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  1. Blog
  2. Management
  3. December 28, 2021

6 Expert-Approved Tips for Excelling in Middle Management

Stuck in the middle with you

Middle manager
Photo courtesy of Edmond Dantes

When you’re moving up the ladder in your company, you may suddenly find yourself at the middle management level. Middle managers are not new to the industry and bring lots of experience to the table, but they’re also not high-level just yet. These are intermediate management positions that come with lots of pros and cons. 

It can be a challenge to break out of the stereotype of a middle manager who has no real purpose—but in actuality, there are lots of benefits to this essential position. Middle managers can help their teams succeed and ensure that they are in alignment with company values. They do have a lot of decision-making power and are in charge of a set of tasks and people.

“The challenge, or opportunity, of middle management is directly correlated [to the] question, ‘Why are middle managers important?’” says leadership consultant and coach Dr. Lisa DeAngelis of Dragonfly Coaching. “Middle managers act as the fulcrum between senior leadership and the frontline. Effective middle managers are able to bring what they are learning from the day-to-day running of the business to the attention of senior management, which can, and should, inform the vision and strategy of the organization. At the same time, by engaging with senior leadership, middle managers gain a deeper understanding of the vision and strategy of the organization and can help translate that to the frontline workers so that they understand how what they are doing contributes to the success of the organization.”

Let’s take a closer look at what middle management really means, why these positions have unique challenges, and tips for navigating a middle management position.

What is middle management?

Middle managers are kind of like the middle children of the family. They’re not entry-level employees, and they aren’t executives either. They manage others while also reporting to their own bosses. They supervise and support lower-ranking employees and act as an intermediary to company leadership. 

Common responsibilities of middle managers include:

  • Communicating company information to their teams

  • Setting department and employee goals that will meet business objectives

  • Ensuring processes are productive

  • Supervising daily operations

  • Hiring new employees on the team

  • Facilitating performance reviews

  • Creating and monitoring the team budget

  • Inspiring and motivating employees

Middle managers are the go-to contacts for their team members and usually have lots of people management responsibilities. Great communication, leadership, and problem-solving skills are a must for these positions.

Examples of middle management positions

Common titles that are middle management jobs include department manager, general manager, branch manager, department director, and plant manager. Typically any job that manages other people while also reporting to the top is somewhere in the middle management realm. 

Positions will vary from organization to organization. Some companies may have very few middle management positions, while others may have their own ranking system for middle managers, like junior versus senior managers. This kind of hierarchy could create more room for individuals to grow since middle management can be challenging to break out of.

Why middle management is so challenging

Whether it’s true or not, middle managers have had a reputation of being somewhat ordinary, unimpressive positions that don’t always have a clear purpose, other than overseeing a department or office. (Michael Scott from The Office is a perfect example of this stereotype.)

However, middle managers make up a very important component of the overall business. They can be challenging jobs because they have a lot of decisions to make but still are under the control of the executive team. They have to mediate conflicts and take hard steps like firing an employee. They need to ensure that the company culture is strong and that their teams are satisfied and happy. When an employee is upset at their boss, they are usually upset at a middle manager.

Business coach, leadership mentor, and social sales expert Lattice Hudson says managing this kind of conflict is all part of the job. Middle managers “serve as a link between the two levels of an organization. As a result, one of their tasks is to maintain a tranquil work atmosphere. To get there, they'll have to put in a lot of effort. The expectations of the workforce may become progressively unrealistic sometimes, or the higher-level management's policies may become oppressive.”

These responsibilities are not easy to take on, especially on a daily basis. Middle managers must be able to do what’s best for the business while ensuring that people are supported. It takes a very delicate balance to keep everything running smoothly.

“The middle management must ensure that all parties understand one another and form a relationship of mutual respect for one another's contributions and essential judgments,” Hudson says, adding that the job is paramount to improving workflow and helping the company succeed. 

“A competent middle manager has an influence that extends beyond employee engagement,” she says. “They are now at the top of the list because of the function they play in enhancing productivity. Managers have the responsibility of putting larger-scale plans into motion and ensuring all employees are fully invested in the company's strategy, while all executives are in charge of creating them. The jobs they undertake are not as fancy, like making sure their staff deliver on time and training new employees during recruitment, but they are crucial parts that ensure organizations run to the best of their abilities.”

Tips for navigating middle management

Even with all these challenges, middle managers still have lots of job benefits. They no longer have to do more tedious, time-consuming tasks that entry-level positions handle. Their jobs are interesting because there’s always something new to deal with. They get to interact with people daily and help teams make meaningful connections. They also help the organization perform better.

With the right skills, mindset, and plan of action, middle management positions can be empowering leadership roles that make a positive difference in a company. 

Here are six tips for excelling in a middle management role:

1. Always think about ways to be a better leader—and prioritize training that will get you there. 

Take leadership courses and learn from other industry experts who you admire. Keep an open mind and ask for input from the team regularly about what tasks could be improved.

“Get additional training in crisis management, mediation, as well as other dispute techniques,” Hudson says. “Disputes among members of the team will certainly arise, and you will need to mediate them. And if you are ill-equipped to handle these disputes, you may do significant damage. Furthermore, you can exhibit bias by agreeing with your favorite worker's viewpoint; these are indicators of a leader who isn't well trained. You may display how competent you are by being well-prepared and employing guided conversation, coaching, and negotiation tactics to settle conflicts.”

2. Get to know your team and practice empathy.

Employees should feel like the company and their managers support them and care about their wellbeing. Shana Bosler, director of learning and development at Emergenetics International, says, “To be more effective, I recommend that managers take time to get to know their direct reports and understand the ways they prefer to communicate and collaborate. When you know how they like to work, you can adapt your style to match rapport and speak to their strengths, which will help you collaborate more productively.”

It can also help you have tough conversations. Even though you have to follow protocols and sometimes make really hard decisions that will upset people, understanding who you’re talking to can help you deliver even the most difficult news with empathy and grace. 

3. Keep communication open.

A major cause of dissatisfaction in the workplace is when workers don’t know what’s going on. They may sense that the company is making a change and become anxious. Communication can ease anxieties. “One of the greatest tips I would offer to a middle manager seeking to be more effective is to continue to enhance your communication skills,” DeAngelis says. “By communication skills, I mean being able to deeply listen for understanding, being able to tailor your communication so that it resonates with your audience, and being able to discern what information needs to be conveyed to whom and when.”

5. Always be collaborative but professional. 

Remember that, at the end of the day, you are a manager. You set the example for your team. Good professional middle management collaboration looks something like this:  “To keep [employees] engaged, talk to your team about the objectives or tasks that need to be accomplished and partner with them to find a way forward that allows them to use their strengths and lean into their preferred way of working,” Bosler says. 

Beyond that, keep some distance. You might build strong relationships with your team, but you still have to report back to upper management, and you don’t want to tip the scales in one direction. Keep your attitude, and your boundaries, professional.

5. Embody company values. 

As the leader of your team, it’s important that you exemplify company values. Make sure that you align your behaviors and actions with those core values. This shows employees what is important to the company and sets the tone for the workplace.

6. Ask for feedback. 

Often, no news is good news. If you’re not hearing anything about your performance, maybe that means you’re doing just fine. But, you should still ask for feedback from both your managers and the employees you manage. 

“Create an effective feedback cycle to get input on team practices, systems, collaboration techniques, and your leadership,” Bosler says. “Give people several avenues to provide feedback and regularly ask for input in your meetings. Be sure to explain how you are using that information to make adjustments. Giving your team a voice will help them be more engaged.” Ask if they feel something should change or if they have concerns about you or operations. Let them know that they can always come to you directly if there is an issue.

These suggestions will help you navigate the world of middle management with the right mindset. These intermediate jobs are unique positions that allow you to act as a liaison between lower and higher employees and showcase your problem-solving and decision-making skills. 

About our sources

Dr. Lisa DeAngelis' research focuses on transformative teaching. Her work on teams, leadership, and transformative teaching has been published in peer-reviewed journals. She brings three decades of divisional and corporate leadership experience to the work of preparing leaders to excel in the 21st century. Lisa has helped facilitate programs such as a high-potential executive education program at Wharton, the Women’s Leadership Summit at Novo Nordisk, faculty and staff at West Point, the leadership team at Astra-Zeneca, HR leadership at LEGO, and MIT Lincoln Labs.

Lattice Hudson specializes in helping women entrepreneurs scale their online coaching business to six figures and beyond with strategy, systems, and leveraged evergreen offers. She graduated with her bachelor’s degree in Human Resource Management in 2015, and went on to work for multiple Fortune 50 companies in various Human Resource Leadership roles before starting her business. Outside of entrepreneurial life, Lattice enjoys traveling to warm places, trying new restaurants, and dancing to any and everything TikTok related!

As an expert in the way people prefer to think and behave, Shana Bosler has consulted with thousands of business leaders, managers as well as Human Resources and Learning & Development teams, coaching them on how to create engaging, productive workplace cultures. She empowers executives, managers and employees to address communication gaps, enhance team dynamics and boost the employee experience by utilizing thinking and behavioral insights.

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Photo of Meredith Boe

Meredith Boe

Contributor

Meredith Boe is a writer, editor, and grant writer, and a regular contributor to InHerSight. Her writing focuses on working women, self-employment, small businesses, finance, and legal, in addition to her literary criticism, poetry, and creative prose. She holds a master's degree in writing and publishing from DePaul University, and her bylines include the GoDaddy Garage, The Chicago Reader, and the Chicago Review of Books.

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