Tips for the First-Time Manager

As young nonprofit professionals, one of the most exciting stages in leadership development is when we begin to manage staff or volunteers. It is a time when our lens expands from our own to-do lists to include the tasks of others. Being a new manager does not necessarily require gaining the word “manager” in your title. Perhaps your boss is hiring an intern to help you out this summer. It could even be that you are picked to manage a group of volunteers for an annual event. In any case, you will manage people and that takes some preparation and deliberate skill-building. Here are some tips to getting off on the right foot.

  • Explore your management and communication style…and adjust when needed.

This takes a commitment to self-awareness that might feel uncomfortable at first. You might have a bias towards action, but you might be leading people who prefer to find consensus before acting. Recognizing these nuances and adjusting your style is called situational leadership, and it is a must in your career.

Sometimes we err on the side of not coming across as “bossy,” but the outcome is that we do not provide direct feedback and clear objectives. In a professional setting, not having role clarity or a clear goal can kill anyone’s motivation. Communicate early and often. Give honest feedback. If that sounds like an uncomfortable scenario, check out these tips.

  • “What do you think?” is your new favorite phrase.

The “Golden Rule” in action as a manager is to find ways to authentically show respect and empower your direct report(s) to share their ideas. Asking your folks “what do you think” is such a simple way to do exactly this. It shows you are open to feedback, want their input, and value their role on the team.

  • Understand the difference between micromanaging and helping out.

The number one mistake reported by new managers is that they assume the skills they excelled at in the non-supervisor role will make them a successful manager. Not so. You might feel the tug of wanting to have a say in everything. But, that’s not helpful to anyone. You will burn yourself out and annoy your staff. Your success is dependent on their success, so spend your time coaching and guiding. At the same time, you need to demonstrate that no task is too small. When that big event requires 500 handwritten thank you notes, roll your sleeves up and help out. This is another way to demonstrate respect and support with actions, not just words.

Try these out and we’re sure you’ll rock it when you transition into your first management role!

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