Acting Manager position has come up, I'm a hesitant senior staff: what would you do?
June 14, 2010 2:06 PM   Subscribe

We have two managers in our dept: one was just promoted. They are seeking an Acting manager for 2 mos. I don't want to be a manager, but I'm one of the most senior staff. Please help me stop freaking out.

Our promoted manager was super. I am quite anxious that my supportive, innovative, great team should have a good Acting Manager during transition, and I like to help people. I'm the kind of person that staff will go to while the manager is away.

But really I dislike any manager stuff: budgets, performance reviews, making quick decisions, working longer, attending too many meetings. I much more enjoy my current tasks, working with systems and information, and generally being an introvert. I have no manager experience. My future goals and interests are more research oriented, not management.

I don't know what the expectations are for an Acting Manager. Yes I am planning to talk to the other person who's in the same boat as me (doesn't help we're all taking vacation right now).

Experiences or advice for my situation? Also any tips to help me stop stressing out!? Many thanks in advance!

PS -- I am not sure if the company is seeking someone for only 2 mos Acting because they need to fill the gaps badly (it's horribly busy right now) or because they are planning on reorganizing the manager roles. Our organization is going through a ton of changes.
posted by SarahbytheSea to Work & Money (13 answers total)
I've turned down a number of promotions, albeit for more concrete reasons (was a part-timer going to school with no intention of dropping out) and it's cost me, well, nothing. I've received more offers, all of which I've turned down, and no one bats an eye at the fact that I choose to stay in my current position.

Competent management comprehends that there are individuals who are best kept in technical rather than managerial roles (what with the incredibly disparate skill-sets,) and will understand that you are taking an active step in avoiding the Peter principle.
posted by griphus at 2:15 PM on June 14, 2010

Best answer: Take the temporary position. Excel at something related to the progression path you wish to take in the company, with otherwise unremarkable managerial skills. Get a letter of recommendation from whoever assigned you to the position, commending you for your performance in the non-managerial aspect and use it, along with your willingness to be a team player, to position yourself for a more favorable promotion later on.
posted by Rendus at 2:24 PM on June 14, 2010

Best answer: You may have to insist--your higher-ups very likely feel they would be doing you a favor to promote you. It would help if you could give concrete, specific examples of why you simply don't want the job--don't tell them you can't do it, because they might be able to dismiss those fears. Rather, insist that you don't want the job.

Yes, you may appear to be less of a team player for doing so. Yes, this may affect future promotion opportunities. I've been in very much the same boat, and it has affected my career. But I'm in a job I love, and I don't want another one, even if it pays more. I think I've finally convinced upper management of that, but we'll see what happens when my manager retires in a few years.
posted by MrMoonPie at 2:28 PM on June 14, 2010

Take it if you can. If you're the person people go to when the manager's away, you've already got the trust of your team. Find out what the expectations are for an acting manager as far as admin goes, but really, what matters in a manager is the people aspect, and it sounds like you've got that part down. Also, seconding what Rendus said about positioning yourself for future opportunities.
posted by sillymama at 2:29 PM on June 14, 2010

Best answer: It's not 100% clear what your question is - have you been "voluntold" that you are going to be the acting manager and are thus freaking out because you'd rather just do what you're good at? Or are you thinking about standing up for the acting manager position for the good of your team, despite serious misgivings?

My advice based solely on personal experience: stick with what you're happy doing. 11 or so years ago at my first real web development job, my department underwent a sudden expansion and I accepted a management position with zero training or experience. I had some misgivings, but there was a bump in pay and it seemed like the thing to do "for the team".

I was a terrible manager, and I hated every minute of it. My strengths are in coding and figuring things out, not delegating and project managing, and at all of my subsequent jobs I have generally made it clear in no uncertain terms that I have absolutely no interest in becoming a manager if the opportunity arises.

All of which is not taking into account any weird internal politicking/org-chart power struggles that may be going on in your organization, where being The-person-who-refused-a-promotion might have negative consequences down the road... but from a pure "Should I take this management position even though I don't want to and have no experience" standpoint, I'd say go with your gut.
posted by usonian at 2:34 PM on June 14, 2010

Don't take it if offered. Even if you take it on the agreement that it's just temporary, it will put you, in the minds of the higher-ups, in a managerial light. The temporary time will be stretched-out for any number of reasons. You can very quickly become stuck as de-facto manager. Then, if you ask to be relieved as manager, this will be a strike against you in their eyes. Similarly, if you fail at doing all that managerial stuff that you loathe, that will also be a strike against you.

You know your limits and your desires. Stick with that and be happy.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:46 PM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Even if you hate being a manager, two months is such a short amount of time that no one will expect much out of you other than preventing the world from collapsing. If you make it clear that you don't want to be a manager after the temporary period, I would actually recommend that you take the job for the two month period, and help find the replacement manager so you can go back to what you want to be doing.

It shows that your company has some confidence in you to hold your team together. If you don't have any management experience, this will give you more insight into what a manager does, and how as a non-manager how your work is viewed from above. It will make you a better non-manager.

The alternative is that someone who doesn't know your team at all gets the job, and you and your coworkers have to suffer for two months with someone who doesn't know anything about your team and doesn't really care.

Remember, they are not going to sit you down in the manager chair and expect you to do everything perfectly. You know some tasks your manager does already, you have a co-manager that you can ask for advice, and you'll have another manager who should help you figure out what you need to do.
posted by meowzilla at 2:47 PM on June 14, 2010

Response by poster: To answer your question: I am not being volun-told; I am thinking about standing up for the position despite some misgivings. Some of my coworkers and my husband are suggesting I apply.

Thank you everyone so far! All your answers are tremendously interesting, and parallel the two frames of mind I'm in.
posted by SarahbytheSea at 4:30 PM on June 14, 2010

Best answer: Even though you're concerned about what it would involve, if it's only a temporary thing, then what have you got to lose? Your team already see you in that role (as sillymama points out), so it sounds like they'd be supportive, and while you're not keen on the admin side of things, the ability to speak for your team and support them in a period of transition might be a really positive experience.

You don't know if you don't give it a go!

Generally, if posts become vacant, and someone "acts up" in the role, then when it comes to the formal recruitment of a replacement, that person is in a good position to go for the job. But that doesn't mean that when the post is formally advertised, that you have to apply for it. You can quite easily say that you were happy to be an acting manager but don't want to apply. And even if you choose to apply (because you have actually enjoyed the experience and think that you would like to carry on), and you don't get the job, your company will recognise your willingness to take on additional responsibility, and you can ask about what you would need to do to be successful in future appointments - it raises your profile.

It's a win-win situation - the "acting" role gives you a relatively risk-free chance (short term - as meowzilla points out) to find out whether it is actually something you'd be interested in doing, while not committing yourself to a long term career change.

Sometimes it's tempting to stay in your comfort zone. But sometimes stepping outside your comfort zone can be incredibly rewarding. And yes, sometimes it just reinforces what you already knew about yourself! But you have an opportunity to explore alternatives in a pretty safe environment - I'd say go for it.

If you do take the role, make it clear that you want support in "how to be a manager" - maybe the other manager could mentor you, or another manager in your company.

Good luck with making the right decision for you.
posted by finding.perdita at 4:48 PM on June 14, 2010

Best answer: Have you ever been a manager before? If not, this could be a nice way to "get your feet wet" and see if you enjoy the experience. I know I jumped at the chance with my new job to be a manager because A. its rare to be hired into that kind of role without prior management experience and B. I'd never done it and like the idea of delegating and not having to do scut work anymore.

But I recognize that managing isn't for everyone. Still, can't hurt to try it.

Also, depending on what your career aspirations are, it is worth pointing out that in many companies, there is a glass ceiling for certain positions and going into management is the only way to continue moving up the ranks. Sure there are companies where people keep giving raises and "promotions" to the really skilled technical people, but that is the exception, not the rule.
posted by Elminster24 at 4:56 PM on June 14, 2010

Response by poster: It sounds like people have had or seen a mix of positive and negative/dragging experiences after an Acting Manager term ends. Any tips for detecting which way my organization leans in advance and/or to avoid getting stuck where I don't want to be?

What should help is my wonderful promoted manager will be the Acting Manager's Manager, and she has a sense of my goals and personality. I think I need to find out if my other coworkers are applying (so I know how much risk there is of resorting to an external stranger) and exactly what will happen and is expected after the two months are up.

Thank you again. I've only really been thinking about this today, and I would have to get my application together by tomorrow for the deadline (I was out of the office) -- so this is a huge help for me to calm down and think things through.
posted by SarahbytheSea at 5:12 PM on June 14, 2010

This is short term. Try it out and see how the experience feels.
posted by Pants! at 6:31 PM on June 14, 2010

Response by poster: Update: after your answers, discussion with my husband, and as much thinking as I could fit in before the deadline, I have applied for the acting position. I am still uncertain if I will accept the acting position if offered, but I will continue to get as much information as I can, and be clear on what I do & don't enjoy.

Thank you all very much again for your help!
posted by SarahbytheSea at 5:36 PM on June 16, 2010

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