Stuck in top/middle management - advice?

(10 Posts)
MiddleMaryJayne Fri 12-May-17 22:00:27


I've worked for a number of middling to large organisations in my career and achieved a "front line" management position fairly early on - think of a mid-twenties employee managing small teams in environments where that's quite unusual... HR-related responsibility as well as being responsible for their actual work output, if you see what I mean. Stressful and highly visible internally.

I ended up managing small teams in some jobs albeit reluctantly & even when my role didn't officially include line management... I've always ended up being the safe pair of hands/senior that will be the right hand for Heads Of Department-type bosses.

Anyway, fast forward some years and I'm a little higher... I guess in generic terms I'm sort of the equivalent of a Project Manager who line manages people.. (except we don't have PMs as such here). So: responsible for people AND work output for 5-12 people at various times.

I seem to be stuck at this level!

I'm looking for some advice on an epiphany I had a few days ago whilst talking to a heads of department guy (they're all guys). I was thinking about how it must be my behaviour that is preventing me going further, at least partly.. for context, I'm seen as highly credible, competent, delivers well, good reviews, in fact people regularly ask to work with me again!

I was being polite and asking what he was working on... But instead of talking about projects or customers like I would, he just kept talking about what HE wanted, his motivations etc! And it struck me that I've seen this difference in behaviour before, over and over, from people above me at work. And now I'm wondering if it's the place I work, or our industry etc or if I've just taken a too small number of data points and read something that's not there...

Example question: "So, what are you working on next?"

My typical answer: "I'm helping customer X to finish their drug trials, we're currently at stage 2 and the aim is to finish up by July."

Mr Big Cheese's typical answer: "Well, I want to get drug X into a commercial product by Q3 2018. I really think the industry should be going in this direction and I'm going to make sure it gets there. Especially after all the work I did to get drug Y into production. That's what I'm all about."

Obviously those are fake examples but I guess what struck me is that I focus on my small part, talk about we, my employer's plans..whilst Mr Big Cheese was talking again about the direction HE wants to go in & dragging us behind him... And he's only 1 level above me, practically a peer level in our heirarchy.

Clearly this isn't the only behavioural thing that's stopped me going further (that would be too simplistic) & I have asked for feedback when being rejected by the couple of Head Of Dept posts in the past which were of the "we just had stronger candidates" variety...

Have I leapt to a legitimate behavioural insight, or made erroneous conclusions from a tiny set of experiences?

Can those of you stuck in similar Middle Management posts offer advice? Or senior management types?

OP’s posts: |
OverOn Fri 12-May-17 22:09:35

Hmmm. This is timely, I'm stuck in middle management too.

For me, I think it's my 'presence' that's holding me back. I have a quiet voice and I don't talk up my achievements. In fact you've just given me an epiphany - I talk about 'we' and team a lot. But talking about me would be difficult I think - I'd feel like a show off.

Pollydonia Fri 12-May-17 22:19:50

Could it be that your too good in your current position? I had this, interview feedback was that I was a strong candidate who interviewed well but that they would struggle to replace me if I moved up as I was also covering a very niche piece of work for a client along with my expected workload.

RJnomore1 Fri 12-May-17 22:22:24

You absolutely need to take ownership of things if you're being interviewed. Are you getting interviews?

tammytheterminator Fri 12-May-17 23:15:01

Perhaps you need to change company to move up?

I'm not middle management but I do think I'm perceived differently to what I think I am.

prh47bridge Sat 13-May-17 00:25:03

If I were recruiting for a senior management position and was faced with these two responses in interview I would go for Mr Big Cheese every time. Not keen on the "that's what I'm all about" at the end of it - makes him sound a bit full of himself. But the answer sounds like someone who is thinking strategically about where the company should be going and how to get there, whereas your answer sounds like you aren't thinking beyond getting the current job done. To put it another way, he sounds proactive, you sound reactive. Having said that, there is a bit too much "I" in Mr Big Cheese's answer for my liking. I would change the "I'm going to make sure it gets there" to something like "I believe we should be leading the way" so that it is focussed on what you are going to do for the company rather than what the company can do for you.

That is, of course, only my opinion. Others may disagree.

flowery Sat 13-May-17 11:42:42

You are sounding like an excellent operational-type manager, good at ensuring things get done effectively and efficiently. Those people are valuable, but they are not leaders.

Leaving aside what sounds like an irritating manner, it sounds like your colleague is thinking more strategically.

The problem is when you've developed a reputation as an excellent manager but not a strategic-thinking leader, it can be difficult to overcome the perceived limitations of your capabilities and attributes.

DisappearingFish Sun 14-May-17 07:29:15

It could be your own expectations of yourself that are holding you back. I've read 'Lean In' recently and found that enlightening.

TheSnowFairy Mon 15-May-17 23:11:19


You are sounding like an excellent operational-type manager, good at ensuring things get done effectively and efficiently. Those people are valuable, but they are not leaders.

I am definitely like this but am going for a more strategic senior level position, and after reading this I am taking out all references to me being accurate, good with detail etc and talk more about the bigger picture. Great timing as my interview's this week flowers

flowery Mon 15-May-17 23:46:33

Very sensible SnowFairy Starting trying to think in terms of the whole picture and the long game not the detail and the here-and-now. Best of luck!

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