In 2001, Sharon Schofield was promoted from direct marketing manager to head of marketing at a leading children's cancer care charity. Suddenly she found herself responsible for legacies and other types of fundraising as well as all her existing direct marketing duties. Perhaps most worryingly, she also had four people to manage.
"It was a difficult time," she recalls. "I had to help my team reach their targets while also hitting my own. I had to understand how my team fitted into the bigger picture and then communicate it to them. Most difficult of all, I was managing people who were doing work I myself had never done before."
It might not have felt like it to her at the time, but Schofield was not alone. Organisations may invest heavily in induction schemes and senior executive coaching, but all too often first-time managers are given the promotion and told to get on with it.
It's something that happens in the commercial sector as much as in the voluntary world, and is equally damaging in both. It can cause immense distress not only to the person struggling in a first management role, but also to those he or she is trying to manage. It's rarely good for the organisation - and there is no reason why it should happen. Yes, there are major challenges involved in becoming a first-time manager, but they are all surmountable. You simply need to know what they are and be prepared to deal with them.
Hard to let go
The reality is that, in many cases, people are promoted because they have succeeded in their previous roles, so it can be challenging for them to let go of what they used to do. Jane Heath, assistant director of outreach services at Volunteer England, reckons the first step is to accept that people management is a job in itself and will take up a lot of your time.
"That can be hard to adjust to if you've been used to a task-oriented job," she says. "More than this, you just can't have the same level of control you used to. You have to accept that some of the people you manage know their jobs better than you do. It's a mistake to pretend you know everything. Instead, realise that you don't have to be an expert in your team's jobs, and focus on the long-term strategic work."
When Peter Creane became volunteer recruitment manager at VSO, he started managing a team of four volunteer and programme advisers and four application advisers. The main difficulty for him has been managing people with whom he used to work on the same level. "This is especially difficult when it comes to people who have been doing the job longer than I have," he says.
It's a common situation and one that causes many problems. As Denise Taylor, a career counsellor at the consultancy Amazing People, puts it: "People who work together often form a close community and get on well together, and this presents a challenge for someone who's been promoted. How do you go from being someone's friend to being their boss? The transition must be carefully managed. At first it makes sense to have a light touch with those you know well. But don't shy away from addressing important issues."
The importance of self-belief
Apart from letting go and managing people who used to be your peers, there is also the issue of self-belief. When she first became a manager in a previous job, the greatest challenge for Karen Jefferys, individual supporter development manager at the international religious charity Crosslinks, was believing that she was up to it.
"I had worked my way up through the organisation and it was difficult to get people to see me as a fundraiser who managed two people, rather than as a data inputter," she says. "There was also a danger of me getting over-defensive and assuming that they were thinking that way."
In the end she felt she had to change jobs. "In my case, moving jobs to work with Crosslinks was a turning point in boosting my confidence," she says. "It also really helped that I'd acquired the Institute of Fundraising's certificate in fundraising management. Completing courses can help you feel confident about what you're doing."
Of course, the cost might prevent a lot of smaller charities, in particular, from putting their new leaders through education programmes. However, first-time managers who want to make progress might consider doing their own legwork to find potential funding streams.
"Organisations such as local Business Links and the Chambers of Commerce have departments to provide support," says David Deegan, diversity consultant at the training firm Academee. "For example, Greater Manchester has the Third Sector Enterprise - a social enterprise organisation offering a selection of support services for emerging, growing and improving social businesses."
But money problems aren't the only training challenges that new managers in the voluntary sector will face.
Tony Elischer, managing director of voluntary sector consultancy Think Consulting Solutions, says: "Someone becoming a manager at a voluntary organisation for the first time should not see themselves in the same role as a professional manager in the commercial sector. They have to inspire their people to extraordinary effort to achieve things that are often intangible, such as caring for someone or making someone feel good about giving, and they need to have passion for and empathy with their cause. So in the voluntary sector we see a greater emphasis on leadership as opposed to management."
He offers this advice on how to rise to the challenge: "Coaching and mentoring can help them achieve this. And new managers should find someone to coach and mentor them. This could be, say, someone more experienced within the charity or someone from another charity. Alternatively, there are professional mentors around. Friends groups and virtual networks are also excellent for sharing."
Faced with so many challenges, it's not surprising that first-time managers will often struggle. Katy Crothall, a manager at recruitment consultants Badenoch & Clark, sees this happen frequently in the voluntary sector. "Being a first-time manager is difficult," she says. "My advice is not to give up. Don't assume that it's your fault. Take a look at the situation and see what you can change to get it working for you."
For Sharon Schofield, one way of 'not giving up' was thinking about good managers she'd had in the past. "I remembered good experiences I'd had of being managed and then tried to replicate them," she says. "It worked well and I was able to move on to my current role at the Brooke animal charity.
"Whatever you do as a first-time manager, don't give up too easily. Get all the training you can, be consultative with your staff and demand support from your own manager."
CASE STUDY: THE ALL-PURPOSE MANAGER
In 2003, Imogen Ward became the marketing and communications director of medical aid charity Merlin. Initially it was a hands-on job, but after the Asian tsunami of December 2004, the charity grew significantly and she hired managers in communications, individual giving and donor partnerships. She now manages those three people and oversees a department of 12.
Ward admits that managing such a diverse department - essentially acting as an all-purpose manager - has been a constant challenge. "I always have to keep an eye on the three areas I cover, looking out for what's about to go wrong in one of them," she says. "There are also occasions when communications objectives are different from marketing objectives. For example, the marketers tend to be more focused on raising funds, but the PR team is more concerned with reputation. I need to find a balance."
Ward explains how she goes about achieving this balance. "The key is to be very clear about your strategic objectives," she says. "Once you know what you want to achieve, it becomes clear how to prioritise competing demands and you can then provide some clear leadership.
"It is also important to have good managers in all areas," she concludes. "If you can get that right, you can develop synergies between the areas and it becomes a very positive thing to have them all in one department together."