9 tips on moving into a big role

9 tips on moving into a big role

By Maria Jennings

You’ve finally landed that big career move. You’re no doubt ready for it, but here are a few tips from someone who’s made that leap to help boost your confidence

1. Break it down

Initially, all you can think about are the huge challenges you’re facing. It helps to step back and think: ‘Actually, how am I going to manage this?’ Ask yourself what the key considerations are for you individually within this system. What’s your vision for what you want to achieve?

2. Allow yourself time

You might be expected to hit the ground running. If you’re not all over the brief in about three months, it’s legitimate for others to ask questions. But that leaves a window to step into the leadership role and own it. Allow yourself that time.

3. Don’t carry the weight alone

You don’t need to feel you’re carrying this weight by yourself. You’re part of a bigger system. Yes, you have the leadership role, but you have lots of others there who can support you. I have reached the point where my colleagues know they can call me when they need me: they can deploy me in certain situations.

4. Ask silly questions

Coming into a new world, it’s relatively easy to ask silly questions: people expect it. Basic or silly questions can greatly help you to move your understanding on. Individuals are busy with the delivery of their project, so it could be that someone new comes in and makes connections across a programme. Use your lack of detailed technical understanding to approach the job with a fresh pair of eyes.

5. Articulate your vision

You need to have credibility with the people you’re going to be leading, and they have to want to follow your direction. Set out your vision within a couple of weeks and be able to articulate it. Allow them to see that you understand the challenges they are going through.

6. Show a bit of vulnerability

Perhaps this is a personal thing, but I’ve found that showing colleagues that you need help with something makes you more open and available to them. They can come and talk to you or stop you in the corridor. Be human and show basic courtesies: remember people’s names, details about their lives, and stop and talk to them.

7. Open up conversations and keep them open

One of the key things for me is to establish relationships and trust with my teams and open up conversations. This goes back to having clarity of vision: if you have that clearly in mind, it’s relatively easy to have a conversation about moving towards it.

8. Don’t expect everyone to be on board from day one

Still experiencing resistance? I found that really tough, because one of my challenges is that I don’t like having to deal with escalating conflict. I generally try not to allow conflict to escalate to the extent that difficult conversations are required. Sometimes there’s no way to avoid it, but in general I’d prefer to do it on a one-to-one basis, away from the office. Take the person out of the working environment and have a straight and honest conversation.

9. Keep the momentum

You can get captured in old ways of working left over from your predecessor that aren’t necessarily bad – they’re just not yours. To avoid that I’ve found you need to be outward-looking, picking up lots of snippets of ideas from other influential people in conversations, and constantly challenge yourself to be creative and to pick up the tempo.

About the writer

Maria Jennings has been director for regulatory compliance and the Regulating Our Future programme at the Food Standards Agency since October last year. Before that, she was responsible for the Northern Ireland office, people and organisational change, and remains Northern Ireland director on top of her new role. Her background is EH and she is a CIEH Fellow.

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