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3 Career Advancement Pitfalls of First Line Managers



3 Career Advancement Pitfalls of First Line Managers

You may think you are on the path to the next level of management, but if you are unwittingly falling into these traps, your career is going to stall. Before you say something like, “Of course I delegate, of course I set clear goals,” stop and rethink your assumptions about what those terms imply. As someone who has been involved in thousands of promotional decisions I can tell you these pitfalls are repeat offenders that have derailed many promising careers.


  1. Connecting Goals to Strategy:

Let’s assume you are doing the basics: you make certain each of your team members understands their project and performance goals. That’s good, but have you truly explained how those goals connect either directly or indirectly into the vision and strategies of the company?

The first common mistake managers make is viewing themselves as organizers and task distributors. Your job goes far beyond that. You need to make certain that everyone on your team understands why their role, scope and outcomes are important. That means you can’t wait for your boss to show you the bigger picture. If the vision you have been given is vague, don’t use that as an excuse. You are responsible for finding out WHY you and your team exist and why your projects matter. Even if your boss is not skilled at strategic thinking, asking the right questions will produce the information you need to better lead your team.

What strategies is your boss responsible for that are directly impacted by your team’s outcomes?


How would the company’s purpose, vision and strategies be directly or indirectly impacted if your team didn’t meet its goals?


Who is dependent upon your team’s deliverables, both directly and indirectly?

Keep asking questions until you can find these answers and can articulate the explanations to your team. That won’t just set up your team for success: it will also set you apart from all the managers who either didn’t communicate these very specific points to their teams or who didn’t think it was necessary to learn it themselves.


  1. Delegating Tasks but not Your Involvement

You are dishing out the tasks but are you really setting them up for success?

One common mistake is not slowing yourself down long enough to give them all the information they need to be successful and to ensure that you don’t have to swoop in later to course correct them because you failed to share valuable information?

Have you spent an hour with them going over everything you know about the project and it’s impact?


Have you stated the boundary conditions of the project, such as customer requirements or cost constraints?


When you attend meetings do you listen with not only your ears but the ears  of your team members to hear things that are important to their projects?

Many first line managers are running too fast on their own list of projects that they brush over the need to have deeper conversations with those they delegate to.  They are also overly focused on their own needs and forget that they are representing each member of their team at meetings. Don’t forget to take notes at meetings and jot down who on your team needs to know what to ensure you keep them all informed of things that might impact their tasks.


  1. Increasing Risk and Accountability

Do you volunteer for additional accountability by offering to solve company problems even when they are high risk?

Too many managers play it safe and stick only to their immediate scope of work. They would rather their record of accomplishments stay spotless than take a chance on a difficult project that doesn’t have a high probability of success. If you recognized the problem and you aren’t willing to take ownership of addressing it, you create the perception that you are great at finding problems but not at fixing them. You are stagnating your own career. If you don’t move out of your comfort zone you won’t have a chance to learn new areas of the business, gain new skills and build new relationships. No one says you have to have the answer or fix the problem on your own. Put together a great cross-functional team and dig into the root cause and unravel the plaguing problem.

Each progressive level of management carries more risk. Being able to lead outside of your immediate team and taking responsibility for the company’s success will demonstrate you are ready to assume a position with more risk. Successfully completing a string of projects that a manager of your level is expected to complete will demonstrate your competence for your current position, but isn’t going to make someone consider you for advancement.


Why it Matters

At the next level of management, each of these skills will be far more critical than they are now. When your team is composed of other managers, each with their own team, it will be crucial that you can connect the goals that you give them to the company strategy and vision. It will be near impossible for you to course correct projects that were not made clear initially. And it will be unimaginable to avoid responsibility for company successes and failures. If you aspire to move up the ladder, it is critical that you develop these skills and display them at your current position. Not only will you perform your current position better, you will show that you are a candidate for advancing.

It’s hard to realize that some of the skills and abilities that got us to the current level of management are holding us back from advancing to the next. It can be even harder to change our behavior. You may be saying right now, “I know I need to step back and manage, but it’s hard to let go.” And you are right: change is hard. Fortunately Propel Forward specializes in helping leaders gain the skills they need and make the shift needed to enact critical changes.