You want to level up your career and start managing people. But how do you set yourself on the track toward a management-level position? While every industry and company has different protocols for hiring and training managers, there is a tried-and-true method for steering your career trajectory in the right direction. Here are 9 steps to help you become a manager and an influential leader.
What Does It Take to Be a Manager? (The Most Important Management Skills)
The best managers are able to bring the best out of people based on their unique personalities and skill sets. They lead their team to accomplish a shared goal within the organization. Most managers have the perfect blend of communication, experience, and charisma.
However you can have all the degrees and certifications in the world, but soft skills like communication and emotional intelligence is what differentiate leaders from followers. Superb interpersonal skills are the backbone of all great managers.
Other important management skills include:
- Leadership skills
- Communication and motivation
- Strategic thinking and planning
- Conflict resolution and problem-solving
- Time management
- People skills and mentoring
- Dedication to an industry or company
Learn more about How to Be a Good Manager: A Guide for Every Personality Type.
How to Become a Manager: 9 Steps to Achieve a Management Position
Regardless of your industry or background, these steps can help you prepare for and land a management role.
1. Map your career trajectory
Let’s start by mapping your career trajectory. Answer these questions:
- Where do you want to be in a year?
- Where do you want to be in 5 years?
- Where do you want to be in 10 years?
- When do you want to retire?
This will begin to help you map out where you want to be. And let’s start right now!
Many people gain their first management-level experiences as team leaders, assistant managers, or supervisors. It’s rare for a company to entrust an entry-level employee with the responsibilities of managing a team or department. In order to move up to a management position, you must first gain experience “at the bottom.” For example:
- Dave Thomas, founder and CEO of Wendy’s, dropped out of high school at age 14 to support his family by working as a cook at a diner. He was expected to make 300 burgers every half hour! After getting fired six times and facing many challenges, he opened his own restaurant in Columbus, Ohio, that would later become the first of a fast food chain Wendy’s.
- Oprah Winfrey started out as a part-time news anchor on a radio station and later became a reporter on a local TV station in Baltimore. It took her nearly a decade to land the Oprah Winfrey Show and become the television superstar we know today.
Whether you aspire to lead a company or just a small team, it is essential to lay out your career trajectory in advance. As you can see, all of these examples started out at entry-level positions in their respective industries.
If you are switching fields, there is no need to worry! Most managerial skills are universal and transferable. The key is to build your people skills and create a vision for where you want to go.
Action Step: Find someone in your industry with a management role similar to what you aspire to. This could be a famous person, someone in your company, or even someone you know personally. Use online resources like LinkedIn or biographies to map out their career trajectory. If possible, invite them to coffee to ask them more about how they got to where they are. Draw out a staircase and label each step they followed to get to where they are today.
Use this as a blueprint for your own career path. This freebie resource can be super helpful for mapping out your career plan:
Ready to start planning your professional development?
Use our free worksheet to get started on your Professional Development Plan.
2. Volunteer for “stretch projects” at your current job
Stretch projects are opportunities that “stretch” beyond the scope of your current job or skill level. This is how you will showcase your excitement and capability to go above and beyond your present responsibilities.
A stretch assignment could include:
- A cross-functional project where you work with other teams and departments
- Delivering a presentation to a high-profile client
- Taking the lead on a new initiative within the company
- Structuring a rollout for a big change
- Leading the implementation of a new process or tool
To position yourself for a stretch assignment, follow these straightforward steps:
- First, find a supervisor or executive with the right mix of credibility and power. This should be someone you already have a relationship with. Openly share your ambition with them and clearly explain why you think you’d be a good person for the assignment.
- Next, discuss how you will be integrated into the project and the specific role you will play. Plan out your time management in advance to ensure you can still complete your current projects.
- Finally, put your excellent communication skills to work as you interact with the rest of the team. Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions and seek guidance from your mentors.
Before you seek a stretch project, be sure that you have the time and energy to deliver your best possible work ethic. This is your opportunity to shine and prove that you’re ready to take your career to the next level. Because you’re learning, you aren’t expected to perform perfectly, but you need to be prepared to do the highest quality work possible.
3. Lead yourself first
Leadership author and speaker Warren Bennis said that the best leaders lead themselves. Similarly, former Medtronic CEO Bill George wrote, “The hardest person you will ever have to lead is yourself.” In other words, you cannot become a manager or an influential person until you improve yourself and gain control of your own life.
If your goal is to become a manager of any kind, begin by working on your own personal development. You can lead yourself by:
- Understanding yourself: Practice daily journaling and self-reflection to understand your strengths, weaknesses, triggers, patterns, and desires. Use self-awareness to uncover how and why you react to certain situations and what areas you need to improve upon.
- Creating a daily routine: It’s no secret that the most successful people on earth have a dedicated morning routine to boost their productivity, health, and happiness while preparing them for the workday ahead. The human body craves predictability, and a morning routine sets the foundation for a stable, level-headed approach to your daily endeavors. Consider waking up at the same time every day, practicing deep breathing, or consistently doing a morning workout.
- Holding yourself accountable: How can a manager expect their team to follow through on assignments if they don’t take responsibility for their own actions? Self-accountability means that you keep the promises you make to yourself and you are willing to accept the blame for the mistakes you make. Over time, accountability helps you build more discipline and self-esteem so you can better lead other people.
- Building productive habits: Whether you have a strict workout routine or dedicated phone-free hours for creative work, your habits lay the foundation for the type of leader you will be. Learn the top habits that C-level executives use for success.
The ironic thing about managing other people is that leadership begins internally. Nobody wants to be led by someone who fails to consistently show up, take accountability for their mistakes, and keep their promises.
Before you seek a management role, be sure that you have mastered your own life so you can empower others to do the same.
4. Set yourself apart with certifications or degrees
Further education can set you apart from your peers and help prove your dedication to excelling in the industry. While there are always exceptions to the rule, most modern businesses require a certain level of education to reach the management level.
If you don’t have many years of experience under your belt, pursuing new certifications can demonstrate your dedication to career advancement. More importantly, it helps you embody a growth mindset, which is one of the most profitable and coveted soft skills1https://hbr.org/2014/11/how-companies-can-profit-from-a-growth-mindset by top companies.
Many companies require an associate’s or bachelor’s degree as the bare minimum for employment. However, management positions often request a Master in Business Administration (MBA) or a relevant advanced degree.
Depending on your desired field of work, you may want to seek an industry-specific accreditation or licensing, such as:
- Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
- Registered nurse (RN)
- Human resources certifications (PHR or SHRM)
- Sales certifications (Spin Selling, Challenger Sales, or Sandler Training)
- Communication trainings (Advanced Interpersonal Communication training or a Powerful Presentation Course)
- Network certifications for IT jobs (CCNA, CCNP, or CCIE)
If you aren’t ready or willing to go back to school, certain certifications like a Project Management Professional (PMP) certification can build your project leadership experience and help you get your foot in the door for promotions. Here are another 7 Ways to Become a Superstar at Work Without Going Back to School.
5. Build leadership skills in your current role
How do you build leadership skills before you are in a managerial position? The secret is to add value to your team while excelling in your current role.
Here are a few ideas for building leadership skills in your current position:
- Speak up in meetings: Always arrive at meetings prepared with insights, intelligent questions, and suggestions about the topic at hand. Don’t be afraid to be the first person to raise your hand and start a discussion or share an idea. Whenever there is an opportunity to present or speak publicly, take it!
- Be a mentor: When someone has a question, practice explaining and teaching in a kind, accessible way. Ask your manager if you can invite new hires to “shadow” you so you can help be part of their training process. You can also unofficially take new team members under your wing by being extra welcoming, sitting with them at lunch, or offering to help them with new assignments.
- Set a positive example: Pretend like eyes are on you, and your reputation as a manager is at stake (because it is!) Set a positive example for your coworkers by completing projects on time, respectfully communicating, and avoiding workplace gossip.
- Motivate your colleagues: An aspiring manager should never miss an opportunity to hype up their coworkers! Congratulate team members on promotions and raises. Compliment the work of others. Brag about your colleagues’ accomplishments in meetings and showcase their hard work to your boss. Instead of putting yourself in the spotlight, find opportunities to uplift others.
- Learn to be a master communicator. Managers are exceptionally good at reading the room, reading people, and knowing how to optimize behavior. Be sure to check out our founder Vanessa Van Edwards’s latest bestselling book, Cues: Master the Secret Language of Charismatic Communication.
Ultimately, you should start acting like a leader before you can become one. Jack Welch, former Chairman and CEO of General Electric, famously said:
“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”
In your daily interactions with your colleagues, ask yourself, “How can I help other people grow?”
Learn more about the 8 Skills All Leadership Trainings Should Teach Managers.
6. Always act and dress the part
“Enclothed cognition2https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0022103112000200” is a psychological phenomenon that explains why people feel and act differently based on what they are wearing. It explains why men in business suits or women in lab coats feel more confident and attentive than those in painter’s coats or sweatpants.
Ask yourself: How does a manager at your company dress? How does a leader carry themselves?
They probably don’t show up to a meeting 10 minutes late in sloppy clothes, nor do they log into a Zoom call last minute with their hair a mess.
Consider these clothing and body language upgrades to help you look and feel more like a leader:
- Wear clean, tailored clothes: Express your unique style while still looking “put together” and clean. Make sure that your clothes fit you properly and complement your body type. Consider creating your own signature outfits, like Steve Jobs’s iconic black turtleneck, Levi’s jeans, and sneakers.
- Stand up tall: Roll your shoulders back and down and slightly expand your chest. Don’t hunch over! Science shows that fixing your posture can instantly improve your confidence and relaxation. Learn How to Fix Your Posture (in Just 5 Minutes or Less!)
- Speak with confidence: Speak slightly louder and lower to show that you are confident in what you have to say. Avoid speaking too quickly, too slowly, or using lots of filler words. Here is How to Speak with Confidence and Sound Better.
- Walk with purpose: Whether you are walking into a meeting or the lunch room, notice your stride and swagger. Avoid a sluggish speed or a rushed pace. A hurried stride could signal anxiety or nervousness. Alternatively, people who walk at a moderately quick pace3https://midus.wisc.edu/findings/pdfs/1893.pdf (not too hurried) are perceived as being more conscientious, important, and emotionally stable. You look like you’re going somewhere but still have time to say hello to fellow team members. Learn How to Make a Grand Entrance (& enter any room confidently).
Your people skills, work ethic, and character are your most important assets as an employee or leader. However, how you present yourself can dramatically shift how people view you. Learn more about building your Executive Presence: 10 Ways to Become a Charismatic Leader.
7. Network and build relationships
Porter Gale famously said, “Your network is your net worth.” As an aspiring manager, connections are currency more valuable than gold. Every professional opportunity begins with a relationship. If you are constantly building positive rapport with your colleagues and supervisors, you are already halfway there.
Remember, genuine relationships are key. People can smell phony intentions from a mile away. Don’t enter a networking event or business lunch wondering, “Who can I talk to that will give me a greater chance of promotion?” Instead of focusing on what others can offer you, a leader asks:
- How can I add value to this relationship?
- What can I learn from this person?
- Who could I connect this person with that would help them achieve their goals?
- How can I relate to this person?
“If we create networks with the sole intention of getting something, we won’t succeed. We can’t pursue the benefits of networks; the benefits ensue from investments in meaningful activities and relationships.”—Adam Grant
Here is a simple guide on How to Network: 18 Easy Networking Tips You Can Use Today.
Action Step: Consciously use networking opportunities to find a mentor who holds a position similar to the one you aspire to. Whether formal or informal, a mentor can transform your career by counseling you through tough times and connecting you with new opportunities. They can also hold you accountable for your goals. A study at Stanford found that over 80% of executives received mentorship4https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/sites/gsb/files/publication-pdf/cgri-survey-2013-executive-coaching.pdf that helped them succeed.
8. Apply for management roles and interview like a pro
Once you’ve mastered the above steps, it’s time to seek a promotion and interview for management roles. Even though you’ve never had a formal management role, you can leverage all of the above experience to make a case for moving up in the ranks.
Your annual performance review is a great time to discuss the potential for promotion at your company. If no management roles are available, look for other companies that are hiring or ask your network for recommendations.
Use this guide on How to Get a Job You Really Want: From Resume to Interview.
9. Join a growing company or industry
If you want to move into a managerial position at a company where you are already employed, consider having a career conversation with your manager and using more of the steps below to lay out your professional development plan.
You can start by saying:
- Do you have time this week to discuss my opportunities for growth? I have a lot to offer the company, and I would love to take on a new project.
- I am interested in applying for the next open [management role]. Do you have any suggestions for how I can prepare?
- Do you have time to offer advice on my career goals and aspirations? I’m excited to take on some new challenges.
If you are embarking on your path to becoming a manager in a new industry, choose an expanding company or industry that you can see yourself dedicating the next decade or more of your life. Ideally, this is a sector where your interests, skills, and experience align.
If you don’t have any experience in your desired field, we still have lots of tips below to help you work towards a management role as you break into a new industry! Many managerial skills are universal and transferable. However, it is much easier to excel in leadership positions when you gain expertise in a specific business.
As you search for an industry, ask yourself if a particular business is:
- Profitable (i.e., Are there lots of successful companies?)
- Hiring for many positions
Next, you’ll want to make sure that you only apply for positions that can lead you toward management roles. During your job interview, you could ask:
- Does this position have room for advancement?
- How does your company invest in professional development for employees?
- Where does this organization envision itself in 10 years?
- What is the longest length of time someone has worked here? What position did they start at?
Benefits and Drawbacks of Being a Manager
Achieving a management role is an exciting step forward in your career, but it doesn’t come without its own set of challenges. The pros and cons of being a manager include:
|Benefits of Being a Manager||Drawbacks of Being a Manager|
|Higher salary and benefits (the average manager salary in the U.S. is $58k)||Increased responsibility|
|More authority||More accountable for your team’s mistakes|
|Opportunities for professional growth||Potential for more stress and time constraints|
|Expansive network of people||Hiring and firing people|
|Positive impact on the organization||May have to deal with difficult people or pick up the slack of others|
If you aren’t ready to accept an increased workload, manage difficult employees, or balance competing priorities, a management role may not be the best for you.
Key Takeaways: Become a Manager through Personal and Professional Development
There is no silver bullet to getting a management job, but there are lots of ways to set yourself up for success. Pouring into your personal and professional growth is the best way to get your foot in the door of managerial opportunities. You can start working toward becoming a manager today by:
- Joining a growing company and industry
- Building productive habits and discipline in your personal life
- Gaining experience in your desired field
- Adopting a growth mindset by pursuing extra education or certifications
- Practicing leadership skills in your current role
- Acting and dressing the part
- Seeking cross-functional stretch projects that expand beyond your current position
- Networking and building relationships
- Applying for management roles
Once you land a management job, you might be wondering What Makes a Good Manager? Here are Lessons From 4 Great Leaders.
How to Deal with Difficult People at Work
Do you have a difficult boss? Colleague? Client? Learn how to transform your difficult relationship.
I’ll show you my science-based approach to building a strong, productive relationship with even the most difficult people.