Image source: post will help you identify the core behaviours that will help you make the transition from senior worker to people manager. I’ll also call out some things can easily become bad habits and result in you staying at senior worker level, unable to transition to people manager.

Some general points on how I’m categorizing the different levels of maturity we might see in knowledge worker jobs. This can apply to any role such as business analyst, project manager, change manager, etc. Also note that this is not correlated with age or years in the job – you can have a young person who’s very talented and acting as a senior worker or people manager while you can have someone with 10 years of experience on the job who operates at the mid-level maturity.

As a junior or fresh graduate you are generally:

  • On your best behaviour all the time
  • Trying to add value where you can and absorb and learn everything you can
  • Looking at what the mid-level workers are doing

You quickly become a mid-level worker and:

  • Start to feel like you know all the technical skills of your job
  • Not doing much planning, mostly reacting to what is happening around you
  • Looking at what the senior workers are doing

Now you have more experience and are considered a senior worker. At this point you generally:

  • Have experience on different types of projects and expert technical skills in some areas
  • Look at things with a mature attitude and show leadership for your teammates
  • Spend time planning your work and maybe some for your teammates as well

Let’s briefly look at people managers and executives. As a people manager, you’ll need to be:

  • Always thinking of removing obstacles for the team
  • Planning for the team and aligning to plans for the organisation
  • Very mature attitude – no squabbling with peers

Executives need to be:

  • Thinking strategically
  • Thinking of the whole organisation

While it’s not too big a change in skills to move from mid-level to senior worker, it’s a bigger leap to change to a people manage role and so people will often spend a lot of time as a senior worker. Of course, changing careers is the most challenging and requires the most dedication but the strategy would be different there; that’s the topic of another post.

The difference between senior workers who want to become people managers (as opposed to those who want to progress further technically), and people managers is in focus, maturity and behaviours.

The key areas you need to grow as a senior worker:

1. Develop the ability to step back and take a macro view of the situation

If you can start doing this you’ll be able to see how what you are working on fits into the bigger picture. This maintains your focus and ensures the work you are doing adds value. There’s nothing worse than having spent a whole lot of time working on the wrong thing, solving the wrong problem.

2. Develop a habit of constantly looking at what is coming next for you and your teammates

This is about making planning for the team into a habit that you’re regularly thinking about. You always want to have an idea of what the next thing is and how it fits into the bigger picture. This way you can answer questions when someone outside the team asks what your team is working on, and you can offer direction and advice to your teammates.

3. Keep the team’s goals and the organisation’s goals in mind and use these to frame discussions

We know that constructive debates when a problem arises, helps teams ensure that the best solution is chosen to move forward. This is something you want to happen with your teammates and peers. Always ensure you know the goals of the team and the organisation and you consider other points and your own in light of achieving these goals. If your point of view is the best way to achieve these goals, then all you need to do is explain this repeatedly (over subsequent discussions – let it go if you are getting nowhere in a particular discussion), and drop your idea if that is not the case. This will show your maturity and leadership quality.

4. Leadership – observe other leaders, help your teammates become better at their jobs

Don’t compare yourself to people who aren’t as mature; compare yourself to those great achievers that you idolize. Offer guidance and help others become better at their jobs. This is one of the main qualities of a leader – it will build the respect of your teammates and will help you become a people manager. People managers need management skills (planning, setting targets and removing obstacles for the team) and leadership skills (taking a macro view, helping others become better at their jobs).

5. Develop the abundance mentality – no squabbling with your peers

This goes back to an earlier post on scarcity mentality versus abundance mentality. It can really frame your behavior when interacting with peers and ensure that when you are presented with an option of either arguing with a teammate publically, or working together to achieve a team goal, you instinctively go for the latter path.

Now, here are some things to avoid. These are things that you may still be doing as a senior worker that could keep you at that level, or make others perceive you as still being at the mid-level.

Behaviours that will hold you back:

1. Gossip or complaining about your peers

Regular complaining about others is not going to be looked on favourably by those in a position to give you a people manager opportunity. In fact, this can be a career limiting move if your complaint is about someone senior and it gets back to your boss that you said XYZ.

2. Arguing with your teammates publically

While constructive debate makes a solution stronger, you don’t want to get into an argument with a teammate in the middle of a team presentation. This creates the image of a fractured team and people outside the team will look at you as someone who can’t work together with others. People manager roles need you to have a very good ability to work together with others and good negotiating ability. Arguing with your teammates creates the complete opposite impression.

3. Refusal to accept criticism

When someone comes to you with critical feedback, publicly or privately, you need to accept the feedback and then decide whether or not you need to act on it. If you become defensive or argumentative when confronted with feedback, this will create the impression that you’re not able to work as a team. Thus you aren’t able to take on a people manager’s role.

What do you think?

Let’s get into further detail on behaviours to develop and behaviours to drop to transition to people manager.

What’s your top tip on the most important thing to develop and the most important thing to avoid?

Leave a comment!