How to Go From Team Member to Manager (Without Making Things Awkward)

Two women at work


Ramona Shaw
Ramona Shaw

The day has come and you finally got promoted to manager. But while on the outside everyone is congratulating you and you’re excited, on the inside you worry about what’s to come. You know that your role will dramatically change and that you’ll have to lead the group of pals you’ve been going to happy hour with for the past number of years. You wonder if your can really do this, or if you bit off more than you can chew.

If this seems like a familiar thought, know that you’re not alone. I hear these concerns and worries from new managers almost on a daily basis. Instead of voicing complaints, you’re now responsible for resolving them. Instead of being held accountable by someone, you now have to hold others accountable. Instead of doing a great job yourself, you now need to influence, encourage and support others to do a great job, too.

The transition from team member to manager isn’t an easy one. And sometimes, it takes a long time to adjust to and excel in this new role. Here are a few tips to help you during this exciting but challenging transition. 

1.Talk through expectations.

One of the most important steps you can take after being promoted to manage former peers is to have a conversation with each individual regarding the overall relationship and how expectations have changed. Sit down with each team member and have a conversation about what this new relationship will look like.

Be open and up front that your role has changed. Then, take the time to talk through what you expect of your former peers and, frankly, what they expect of you. If you do this with openness and professionalism and show that you’re sincere and willing to listen, you’re on the right track to gaining their trust and respect as a manager

2. Set clear boundaries.

Think about the boundaries you need to put in place to make sure you’re not playing favoritism and you aren’t getting yourself into unpleasant situations that could undermine your leadership ability. Here are some ideas what these might look like:

  • Do not discuss work outside of work with your former peers,

  • Do not discuss at length personal issues at work unless they are important for you as a manger to address,

  • Specify your role when offering advice. Say “Speaking as your manager” or “Speaking as your friend,”

  • Never share other employees’ information with a friend,

  • And never vent about work to a friend who is also your direct report.

3. Use your previous role to your advantage.

If you have been working with your peers for a long time, you know them pretty well. That means that you know their strengths and weaknesses, and you can set them up for success better than anyone else. 

Delegate work that you know they can do well and give them the trust and autonomy to do it. This can be a great way to keep them engaged, even if they’re initially unhappy about this new situation. While they might be bummed that they didn’t get the promotion, you can give them a great project or responsibility that they’re excited about. Even if they’re resentful, this can help melt away some of those feelings, knowing you have their best interests at heart.

4. Embrace the change.

You might miss the friendly interactions at first, as people will tend towards having only work-based conversations with you. Take time to realize that in order to gain something new, you need to let go of something else. Embrace the change, even if it feels uncomfortable at first. It will definitely get better over time. 

The key to navigating this transition with success is to be open and transparent with your team members. Talking about it, defining boundaries and expectations, and taking action are what will make a huge difference — for you and your team.

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