How to handle the pressure of being a first-time female manager

male managers, woman presenting, stressed woman

Article provided by Natasha Harvey

Becoming a manager for the first time can be challenging.

Moving from a role where you felt comfortable in skills that you mastered, to one that involves new skills like team leadership and navigation of important work relationships, can be daunting.

While it’s important to focus time and effort on your team, your boss and other stakeholders, don’t forget about managing yourself and your own progress. Research shows that many women don’t look for information or people useful to their futures, or position themselves for their next move, so here’s a few things to think about as you prepare your advancement to manager.

Start with you

Set yourself up for success. Most of us face issues with self-confidence at some point in our lives, this can be particularly challenging when we’re taking on new roles and responsibilities.  Start as you mean to go on – make a plan for what you want to achieve and set yourself realistic goals and actions. Track your achievements but also reflect on what you learnt from things that went less well. When you’re questioning your abilities, think about what you know to be true and create a list of the things you’ve ‘handled’ in your career so far – challenges you’ve overcome, situations you’ve navigated or things you feel proud of.

Establish your boundaries. Consider what and how you need to work to be effective – including what you might need to ask for, how you might need to protect your time or what you won’t allow others to do. Emphasise your boundaries through your own actions and behaviours with structure, prioritisation and delegation. Communicate them clearly and explain why they’re important.

Stay focussed on what you want to achieve. It’s easy to spend our time on urgent tasks but this means activities related to our own goals can get pushed aside. Sort tasks into urgent and important to prioritise what really matters. You can’t avoid crises but you can schedule regular time in your diary to work on projects important for your development. Take responsibility for your own growth and progress by implementing effective time management.

Your team

Introduce structure. It’s important for your team to understand how you’re going to work together. Communicate what they can expect, including frequency of team gatherings and individual check-ins. Let them know that as soon as you’ve met them individually, you’ll share your vision and priorities for the team. Make sure they understand how their efforts contribute to the goals of the organisation. Tell them what’s important to you – that you’ll be updating them on what’s happening in management meetings and sharing information on company updates. Open up dialogue from the start, take questions and don’t be afraid to say you don’t know the answer, but that you’ll find out.

Empower your team. The pressure of getting results can be hard but it’s important not to transfer the stress you’re feeling on to your team. Let go of things that you did previously but that are no longer part of your direct role. One of the biggest mistakes first-time managers make is micromanagement. Take the time to learn your team members’ strengths and weaknesses, give them the overall direction, then allow them to handle projects in their own way within established boundaries. Find high-visibility projects for the high-achievers.

Protect 1-to-1 time. Part of your role will be helping your team develop in their roles and supporting them in their career trajectories. Take time to listen and understand how you can best support them. Integrate feedback into your regular 1-to-1 meetings. Let people know what they’re doing well and what needs work. Give them the opportunity to share feedback too – it builds a more open and engaging work environment.

Step up to the tough conversations. Some of the most uncomfortable situations as a first-time manager can be conversations that deal with difficult working relationships between team members or underperformance. These conversations take courage but they’re critical in setting the tone for who you are, how you work and in building your reputation. Aim to use factual, measurable information in your feedback to keep your comments objective.

Key stakeholders

Use internal networking opportunities to make new connections and highlight the work you and your team are doing. Consider potential allies who will be useful when you need support in moving forward an idea or a project. Look for opportunities with senior people so they see what you’re capable of, how you think, act, communicate and contribute. Mentors who advise you and support your growth, and sponsors who can advocate for you publicly and facilitate introductions, are invaluable to build visibility.

Don’t forget to manage up. Ensure that you have regular meetings with your boss to discuss progress, issues and priorities. Ask for specific feedback and use it. Take time to understand your manager’s comments and come up with a plan to improve. Don’t shy away from communicating the successes of your team.

Keep in mind the importance of managing yourself, your team and key ‘others’ as you start your first role as a manager and you’ll be great! Listen, believe in what you’re capable of and let go of ‘perfect’ – instead dare to try, make mistakes and learn from them.

Natasha HarveyAbout the author

Natasha Harvey is a certified transformational coach and communications specialist. She runs coaching and mentoring programmes for young women to help build self-awareness, self-confidence, strong communications skills and resilience.

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