Five Things That Change When You Become A Manager

My team at work set up a new program in 2023: “shadow a manager.” Anyone on the team can shadow any of the managers for a couple meetings for a day or week to get an idea of how they manage a team and what a “day in the life of a manager” is like. This isn’t just for folks who are interested in becoming managers. This is a chance to see how other teams work to potentially bring back ideas to your own team or improve your leadership skills. As part of my first shadow, someone asked a really good question, “What changes when you become a manager?” I didn’t have a great answer then, but I really liked the question. This is my answer to that question.

You are on two teams now

This is a thing I felt but didn’t have words for until DevOpsDays SEA 2022 when Doug Ireton summarized it as, “You are on two teams now. The team you run and the management team.” There are practical aspects to this. For example, you’ll have two team meetings, one with the team you run and one with your management peers. But being on two teams can also manifest in more subtle ways. This is often most evident when the right thing for the team you run isn’t the right thing for the larger organization. The first few times I had to say, “Yeah, I agree we shouldn’t spend that money on my team. The right choice is to spend it on [other manager] ‘s team,” it felt a bit weird like I was being disloyal to the team I managed. The reality is I’m on two teams now, and the health of the larger organization is just as important as the health of my direct team.

Your relationships change

When you become a manager, it feels like your relationships with teammates change overnight. People are now trusting you with their careers and well-being at work. That necessarily changes the dynamic. In my case, that meant that I had to be a bit more serious, especially in one on ones and when discussing topics like promotion and compensation. I still joke and keep things light-hearted, but folks must know I take their careers and feedback seriously. I messed this up in several 1:1s at the beginning of my manager career. I’m grateful to the folks who gently gave me feedback that I needed to change.

Another interesting thing that changes about relationships when you become a manager is learning more about your co-workers. Before being a manager, I didn’t have regular 1:1s with my peers. Once I became a manager, I spent 30 minutes a week with every member of my team. In our time together, I learned more about them, their hobbies, their families, etc. In many ways, becoming a manager made me feel more connected to the people on my team.

You have to keep secrets

Another thing that changes when you become a manager is that you have to keep secrets. Or at least you have more secrets to keep. As an individual contributor, you are trusted with some sensitive information, like product roadmaps. Your co-workers may also trust you with personal information. For example, they may tell you they are expecting a baby but aren’t ready for everyone to know.

As a manager, you often know additional things you can’t share. For example, someone may choose to tell you why they are taking a personal leave. They trust you to respect their privacy and not share that information. Additionally, managers often have information about administrative matters like an upcoming re-org or folks who have found new jobs and will be leaving. This type of information you can usually share, but not immediately, so you have to keep it quiet until the right moment.

Your words carry more weight

This was the hardest for me to adapt to, but your words carry more weight when you are a manager. As a peer or even a mentor, if I offer a suggestion, like “hey, have you thought about writing a blog?” folks know there are no consequences to saying “no.” They can ignore my ideas if they don’t fit.

When you are a manager, what you intended as a suggestion can potentially be seen as an assignment. You are the boss. You are writing their performance review. Naturally, they want to do what you suggest and ask. After getting this wrong a few times, I now try to be very clear when I am offering a suggestion, and folks are free to ignore it.

By the way, this doesn’t just apply to your direct reports. People on other teams will assume you know things they don’t because you are a manager. They’ll often respect your opinion more. This means that offhand comments and opinions like, “I dislike the gallery widget on that page.” can turn into bugs, meetings, and roadmap changes.

All those random questions…those are your problem now

I spend an hour or two a week finding answers to my team’s questions. Usually, their questions are about policies (travel, expenses) or HR topics (pay, benefits, leave). All this is covered in manager training, so theoretically, I should know the answers. But people are complicated, and so are their questions. Some of the “what if…?” and “can I…?” questions my team has come up with are real head-scratchers, but I want to respect privacy, so I won’t share them. I’m sure most managers, or at least most DevRel managers, have had at least a few questions that made them go, “Huh! I never thought of that. I don’t have any idea where to even start finding that answer. Give me a day or two.”

I do field a fair number of technical questions as well. I just don’t spend as much time answering those because I tend to either know the answer off the top of my head or know where to find the answer. Also, technical questions aren’t usually personal or specific to an individual, and it’s rare that I have to be 100% correct. That makes technical questions much easier to answer.

Do you agree?

Do other folks who’ve transitioned from individual contributor to manager agree with this list? Were there other big changes you noticed? Which changes were the hardest or most surprising for you? Let me know!