much higher."

If you've recently found yourself in a management position with no prior experience, here are 12 tips to help guide your way:
1. Find a role model.

"Chances are, there's someone in your workplace who you believe is a great people manager, even if you've never worked for him or her before," says Darcy Eikenberg, president and chief creative officer of Coach Darcy, LLC. "Who do people go to with questions? Who do people gravitate toward? Find that role model and invite them for coffee or lunch. Pay attention to what they say and do -- and what they don't."

2. Relax.

"Look at this new venture as an opportunity for growth. You may surprise yourself and those around you," says Victoria Ashford, a life/leadership coach.

3. Figure out what "manager" means.

"If you don't have a clear and admirable image of what it means to be a manager, get one," says Latham. "It's not just a title. It's not about pushing paper and controlling people. You are going to make mistakes, so you might as well admit it up front and prepare yourself and others for the feedback loop that you will need to learn quickly on the job."

4. Take advantage of the individual strengths of your team.

"Put them each in a position where they can be successful and in turn you will be successful. The job of a manager is not to do the work yourself, or to get people to do things your way," says Don Current, of Current Financial Concepts, money-management blog. "Your job is to inspire your team to accomplish a given task. Don't take credit for the accomplishments either. Always build up the team and the individual members for their successes. They will respect you for this and will work even harder to make you successful. Ultimately as a manager your success does not come from what you accomplish, it is based on what your team accomplishes."

5. Bust the myth.

"Don't buy into the 'leaders are born and not made' hoo-hah," Ashford says. "While there are qualities and tendencies that some people inherit, now is the time to tell yourself that you can learn them -- and will."

6. Talk to your team.

"Honesty is often the best management tool there is. Share with your team that you want to be a good manager to them, and that you're still learning," Eikenberg says. "Given permission and a safe place to do so, where they know you won't be offended or make them wrong, they'll help teach you."

7. Communicate effectively.

"You can do this by learning to 'shut your trap' and listen to those that report to you. You will be amazed on what you hear and the great ideas that they have if you are willing to put aside the fact that they report to you and listen to the great things they have to say," says Patrick Madsen, Ph.D., director of programs and education, Career Services, Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. "By listening, you will also get a sense on what motivates them and what they need from a manager."
8. Show them your heart.

"When people know that your intent is to do the best you can for everyone because you've said so, out loud, your team will help you know the right things to do when," Eikenberg says. "Ask a lot of questions, especially, 'What do you think?' Say thank you everyday. The old models of hard-nosed management don't work anymore -- being yourself does."

9. Ask for training.

"Show your employer that you're serious about being successful, ask them if you can attend some seminars and workshops," Ashford says.

10. Learn to delegate.

"You need to let go of details and empower your staff to take care of the details," says Kathryn Ullrich, author of "Getting to the Top: Strategies for Career Success." "Since the accidental manager may be coming into the role from having done the detailed work, he or she is used to jumping in and doing the work to get it done. You are now managing, not doing."

11. Devote your time to helping them achieve their career goals.

"Many times managers think their job is to make sure people are doing what they were hired to do. Change your thinking to be a manager that inspires people to do their job but also provide them opportunities for growth and reward," Dr. Madsen says. "Take the time to explore what they want from their job and where they see themselves going in the next few years. Use this to your advantage to create new ways of tackling company issues or putting people into roles that would allow them to use their strengths to add value to the company."

12. Head to the public library.

"You won't learn everything overnight, but you'll expose yourself to new vocabulary and new insights about management, and figure out that your new title or responsibility is really about leadership. Which, is all about your positive influence and impact," Ashford says.

Rachel Farrell researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues for Follow @CareerBuilder on Twitter.

Last Updated: 02/02/2011 - 12:09 PM

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