5 Tips for Getting into Management

Experts say supervisory roles are evolving, providing more opportunities—and challenges—than ever. How to become a boss.

Management, to borrow a line from Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own, is hard. If it wasn’t, then everybody would do it. True as that is, and despite how much the role has changed in recent years, experts say there’s still no surer way to advance your career than through management.

Today, getting into management is more about forging a career path and learning new skills than it is about attaining ever-higher spots up the org chart. “Management opportunities are evolving,” says Jennifer Zamora, a principal at Korn Ferry Advance with a background in human resources. “They aren’t happening in a traditional hierarchical way as much as they used to.” 

The change has both its benefits and drawbacks. There are more opportunities to get into management than ever before. At the same time, there’s more competition for management roles, and remote work has added another wrinkle. For those who are interested in taking that next step, here are some tips from our experts on how to break into management.

Think beyond direct reports.

It used to be that the only way to advance was through managing people. Not anymore. Increasingly, organizations are trying to provide developmental opportunities for talent—particularly technical talent—that doesn’t involve managing the performance of others. Some examples include managing specific project deliverables, building cross-functional teams, handling budgets, or planning events. “There are ways to manage moving work forward without actually managing any human beings,” says Zamora.

Align competencies with leadership principles.

Every organization has a blueprint for the traits, characteristics, and drivers they believe a leader needs. Learn your organization’s and assess how well your current skills align with them—along with what areas you need exposure to and which skills to learn. Create a road map for how you will achieve those goals and share it with your manager, says Frances Weir, an associate principal with Korn Ferry Advisory. “Provide your manager with updates on what you’re learning, so when a role comes up, they know you’re ready to go,” she says.

Think growth, not advancement.

It goes without saying that you should make your manager and other decision-makers in the organization aware of your interest in managing. But how you do that is very important. Getting into management shouldn’t be solely about advancement, seniority, or even pay, says Zamora. Instead, she advises framing discussions around “growth, development, career goals, and how those personal desires can be aligned with organizational goals to achieve the best outcome.”

Do what your manager doesn’t like doing.

Everyone, including your boss, has parts of their job that they dislike. Find out which tasks most irk your manager and try to take charge of them. It could be as simple as assuming responsibility for an administrative function like a spreadsheet. Doing this can help build trust and credibility, say experts. One caveat: Don’t take on the extra work unless you already excel at your current responsibilities and can proceed without leaning on your boss for assistance or guidance.

Look outside the office.

Many people overlook or discount ways they can gain management and leadership experience outside of their workplace, says Weir. Coaching a sports team, leading an organization at your kids’ school, or serving on a community board are all ways to learn management skills that can carry over to the office. “You don’t have to wait for work to provide you with situations to lead,” she says.


For more expert career advice, connect with a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance.