Specialist To First Line Manager





“Can you remember what it's like?”

“Is your organisation losing out?”




In the current economic climate it's more important than ever to find people within your organisation that have the potential to take on more challenging roles. This is true for all businesses, but perhaps has particular relevance in the small and medium-sized business (SME) sector, where there are fewer people to choose from..

In 2005 we carried out some in-depth research into the challenges for people making the transition from "technical specialist" whether this be engineer, accountant, IT, HR etc. into their first line management job.

Since then, we have worked with a number of organisations and individuals, where helping them to make this transition has been our main objective. Most of this work has been in the SME business sector and that's what this article is all about.

The Symptoms

Sink or Swim
We know from our experience that many very good specialists are moved into management jobs without time for any real consideration of their suitability and without any training. What we call "sink-or-swim" appointments. Often these people fail after a very short period and a very good specialist is de-motivated and often lost to the organisation.

Raising the Bar
Managing performance and motivating people to a higher level of performance is crucially important in the current economic environment. Again, from our experience, these skills don't come naturally to specialists, who are generally used to setting very high standards for themselves but not for other people.

Letting Go
Letting go of some of the specialist side in order to manage others is not always that easy. In a pressurised environment specialists often see it as easier to "do it themselves", rather than take the time to teach others and risk a poor quality result. We have found that one of the challenges here is making the transition from being "recognised as an excellent specialist" to being "recognised as a leader of an excellent specialist team"

Role Conflict
Another characteristic of SME's is the close friendship that exists between team members. In our recent experience this has been reflected in newly-appointed first line managers finding it difficult to reconcile their friendship with team members, with the need to manage and lead.

Power Base
And finally, what about the need to influence senior managers and people in other departments on issues which are no longer purely "technical". Suddenly the specialist power base has gone, so what other influencing styles are available?

The Impact On Your Organisation

The senior management in many of the SME's we have worked with know that they need to step back from their operational responsibilities to take a more strategic role. Given the challenges outlined above, if we're honest they lack the confidence to "let go". The result is an over-riding feeling that everyone in the organisation is unintentionally working below their potential.

Next Steps

Every organisation is different and it's not for us to provide solutions without first learning more about your specific situation. But if the symptoms outlined above are at all familiar, then we can definitely work with you to change the situation.

The development activities we provide will be practical, creative, energising and tailored to generate understanding and enjoyment.

Because people will be highly motivated and eager to make changes, the return on your investment will be both fast and measurable.

Our Approach

Step 1: Meetings with the senior management team to learn more about the business and their expectations from the development.

Step 2: One-to-one meetings with individual participants to review priorities, challenges and expectations

Step 3: Tailored workshops or individual coaching, depending on the numbers of people involved.

Step 4: Preparation of personal development plans.

Step 5: Follow-up support from Wadenhoe Consultancy

Step 6: Progress review, measurement against expectations and corrective action if needed.

We always consider steps 1, 5 and 6 to be a Wadenhoe investment.

Measurable Outputs

Here are some recent examples of first line challenges that have been overcome as a result of our development:

"Passing on knowledge to other people, delegating work out and managing it"

"Managing self so that priority work is getting done through facilitation rather than directly by me"

"Managing the transition from old specialist role to a new project-specific role, including the introduction of a new person"

"Managing a particularly tricky performance issue with someone who has been a colleague and friend for several years"

"Influencing people in other departments where I have no line authority"

"Providing more direct input into the overall management of the operation, in particular the business planning process"


Article written by Ray Atkinson, 14/01/2009.

©2009 The Wadenhoe Consultancy Ltd.

To contact us, please telephone on 01865 339558 or email us at: info@wadenhoeconsultancy.com
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The Wadenhoe Consultancy Ltd, Prama House, 267 Banbury Road, Oxford OX2 7HT
Tel: 01865 339558   Fax: 01865 339301   Email: info@wadenhoeconsultancy.com