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Up, Down, Sideways: The Unique Mid-Manager Role in Career Services

This post is a recap of our live video Accelerator that took place on May 15, 2017. If you are interested in a stimulating staff training video for mid-managers on your campus, or if you prefer seeing and hearing from people in a high impact, authentic, and inspiring way, you can access a recording of the live Accelerator.

Mid-level managers in career services have a voluminous and strategic role that serves as the essential pivot between an office's vision and operational effectiveness. They must often navigate a tenuous balance of reporting to a visionary manager while simultaneously maximizing their own eclectic team. When done well, these professionals are the drivers of forward movement. Yet, this role is not without its complex challenges. The video Accelerator and this post provide a training and discussion avenue for current and aspirational mid-managers to enrich their own capacity and confidence -- and that of their office, supervisor, and colleagues.

Here are some key questions and tips for mid-mangers:

Consider Your Comfort/Proficiency Level

Are you a/an…

  • Aspirational middle manager: newly trying on the skills/responsibilities of the role.

  • Moderately seasoned middle manager: have developed some schema around tasks/responsibilities based on longevity and experience.

  • Practiced middle managers: well-versed and practiced professionals. Some may be excited to maintain their responsibilities while deepening their impact; others may be considering the next step.

What’s Your Natural Orientation? What orientation best supports your team?

  • Intel: surfaces relevant information

  • Advocate: champion others; gives voice to others

  • Strategist: drives strategy; connects dots

  • Operationalist: creates efficiency and processes

  • Political Strategist: weighs relationships

  • Caregiver: takes care of others; values others

Ways to Grow as a Mid-Manager Tips for Managing Up:

  1. Show up with content and thoughts prepared. Formulate questions that demonstrate that you were thinking ahead of time.

  2. Pay attention to the questions a manager asks. Spend some time on analysis to understand important foci.

  3. Asking your manager, “What keeps you up at night?” and find ways to help mitigate. It’s about creating value for your boss - figuring out how to be a genuine source of help.

  4. When you know the topic of discussion, focusing on bringing more solutions than questions to the conversation. Anticipate and show the manager where your thought process is going.

  5. Manage expectations of your boss if you (or your team) don’t entirely agree with a decision or directive. Help paint the picture of the impact the directive while empathizing why it was made.

Tips to increase your Political Savviness:

  1. Anticipate effect that actions can have on others’ agendas. Take these into account in your decision-making.

  2. Pay attention to who makes decisions and what seems to factor into the decisions that are made. Ask questions to better understand this.

  3. Grow and cultivate authentic relationships with people whom you respect and share values. Politics can be very egocentric, but they can also be about advancing an allied force’s agenda.

  4. Limit the conversation with peers or higher level contacts if you don’t fully understand a politically charged topic or you are not the voice of authority for the department. You can very easily jeopardize your director’s strategy or groundwork by tipping your hat or sharing information that was not meant for prime time. Never comment on something you don’t fully understand.

  5. Ask to clarify what is internal info and what is ok to share with colleagues and direct reports.

Tips for growing as a Supervisor/Team Dynamic Curator:

  1. Learn how to approach staff members based on what they might need vs. what you need.

  2. Make sure expectations are clear. If not, spend time clarifying.

  3. Adjust team management if team dynamics/makeup adjusts.

  4. Continue to develop and hone in on your own leadership style - recognizing that communicating that to staff - what you expect, etc. is critical.

  5. Allow yourself the acknowledgement that creating a healthy team vibes takes time, effort, and buy-in.

  6. Practice having critical conversations before you need to.

Tips for embracing Identities as a Mid-manager:

  1. Take stock of your own identities and determine in what ways are they enhancing your work or challenging it. You need to be clear on you first before you can be helpful to others.

  2. Realize when you will need to put your own needs aside for the needs of the team.

  3. Connect with people as people first. Once you learn what personal roles and cultural identities are relevant for each teammate, and how they conceptualize them, you are now better prepared to troubleshoot challenges and pinch points, as well as to celebrate their value to the team.

  4. Ask, don’t assume, that you understand someone’s needs when engaging as an “advocate” for a teammate.

Kelly Dries is the Associate Director, Counseling Services & Operations at The University of Utah. She directly supervises 3 assistant directors, oversees training for 10 professional career coaches, and gives direction to operations & marketing, assessment, and programming. Additionally, Kelly manages and coordinates the outreach strategy for academic and campus partners, including Deans, department chairs, faculty, advisors, and staff. In 2016, Kelly received the Mountain Pacific Association of Colleges & Employers Rising Star of the Year Award, and in 2015, she received the NACE Management Leadership Institute Scholarship. She is currently pursuing her final year as a Ph.D. candidate in Educational Leadership & Policy at the University of Utah. She earned her MA from Towson University in Maryland, and BA and BS from East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania.

Teresa Olsen is the AVP of Institutional Advancement & Director of Career Services at Colgate University. Teresa oversees a dynamic team of 16 professionals and 20 student staff to deliver a personalized, high-impact experience to Colgate students, alumni, employers, and families. At Colgate, she has played an instrumental role in elevating career services as a top institutional priority. A passionate advocate for the liberal arts, Teresa presents regularly, consults as an independent external reviewer, and has served in multiple leadership positions within liberal arts consortia. She was awarded the NACE Excellence Award in 2014. Teresa holds a BA from Colby College and an MS in higher education administration from Indiana University.

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