How to Break into a Managerial Role – Part 1

team managerHow to get into a team management role is a great question to ask as you advance in your career.  If you have been a stellar individual contributor, the next stage of your career advancement is most likely the management of others.

While this is the natural next step, it is not always obvious how you can become a team manager. Sometimes you’ll be promoted, but other times you’ll have to change jobs to break into a managerial role.

In this article, I want to share a real life exchange with a member who is facing issues getting into a formal managerial role.  I hope this example and my advice can also be applicable to those of you who may be in similar situations.

Note: the name of the reader has been changed, and the company name has been made generic to keep it anonymous.
Hi Lei,

I’ve been enjoying your newsletters and have found them insightful. I am a VP at Company X, and have recently had a career development conversation with my boss. He provided me with overwhelmingly positive feedback, but he passed me over when he planned to hire two new analysts and made two of his current direct reporters into managers. The reason given was he didn’t think my role needed more support, given the division of responsibilities on his team. I was at a complete loss when I learned about the plan from him.

When I expressed my disappointment and asked to be put in a managerial role in the near future, he duly noted it and promised me that I would be a manager on his team. Now I am working hard to prove myself worthy of this future opportunity. Did I do something wrong that merited being passed up for this opportunity? Would you offer me some advice?

Many thanks


Thanks for reaching out.  Glad to hear my newsletters have been helpful.  I am sorry to hear that you were passed up for promotion, even though you received very positive feedback.  I think it may be hard for you to figure out what happened, as your boss already gave you a generic answer — “he didn’t think your role needs more support, given the division of responsibilities in his team.”

What I recommend you do next is focus on asking him what skills and qualities he is looking for in a potential manager.  It does not sound like from your email that you know that already.  I know you are working hard to prove yourself, but I am not sure you know what your boss is looking for you to prove to earn that promotion. It’s important for you to get specifics if you want to progress.

I would schedule a career discussion meeting with him for 30 min, and just positioning it as getting some advice from him.  Ask him…

  1. Given his experience here, where does he think your career at this company can go in the next 5 years?
  2. Given that you would like to manage people, what specific aspects do you need in order to get there?
  3. What specifics is he looking for from you in order to earn that next promotion?  What results or skills do you need to show him?
  4. Roughly, when does he think you can be ready for promotion?  Six months, a year?  And why does he think so?

I don’t know what kind of relationship you have with your boss, so you may not want to bombard him with the questions directly. Just see how the conversation goes, and make sure you are not demanding answers from him. I think the focus should be on understanding exactly what you need to do to earn a promotion, and when he thinks you’ll be ready. The more details you get, the more effectively you can deal with this issue. Vagueness could lead to another disappointment if you, for example, expected a promotion next year and he is really thinking two years. You want to find out those things now.

Also, there is always an unspoken side to promotion – people promote people they like or who are like them, so it’s important you are building a personal relationship with your boss and have a good rapport if you want more frank answers from him.  Hope that helps.



Once again, I found your advice practical. It really hit the nail on the head, as I am not clear about what I am trying to prove, as he did not point out anything for me to improve upon. Per our conversation, he greatly values my skill set and thought I had great managerial potential.

I will schedule a meeting with my manager to discuss an action plan. After that meeting, I may reach out to schedule a direct consultation. In response to some of your comments, my manager and I do have very good rapport and relationship since I joined the team about 2.5 years ago. I used to be a research analyst, and found the job on his team for reporting, in the hopes of striking a work life balance after I had two children. A promotion wasn’t something that I focused on at the time. However, now that he is promoting some of my peers, both of whom have equal or less ranking than me), I feel the pressure of making something out of myself after 10 years with this company.

Thanks again for offering your advice. I greatly appreciate it!


Go to the next article, How to Break into a Managerial Role – Part 2,” as Jessica gets back to me a few weeks later with how her meeting went with her boss, and the new challenges she discovered in this situation.

Your comments: What else would you advise Jessica to do in this situation?  Does this example help you? Add your comments below and let’s have a discussion.

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I am always in your corner.

– Lei

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