The Demanding Job of the Middle Manager

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Getting promoted to a management position is a major career goal for many workers. But those first and second levels of management, between front-line workers and the brass at the top of the hierarchy—also known as “middle management”—isn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be.

Middle managers are often caught in the middle between the demands of their subordinates and their superiors.

The Challenges of Middle Management

Furthermore, many managers are promoted to their roles not because they have great promise as managers, but because they excel at their current job. But a great software developer or accountant doesn’t necessarily make a great software development manager or accounting manager, and employers don’t always provide much, if any, training to support these new leaders.

“In many cases, high-performing employees simply end up in supervisory roles as the default next step on the career ladder,” writes Alex Christian, in an article for BBC Worklife. Yet, these newly anointed managers generally receive little training or organizational support, Christian says. Consequently, he says: “These in-between managers face pressure from both executives and lower-level colleagues, and can find themselves feeling powerless and ill-equipped to satisfy everyone’s demands. Because of this, middle managers are frequently cast as the villain: the bureaucratic, ineffective ‘yes-man’ that embodies corporate dogma.”

A Position, or a Person, Problem?

Christian argues that many negative feelings coworkers and subordinates may have of a middle manager would be more accurately leveled at the position than the individual in the position. That’s because the middle manager role sits at an area of fundamental tension between the top and the bottom of the organization.

While corporate leadership gets to set the strategic direction and priorities, middle managers are the ones who must execute that strategy and face the backlash of their subordinates as a reward.

Of course, companies need their middle managers to operate effectively. Organizations that rely on this role should make an effort to understand the pain points inherent in the position and brainstorm (with the middle managers) how to alleviate those pain points.

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.

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