If you’ve been a manager for some time now, you’re probably ready to take on more responsibilities, new challenges, and of course, a larger salary. A study done by the Sociology of Health and Illness found that middle management professionals experience anxiety or depression at rates that are nearly doubled when compared to all workers. Being an outstanding middle manager can often make someone non-promotable because organizational leaders risk putting the team in the hands of a less experienced manager. In the following paragraphs, you’ll discover tips on how to break out of middle management and successfully climb the ladder into more executive-level roles. It all starts with a change in mindset.



The Real Difference Between Managers and Directors

Going from manager to director is a more significant leap than some might think. Director-level roles are often a first step on the path to achieving an executive-level position within an organization. Let’s review some of the major differences between managers and directors. As a manager, the individual supervises entry-level to mid-level employees. A director oversees the teams of managers so they can help complete projects on time and ensure the team receives the proper amount of support. (brendanreid.com)

Focus varies for both positions. Managers are busy delegating tasks, planning, prioritizing daily duties, and ensuring the work gets done effectively. At the manager level, you will be focused on setting team goals by referring to the overall goals of the business. In the meantime, directors help senior leaders make plans for the long-term success of the company. Directors help determine their team’s annual goals and plan how to improve operations (zachonleadership.com). In all, directors must focus on the bigger picture while managers have their attention on the finer details within their team.

When it comes to processes and procedures, managers must follow and abide by what is set in place. Managers also give feedback to their supervisors on what needs to be improved, what current obstacles are, and how the systems help achieve customer or client needs. On the other hand, directors are establishing new procedures for the teams of managers to follow (medium.com). Directors often answer questions by managers and listen to the feedback they may have. Directors are responsible for coming up with new strategies, attending meetings with senior leaders, and communicating policy changes. In comparison, managers spend their days reviewing daily metrics, meeting with individual team members, and completing their required tasks.

What Does it Take to Move from Manager to a Director Role?

Many senior professionals say the jump from manager to director is very difficult for most. This isn’t to deter you from your goal. Managers who want to become directors should understand the skills and knowledge it takes to get where they want to be.

One of the most preeminent qualifications to become a director is outstanding communication skills (ivyexec.com). While a manager does need to have good communication, most communication is limited within the company. A director must effectively speak with partners and vendors, external contacts in similar upper-level positions. Directors should be able to explain their ideas and plans clearly, limiting the risk of critical miscommunication mistakes. Another organizational skill to have before becoming a director is strategic thinking. A manager must focus on the day-to-day activities which usually only require tactical thinking. But as professionals move up the ranks, the thinking must become more strategic. Directors are looking long-term and thinking about what is needed or can be leveraged. Most think about questions like, do potential partners or customers have needs that the company can fulfill by leveraging groups across the enterprise? Managers don’t usually have to confront these kinds of issues because they are working with smaller internal teams (reed.com).

Recognizing new opportunities is also an essential skill to have as a director. This ability to identify and seek out opportunity  allows directors to utilize their ideas for the efficiency and long-term success of the company. However, new opportunities are hard to spot when someone only has visibility on one project or team. Directors integrate teams and projects. Leading multiple teams with more than one manager from different departments is an important part of the director’s duties (linkedin.com). Managers are more likely to get a promotion when they prove that they can persevere through challenges and manage projects with multiple teams.

So now that we determined you’re ready to be a director, how can you achieve a promotion?

5 Tips to Get a Promotion to Director Level

1. Show that you are a cross-functional leader.

A director’s watch spans across many groups and departments. They must handle a variety of obstacles through the different teams and projects. In addition, they will have to lead people whom they can’t directly manage which requires a whole new set of leadership and influence skills (blog.powertofly.com).


For current managers, try to get involved in more cross-functional projects and committees. Being involved allows you to start learning what it takes to be effective in this environment. Managers will also be more familiar with handling multiple departments at once if they get more involved in cross-functional projects. It will also show the manager’s supervisor that the manager can deal with multiple projects and teams. Managers who want to become directors should also show initiative by taking the lead in new projects and proving that they can be effective across varying teams.

2. Become Great at Developing other Managers.

A major part of a director’s job is to be leading, inspiring, and developing managers. This is also how companies can secure their own long-term growth. Companies hire directors whom they believe can motivate and teach managers about leadership. When there are no strong managers lined up, a company can soon fall flat. This is arguably the most important thing a director does for a company (umassglobal.edu). It’s how the company secures its own future success.


Directors must coach and mentor employees to turn them into great managers. Many can achieve success at the manager level by directing your team as you did when you were a top performer in their position. However, this strategy isn’t enough to achieve success as a director. Directors need to be able to teach the unique characteristics of a great manager and be committed. The real challenge to implementing this is that many don’t prioritize these mentorship roles and would rather be doing more comfortable tasks. The best thing a manager who wants to become a director should do is to start making this mindset shift now. You must master your current position and balance out the professional expertise that has led to your success so far in your career.

3. Establish New Standards for Excellence.

Managers are expected to lead a team and execute reliably against an established process while meeting or exceeding existing performance benchmarks. This is comfortable for people who were once individual contributors. Now, managers can use the same process they excelled in. Essentially, managers don’t need to set new standards because they can just use the already established process they are used to.


A Director, however, must have a different thought process. Yes, there always will be a need to improve performance based on a benchmark (quora.com). But a director needs to be focused on setting new standards for future success and change. The director is the one who will be leading a team to adopt new processes that will probably be uncomfortable to most.


One of the best things to do as a current manager who wants to be a director is to start focusing more on how to make your team the best in the world. Many times, teams and departments set goals that are “good enough” and when the goals are met, they don’t strive for higher. As a current manager, you can figure out how to get your team working at their highest potential. Doing this can set you up for success when you’re really in a director position.

4. Seek Guidance.

Don’t try to do this alone. A good way to stay focused on your goals to become a director is by enlisting somebody as a sounding board. They'll be able to provide you with outside perspective and guidance when needed. So even when life gets in the way and you get swarmed with other tasks, you won’t lose sight of what’s important: progress!


Another way to get outside help is by finding a good mentor. Mentors are a valuable resource for any professional and can be anyone from an ex-manager to former colleagues or even your parents. Try choosing someone that has taken a similar path from manager to director, but your chosen mentor shouldn’t be directly involved with your day-to-day work.

5. Make yourself visible and talk with Senior Management.

Keeping your company’s organizational structure in mind, reach out to people who would be likely to help in career development within your current company. Network with different individuals in your organization, such as a director or even the CEO. Schedule time to discuss pre-planned items and ask what opportunities there may be coming up in the next six to twelve months (nikhyl.medium.com). To make the discussion even more effective, identify a current or future obstacle to forming a foundation for the discussion. At the end of the chat, make an action plan or timeline for the next steps, and be sure to follow up with this.


Additionally, you probably won’t know every single thing about a project. This gives you the perfect networking opportunity. Reach out to people in your organization who can help or will be affected by the outcome of the project. Respect their responses and reach back out to them at the end of the project to complete the communication circle. Communicating with senior leaders gives you a better understanding of the project objectives. It also shows other people in your organization that you are someone who can manage internal expectations.


Take Your Career to the Next Level

Being a director is another step higher in leadership. Directors oversee more people in higher positions. Great leaders adapt their leadership style and understand that they must inspire teams to excel. It might be a difficult transition if a director is stuck in the manager mindset. Managers are project-focused and detail-oriented while leaders have a vision with the goal to inspire. Good leadership requires one to be emotionally intelligent to empathize with the team (forbes.com). A strong leader also makes sure to create a shared vision among the team to keep everyone motivated. When a manager hones their leadership style and skills, they can be inspiring to their supervisors and are more prepared to become a director. Once a manager is in the mindset of a director, there’s no stopping them.


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