Mar 6 / Mollie Garvey

3-Steps for Success in Your First People Management Role

As an engineer, I’ve seen plenty of people get promoted into management roles when they were happy being individual contributors. It’s how things roll. Do a great job, succeed on some projects, get praise from clients, and suddenly you are next in line to get your first people management role.

The Nasty Imposter Syndrome Kicks In

Those who have already made the move (or are very inspired to move) from engineer to manager, my kudos to you; it requires a great deal of self-reflection to know that your abilities align with building teams and not just technical products. For others (myself included), when my company asked me to manage a team for the first time, I was shocked and hesitated to accept the role. My imposter syndrome kicked into overdrive. I was too young - why should my team listen to me? I lacked the years of technical experience my peer managers brought to the table - how was I supposed to support my team? And who was going to support and mentor me? I was the only woman on a team of men, and I was supposed to be leading a team of all men.

While I was excited for the opportunity to move to a new location, work with new clients and grow my career in a management direction (I know now I really enjoy managing operations and building high-performing teams), I felt alone and isolated. At that time, I didn’t have an expansive network of colleagues with management experience I could call upon for support. Twelve people now relied on my expert technical and financial decision-making skills to keep the operations running, and I wasn’t sure I had what it took to be successful.

I’ll be the first to admit; I made many mistakes as I learned forecasting, budgeting, delegation, and communication with senior management. But I also gained skills I never thought I needed as a manager, including empathy and flexibility, which have carried forward to help me on other teams.

After ten months in my first people management role, I accepted a promotion to manage a larger team. I owe a great deal to my first team and my manager, who mentored me in my first people management role. Now I’ve managed both operations and technical teams, and here are my top three lessons to help you figure out what your first 90 days as a first-time people manager should look like.

WANT TO LEVEL UP YOUR LEADERSHIP SKILLS?

In celebration of International Women's Day, we are giving one month of free access to PIVOT - our platform for virtual, instructor-led career training.

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3-Steps for Success in Your First People Management Role

1. No changes in the first two weeks

A peer manager gave me this advice in passing one day. His direct quote was, “do nothing for the first two weeks,” but you are doing a lot in reality. So I’m not going to say “do nothing.” It takes focus and discipline to come in and observe. We are a generation of action, inspired by techniques like Pomodoro, and endlessly searching the internet for the latest productivity hacks to increase the hours in our day.

One of the easiest ways to lose your team’s trust is to come in and make several changes without understanding the history of why things are the way they are. Be careful of making rapid changes because things are not how you are used to seeing them or think they should be. You have time to make changes; in fact, I encourage you to make changes but don’t do it right away until you understand the dynamics of the team and how things are currently functioning. Who knows, what’s happening might be the best way to run things, and maybe you need to adapt.

2. Get to know your team

This one sounds obvious, but you would be amazed how often a new manager comes into their role and doesn’t take the time to have a one-on-one with the individual members on their team, and if applicable, the next level down.

I like to start by getting to know each team member, both personally and professionally, one-on-one, for 30 minutes. Do more listening than talking. Try to find out concerns, aspirations, and career goals. Then schedule follow-up chats, as applicable.

Communication is a foundational element to every high-performing team, and establishing these channels early will take you far as you work to build trust and empathy.

3. Get a grip on your P&L

Maybe you don’t have budget responsibilities in your first people management role. That’s ok; this step still applies to you because profit & loss (P&L) statements make the business world go round. Learn how you, your team, and your projects can impact it.

I spent hours with my regional controller to learn what each line item meant on my P&L and how to read them. As an engineer, I had no finance or accounting training when I became responsible for my first P&L, but I took the time to build them, and I encourage you to do the same.

Learning your P&L allows you to make data-driven decisions and show senior leaders how your projects and team would impact top-line grow
th. Having a solid understanding of your budget also allows you to confidently ask for resources well ahead of time, as well as factor in career development spent for your team. Hone this skill and the business vocabulary to go with it. Trust me; you’ll be rocking meetings with senior managers in no time at all!

Summing it all up

So there you have it. My top three lessons to help you figure out what your first 90 days in your first people management role should look like. But don’t just take my word for it. Here are some other resources you can check out:


If you have a personal story and lessons learned to share about how you’re owning your career, write to us at richa@pinkcareers.com.

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Mollie is an avid reader, lover of fish tacos and honed her public speaking skills through yoga teaching. She got her first management role 3 years into her career and has been building teams, operations and globally used products ever since.

With a double masters in engineering (MEng, Texas A&M University) and business (MBA, Duke University) she brings real-life stories, practical advice, and resources to first time and seasoned managers looking to build strong, self-empowered teams who can get things done.

Find Mollie Garvey on LinkedIn here.
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WANT TO LEVEL UP YOUR LEADERSHIP SKILLS?

In celebration of International Women's Day, we are giving one month of free access to PIVOT - our platform for virtual, instructor-led career training.

Get unlimited access to live professional development classes and learn how to communicate assertively, overcome imposter syndrome, lead effective virtual meetings, and delegate like a pro. Learn the skills you need to succeed at the workplace, when you need it. 

Until March 15, use code IWD100 to claim your free one month access! 
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