From Peer to Boss: How New Managers Overcome the Challenges

New manager at desk

Congratulations! Being promoted to a leadership position in your company is a major milestone. But as many accounting and finance professionals have learned, transitioning from “coworker” to “boss” can be a lonely journey that leads to sticky situations and unique challenges for new managers.

A recent Robert Half survey reveals that one of the greatest difficulties for first-time managers is supervising friends and former peers. Another is balancing individual job duties with time spent overseeing others.

See more of what's revealed in the New Managers’ Greatest Challenges survey, below.  

"Becoming a manager for the first time is not always an easy transition," said Tim Hird, executive director of Robert Half Management Resources. "More than simply adjusting to a new role, moving into a supervisor position requires adapting to others' work styles and needs."

So hang in there, new managers. And take a look at these six tips that can help you make the switch from peer to boss as smooth as possible:

1. Take a deep breath

For starters, new managers need to stop and consider what they’ll be doing in their new role: supervising people. You’ll have a plethora of new duties and responsibilities, ranging from the pleasant (like mentoring) to the not-so-pleasant (like disciplining). It all comes with the territory. For better or worse, going from peer to boss means your relationships with coworkers have already changed.

2. Meet face-to-face

Early on, schedule some face time with every person you supervise. This will go a long way toward cementing a spirit of teamwork in your department and building your own credibility. Such meetings enable you to spell out what you expect from each individual, how expectations and roles have changed and how you’ll measure performance. In addition, give employees the opportunity to air any concerns they may have and to outline what they want professionally and how you can help them.

3. Rethink your relationships

Going from peer to boss means that, like it or not, your relationships with former coworkers will become more impersonal. New managers might want to socialize less often, for example, with the “old gang.” You don’t necessarily have to stop hanging out with them completely, but you’ll likely need to establish new boundaries with the individuals you’re closest with. It’s not easy, but in your new position, you need to separate work from friendship and focus on gaining respect.

4. Walk a fine line

Many new leaders tend to either undermanage or overmanage. “Undermanagers” see every encounter as a coaching opportunity, while “overmanagers” immediately begin issuing edicts. Both approaches can create problems. A person who overdoes it can be perceived as a power-hungry micromanager. The inadequate manager, on the other hand, will be run ragged in an effort to encourage and coach everyone.    

5. Be firm during the transition

Don’t expect everything to be hunky-dory when you first transition to a management position. A longtime pal may dislike reporting to you. Deal with this swiftly rather than procrastinating. Explain to your friend that the good of the entire team depends on everyone having a positive attitude and giving their best effort. Take care to treat everyone in the department fairly, because nothing destroys morale (or credibility for new managers) faster than playing favorites. Be empathetic to any concerns, and let them know it’s a difficult transition for you, too. Explain what you will expect from them and what they can expect from you. Define the boundaries quickly.

6. Seek advice and assistance

Many new managers want to prove that they don’t need any help, but nobody wants or expects you to sink or swim entirely on your own. Turn to your own boss for help. He or she probably faced many of the same challenges you’re now encountering. See if your company has any training, mentorship or outside education opportunities.

New managers shouldn’t try to win any popularity contests. Your objective is to focus on the work at hand, do your best as a leader and treat everyone fairly. Keep that in mind, and you’ll be a smashing success in your new role — and earn the respect of your staff in the process.

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Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2014 and was updated in 2016 to reflect more current information.