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From co-worker to boss: how to handle the step up to management

Chris Evans

Resentments, office politics, broken friendships, social gatherings, new goals, and potential disciplinary action these are just some of the issues newly promoted managers could face. Chris Evans talks to experts about how best to handle the step up

Anyone who’s been promoted knows how hard the transition can be from ‘one of the team’ to the ‘boss’. Inevitably, there are bound to be resentments from certain members of staff, particularly those who were overlooked for the role. Added to that will be a sense of expectation from those below and above about how you handle the new responsibility. First impressions are vital.

“One of the most important things to do first is talk to each member of the team, find out their views, concerns, and how they’re feeling. If there are issues, make sure they’re sorted out before they escalate or become problematic. Then you can work out your strategy and what you want to do,” says Ruth Stuart, Research Adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD).

Most experts agree it is best not to make several changes too quickly as there will be concern among employees as to how their work loads, responsibilities and even their jobs might be affected by the new management structure. Equally, it is important not to be hesitant and unsure of yourself as this will be picked up on as well.

“People will be looking to you for strong leadership,” insists Rob Brown, an expert on business relationships. “You need to have a manifesto or statement of intent that the whole team can believe in.”

Possibly the hardest thing to deal with is the changing dynamics of the relationship between the new manager and his or her former colleagues and friends. Previously they might have socialised on a regular basis, and even discussed colleagues over a pint or coffee. This is something that would need to be addressed. 

“Socialising with work colleagues and friends can be beneficial to create trust and a better working environment, but once you become the manager a professional line must be drawn,” says Tinu Saide, a conciliation officer at Acas. “You might need to cut back on the number of social gatherings you attend, and certainly don’t discuss other staff members. Being objective is key.”

Stemming on from that, handling friends correctly in the work place is also important. Managers don’t want to be seen to be favouring their friends when delegating projects and responsibilities. Plus, they need to be wary of friends feeling they can take advantage of their relationship with the manager to ask for time off as and when they please or shirk responsibility. This is where setting boundaries from the start is vital.

“The transition to being the boss won’t happen overnight, there will have been time to discuss the promotion with work friends, even ask for their advice, and possibly discuss whether it would affect their working relationship,” says Rob. “They don’t need to cast friends aside, but inevitably, once in the job, they will have to create a bit of a distance, and ensure that boundaries are stuck to.”

On the flip side, it is important not to overcompensate, deliberately not giving projects to staff members considered to be your friends, so as not to show favouritism, because they may well be the best person for that job, which will also cause resentment. It’s about delegating work fairly and responsibly, factoring in performance and ability.

“I’ve been promoted where I have friends and the last thing they’d wanted was to receive preferential treatment because I’m their friend. They’d wanted a good assignment because they felt they’d worked hard and deserved it,” says John Palmer, Senior Guidance Managing Editor.

Managers will also need to re-evaluate and re-learn exactly what their former colleagues’ responsibilities are. They might have discussed them as co-workers, but as the boss they will need to understand where and how changes might need to be made. 

The new manager’s role within the organisation will also change the higher the corporate ladder they climb. It’s less about his/hers own projects, alliances and environment, and more about the business objectives as a whole. With this comes the need to delegate tasks, including the manger’s previous responsibilities.

“Some new managers try to keep hold of all their previous work, which can be very difficult,” insists Stuart at the CIPD. “They will soon find they need to pass some of this work to other colleagues, particularly the more administrative duties, so they can focus on wider strategies and meetings with executives. It is about managing their time properly.”

Consulting fellow managers from other teams who have been through similar issues and problems is certainly helpful and advisable, as is relevant in-house or external training in how to handle management responsibilities. 

This is particularly true if a manager is dealing with disputes relating to friends or family members in the workplace.  “These are often fraught with potential dangers, especially where a husband and wife work together. Communication from the start is really important about what’s acceptable and what’s not, and advice from other sources can really help reduce risks,” concludes Saide. 


  • Roland Hewson

    The problem I experienced was not from fellow workers but from the overall manager of my former department. I became the chief officer monitoring performance review, contract compliance, and quality assurance. He had other responsibilities including internal audit and I soon found them following me about.-I put a stop to this nonsense by deliberate confrontation in neutral territory.  As for my former colleagues they were fine because there was room for promotion to fill my old section head position. --Office politics can be difficult, patience and understanding is a must until a little at a time they can be gainsaid, -never try to clean sweep everything all at once. Your staff must be willing to follow you and move with you if you are to achieve the goals you wish to.

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