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In her latest book, The Shift, London Business School academic Linda Gratton proclaims the death of middle management. The book contends that while the role of management was held in higher esteem in the past, the modern manager is often a figure of parody, with sitcom programs like The Office tapping into this zeitgeist perspective.

We live in an age where big companies can shed middle managers in the thousands and the public cheers their departure, deriding them as pen pushers and bureaucrats that add little value to either customer or employer.

“The days of general managers who know a little about a lot of things are completely over,” says Ms Gratton, further attesting that supervision and feedback is now increasingly given by peers rather than managers. She argues that rather than generalists, managers need to develop specialties in one or two areas.

The other side of the coin

Despite this growing perception of middle managers as rather useless, there is considerable evidence to the contrary. Earlier this year, Ethan Mollick from the Wharton School of Business produced research which revealed that middle managers offered more value to an organisation than any other employee. He contends that this is due to their unique position of being able to see and judge where resources could be best applied.

“It is in these knowledge-intensive industries where variation in the abilities of middle managers [has a] particularly large impact on firm performance, much larger than that of individuals who are assigned innovative roles,” Mollick says.

Despite this however, research suggests that just 1 in 5 managers are trained to their job.  And since relationship with ones line manager is the key contributor to employee engagement, so it simply isn’t good enough to promote people based on technical merit and expect them to be good managers.

Making the transition from technician to manager

Here are a few tips to help you make the transition from technical wiz to proficient manager.

  1. Understand the change in evaluation – As a technician you are judged on what you do. As a manager you will be judged on what your team does. It’s an important and fundamental distinction to make if you want to succeed at management.
  2. Learn and value new skills – While your technical skills are still useful, as a manager you’ll require a whole new set of skills, such as those needed for managing resources, information, people, change and a new set of customers. These will need to be developed and valued in the same fashion as technical skills.
  3. Deal with expectations – As a manager, a whole raft of people will place expectations on you. With responsibility comes pressure, and it’s something you’ll have to deal with. No longer can you pass things to others to fix. If your team has a problem, you’ll be the go-to guy.
  4. Learn to manage upwards – In your role as a technician, your boss relied upon you to fulfil your job requirements. As a manager, you’ll need your bosses help to achieve your goals. Thus, you need to learn how to manage upwards as well as downwards to achieve your objectives.
  5. Be generous with credit – You’re no longer the star. Whereas previously you might have received the lions share of the credit for a job well done, as a manager you have to distribute that credit among your team. You need the ego to be able to do this.

Adi Gaskell is the editor of The Management Blog for the Chartered Management Institute, the leading professional body for managers and leaders in the UK.

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