3 Things Accidental Managers Need

My first job out of undergrad was working in a research lab for a Ph.D. who was just getting his first lab (and me as his first and sole employee). He was devoted to his research and was given this opportunity accordingly. However, from my perspective, he did not have much, if any, management training, skills or above all, desire to manage. As I saw it, he wanted to do research, make discoveries and publish papers. However, to do so, he had to manage. It was inherent to his position. As you can imagine, my employment experience was confusing, messy and ultimately did not end well. This wasn’t a unique case in my experience, since most of my superiors have been "accidental" managers. They were good at what they did before they were managers, and because of their performance, they were promoted and were given management responsibilities.

The 3 Things Accidental Managers Need

This isn't always a bad thing. Sometimes people can be excellent managers without ever being one before. But more often than not, it seemed that management became an obligation of a higher salary. It was not welcomed as an opportunity to lead, manage or teach, but rather done begrudgingly or clumsily. The issue isn’t necessarily that these people shouldn’t be managers, but rather that they should be prepared to be managers and made aware of the impact that they will now have. For my first boss, he was transitioning from doing research by himself to managing a lab which included a lab technician to train, teach and lead. He was unaware of, or apathetic to, the impact he was having as my boss and instead was solely focused on completing his research, as he had been before. Ideally, it would have been best if an experienced lab manager could have been hired, which would avoid creating an accidental manager, but there were likely no funds for that.

If an accidental manager is inevitable, please make sure they have at least these three things:

1. Knowledge of the responsibility

Yes, they should know what funds they will be responsible for, what deadlines they must meet and what paperwork they need to complete - but they should also know that they’ll be responsible for employees. They’ll be expected to lead, to be available for questions, to be someone’s boss, not just a manager of assets.

2. Desire to do it

They may want to manage because they want make a difference, want to be a good boss, want the power, or think their way is best. But, do not put someone in management who does not want to do it. There is so much at stake. If they are great at what they do, let them be great at it, don’t force them into something they don’t want. Don't dangle a higher salary as a reward, either. You don't want someone begrudgingly managing - it's not going to help you in the long-run. It may seem unnecessary, but please at least ask if they want to be a manager. There are likely  too many managers who were never asked if they wanted to manage. 

3. Preparation

Desire isn’t always enough. They may be able to fake things or learn as they go for a while, but the best managers will be prepared. Simple management training classes can make a huge difference as long as desire is there.

Just because someone is great at what they do, doesn't mean they should have management responsibilities. It doesn't mean they shouldn't either. If you have an accidental manager, it’s not too late to run through the three points above with them. Ultimately, you want all your people to be happy and healthy - and knowing if your accidental managers are doing well is a vital part of the equation.