10 Leadership Tips for
Accidental Managers

See also: Leadership Trait Theory

Management is a learnable skill – shame too few people are given the chance to learn it. A shocking 63% of managers in the UK have had no formal management training.

To many these figures reflect the rise of accidental managers – members of staff who didn’t choose the management route yet still find themselves responsible for teams.

If you fall into this category, here are some tips to help you become a better manager:

1. Be a Hero

The essential difference with any management job is your position as a role model to junior members of your team.

This means that you need to show impeccable values of integrity, diligence and professionalism so that you encourage others around you to do the same. Leading by example works – be trustworthy, honest and supportive of your team and they will do the same for you.

2. Go Back to School

As sure as Rome wasn’t built in a day, so too you won’t become a great manager instantly.

To improve over time, make sure you know where the best resources are for you to improve your skills. This might mean observing managers around you to copy their best qualities, finding blogs that offer pointers and tips, or taking an introduction to management course to teach you the basics.

3. Scope your Own Job

Delving into management for the first time can be a daunting task, and one that risks confusing you over what you are managing.

Be clear with your superiors about what you are responsible for and, importantly, what is beyond your remit.

If you feel as though you need support, ask for it. Crucially, don’t become a victim of your own success – if you are good, you are likely to be offered a wider and wider role. But each person can only do so much. If you feel you need more resources, you probably do. Make those requests to your superiors in a timely fashion so you don’t encounter trouble down the line.

4. Embrace Tomato Power!

Being a manager isn’t just about delegating what others do in their working days. You need to manage yourself, and your own time, too.

There will be times when meetings overrun, deadlines get stretched and the workload subsequently piles upon you. If you find this is a problem, try the Pomodoro Technique: this involves breaking your working day into 25-minute intervals. It’s a great way of apportioning – and understanding the value of – pockets of time.

Dwight Eisenhower’s Urgent/Important Principle

5. Time-Manage Like a President

If you simply write a list of your tasks for the week, you won’t get a picture of what should take precedence.

A simple criterion for determining what tasks should be done (and when) is to follow the former US President Dwight Eisenhower’s Urgent/Important Principle.

By distinguishing between which tasks are actually important and those which are merely urgent, you can prioritise better and set yourself a clear list to follow.

See our page on Time Management for more information.

6. C the Light

According to the American Management Association there are four Cs which characterise the important skills that managers in the future will need.

These are:

If you feel deficient in any of these areas then it is worthwhile taking the time to learn or to find solutions that will suit you. This might mean attending a course or researching software that can help – platforms such as Slack allow for information sharing.

7. Invite Outsiders In

One way to combat groupthink – cultures of pre-determined logic – is to seek out diversity.

As Sean Taggart, chief executive of the Taggart Group, told the Commission on the Future of ManagementWhen we hire people from outside, we make sure we keep their external view. It’s good to welcome different views; otherwise you don’t get better.” In other words, be mindful of people telling you what they think you want to hear. Sometimes criticism helps – if you aren’t getting constructive feedback, seek it out.

8. Don't Be Too Nice

Fairness works both ways, and while you might be the type of person who likes to lavish praise on good performance, you also must address those who under perform.

This needn’t mean reaching for the P45 forms when a team member doesn’t perform well, but rather offering support and finding out what problems – if any – are the real reason they have under-performed. These may not be related to work – underperformance is just as likely to be due to problems at home. Many people won’t offer that information, so it’s good to check in once in a while.

9. Be a Corporate Agony Aunt

Whether your colleagues are facing serious operational issues or have simple gripes about office politics, you need to know what obstacles are in your way.

So follow the example set by Harriet Green, chief executive of Thomas Cook, who set up a confidential email service devoted just to addressing the company’s problems. Harriet took the time to answer each email and, although you might not want to copy her exactly, try to remain open so that people approach you with their problems. Team members can often be reluctant to pass on problems with process, culture or working relationships to management. But you need this knowledge. Create a safe environment for them to share it.

Further Reading from Skills You Need

The Skills You Need Guide to Leadership

The Skills You Need Guide to Leadership eBooks

Learn more about the skills you need to be an effective leader.

Our eBooks are ideal for new and experienced leaders and are full of easy-to-follow practical information to help you to develop your leadership skills.

10. Know that Hard Times Pass

When faced with adversity, rely on your personal resilience and grit.

Research witnessed by the Commission on the Future of Management reveals that companies resilient to setbacks and shocks tend to have managers that have their own depths of personal resilience.

Try to ride out any periods of crisis by reminding yourself, and those around you, that no problem lasts forever and that a turnaround is imminent.

You may not even feel that way, but your colleagues will appreciate your optimism. Try not to panic – think carefully about what you are asking your team to do and whether it’s a considered approach or a reaction to a short term problem. If it’s the latter, you might need to rethink.

About the Author

Petra Wilton

Petra Wilton takes a lead role in building strategic partnerships in the public policy arena.

She is responsible for promoting the needs of practising managers through engaging with and accessing the views of The Chartered Management Institute's 100,000 plus members.

Through a bespoke thought leadership agenda, these views are shared with those in Government, business, education and the media.