The hidden skillset of a senior manager
For those climbing the corporate ladder, understanding the differences in the skillset between junior and senior management is important.
In most companies, junior management specializes while senior management visualizes. What’s the difference? Let’s break down the hard and soft skills that are necessary for a specialist to become a visionary and move into the upper echelon of management.
As senior management, you’ll be listening to people from different professional walks of life. Active listening is a technique to keep both parties engaged in the conversation, and it is especially important when talking to someone who is relaying new, possibly confusing information to you. As the employee is talking, the manager is engaging in body language and microexpressions — head nods, eye contact, throat croaking, paraphrasing — that keep the speaker talking. What’s more, these movements are self-cues to the listener to stay attentive, resulting in a much more effective communication.
Alongside active listening is the ability to recognize non-verbal cues. As you listen, pay attention to the facial tics, body language, vocal tone and other behaviors that create the communication “between the lines.” The more information you glean from this kind of communication, the better you will be able to problem-solve issues of office politics, interdepartmental bottlenecks and simple misunderstandings. In short, you will be able to get things done.
What is your leadership style? Do you drop the hammer every time something goes wrong and cause undue pain around the office? Are you too hands-off when a decision needs to be made, delegating too much authority to your downline? You may think that everyone must work around the personality of the senior manager, but the opposite is actually true in successful companies. Senior management is not the driver of company culture; rather, they are the most responsive to it. Working with different personalities is essential to managing large teams, something that may actually be a luxury for junior management.
Being where the buck stops in the office doesn’t mean that you have less pressure on your shoulders. The decisions of senior management often reverberate throughout the entire organization. How does this affect the notion of adaptability? As decisions move down the chain, adaptability can seem like indecisiveness. How does a senior manager adjust on a case-by-case basis while keeping a reputation as a mainstay of the business? Once you figure out the balance, you may be ready for that senior position!
Senior management must always consider how their decisions will affect the internal supply chain and the external sales funnel. When you make the transition, your days of lobbying for an endless R&D budget for DevOps because you came from DevOps are over! Senior staff has to understand how much an R&D dollar takes away from marketing the product lines that are currently on the market. And what about how a failed project will affect operations? These tough decisions are made tougher if the other departments in the company believe you favor the department representing your specialty.
Do you understand the business as a whole from conception to customer? Are you willing to learn if you don’t know (this goes back to active listening)? Junior roles have the advantage of being able to put on blinders and work towards a specific goal. As you advance into senior management, the blinders must come off. Learning the entire process of how the business makes money is one of the most important aspects of moving up the ranks.
As a junior manager, you are likely given responsibilities that can be accomplished within a certain timeframe — a timeframe that is set by senior management. As a senior manager, you have no such guidance. You are the one setting the frame for everyone else and yourself. Delegation is key! Your main role as a senior manager is to give project roles to the people who perform them with the highest efficiency.
After setting the frame for all of your junior staff, you must next prioritize your own schedule. How much time can you give to the inevitable bottlenecks before you have to trust your junior manager in that space? How will you handle the unexpected hiccups? Just as importantly, how will you keep from spending too much time with your superstars and possibly demoralizing the rest of you workforce?
There’s no way around it — to get to senior management, you have to showcase the ability to succeed. In most cases, you will have shown this in your specialty. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that specialization takes you out of the running for senior management. Attempting to broaden your horizons or politic too soon may communicate empty ambition if you do not have the quantifiable achievements to back it up!
Every executive headhunter worth his salt will advise you to showcase subject-specific skills on your CV alongside transferable skills. Mastering hard skills means that you have the discipline to actually execute. Since you’re looking to be an executive, wouldn’t this be an important concept to project?
Learning the skills above should bring you much closer to the corner office, a bigger downline and a heftier paycheck. Most importantly, however, you will be a better businessperson who can use the same hours in the workday to handle much more responsibility. Once this becomes your true motive, the sky’s the limit for the trappings of success.