Transitioning from Co-Worker to Manager – A Guide

For many of us, work is a big part of our lives.  We typical spend over forty hours per week at work and generate social connections with workmates as a by-product of our career.  These relationships play a significant role in team building and make work more social as we strive toward progression in our career within the company.  What happens when that promotion we’ve worked hard for finally becomes a reality and we move from being a co-worker to a more senior position?  The social dynamics and politics within our developed social circles can complicate the transition, and if not handled correctly, the transition can have very unpleasant consequences.  It is important to realise that once the promotion is received, attention will turn to the newly appointed manager or leader for accountability, and as such a plan to deal with the transition process may be best practise to help ease the transition. 

Here are five ways that a newly appointed manager can handle the transition from co-worker to manager effectively: 

1. Indicating the transition

In most companies, top management is tasked with announcing changes and promotions; however, there are instances where the promoted person will have to take responsibility.  It can be tricky to do so as one does not want to come across as arrogant when mentioning the success, (especially in countries such as New Zealand and Australia where the ‘tall poppy syndrome’ is a common occurrence).  A good way to get peer support is by acknowledging the unusual situation the promotion presents, and by holding open conversations with peers to create opportunities to emphasise the desire to stay genuine throughout the transition process. 

2. Incremental changes

The new manager should acknowledge the fact that social dynamics will change and that he or she is a still a member of the team.  Therefore, drastic and sudden changes should be avoided.  Incremental changes will help to transition the relationship with peers without putting them into defensive mode.  People do not like change, nor do they like to lose social relationships, therefore slowly reshaping the relationships with both peers and other managers will help build foundations of authority and credibility.  Becoming a manager means taking up new responsibilities that may not allow for a copy of previous relationships and may limit the ability to exercise full authority as perceived peer bias from co-workers may cause tension. 

The newly appointed manager should take the time to learn more about the organisation before introducing new ideas and focus on maintaining a good relationship with peers.  The new relationship could, for example, be formed by slowly limiting the attendance of social gatherings and by starting to build an image that communicates authority. 

3. Authority, Credibility, and Trust

Establishing authority should not be mistaken for misusing power.  Instead, striving to show accountability and responsibility are actions that prove capacity to make solid decisions and build credibility.  Demonstrating to staff that they are not alone, but rather part of a larger team, and providing them with the right skills and tools to perform their tasks, will give them a sense of security and promote a culture of trust that forms the basis of success as a team. 
Reinforcement of good performance is not only beneficial to the capacity of the leader but also to the development of the employees as it helps in building both trust and the self-esteem of those now being lead.  Being aware of workers doing the right thing and reinforcing this behaviour with positive feedback will go a long way in boosting their morale and keeping the motivated to perform.  This positive reinforcement builds trust and people’s self-esteem will grow, team morale is improved, and good performance will become contagious.  Overall, with some trusted individuals won, the manager will find it easier to lead and act in the best interests of the company. 

4. Handling and supporting the disappointed peer

One person’s win can be another person’s loss.  In most instances, another peer may have been in the race for a promotion and may have envy of the newly appointment manager’s position.  These former peers can quickly turn into well-poisoners and hinder, or even sabotage, the progression of other team member’s leadership efforts if left unattended.  Letting them know they are advocated for and still have an opportunity for progression in the company, as well as handling the disappointed peer in a way that will solidify their importance to the business, will reassure them that they are needed and mitigate the threat of a saboteur within the team. 

5. Continuous leadership development

Leadership and ongoing development will require training.  Leadership is an ongoing journey and managing and leading people will require continuous learning and development to make productive and effective decisions.  If the company offers leadership training programs, managers should not hesitate to take full advantage of the opportunity. 

Transitioning from peer to the manager is no easy task. With the right approach and training, the transition can be smooth and yield the desired result for the people involved and the business. For newly appointment managers is it important to remember that if they are diligent and demonstrate positive behaviour, display a high level of competence, and act with integrity, that it will reinforce their credibility and authority. Although social dynamics will change, the experience gained will be valuable toward the future career path.