5 key traits to look for when hiring middle managers

By Robert Half on 8 January 2019

Middle managers are the operational engine of an organisation. They’re the ones who can make or break a project.

So how do you ensure they have the skills necessary to keep the cogs turning? A mid-level manager’s importance lies in the way they bring these plans to life. 

Here are five key proficiencies to keep in mind for successfully hiring middle management.

1. Translate policy for hiring middle managers

Being able to interpret the strategy of top-level management is one of the most important facets of a mid-level manager’s job. If they don’t understand the message, they have little chance of carrying out the strategic directives at an operational level.

During your interview process, have candidates explain examples of policies they’ve had to interpret in their previous roles. Once they’re in the job, make sure they understand the policy by having them sell it back to senior managers.

2. Develop and implement activities

Once they’ve digested the strategy, middle managers need to figure out the most effective way to make it happen. Although this often occurs during consultation with senior management, it’s important that mid-level managers can determine the best ways to engage staff, develop activities and timelines, and then independently implement the entire project.

Be sure that potential mid-level employees can come up with appropriate ideas without hand-holding every step of the way by having them explain how they’ve implemented policy in previous roles.

3. Supervise junior staff and allocate resources

One of the most important aspects of mid-level management is managing down – both in allocating tasks to appropriate employees and supervising staff to ensure they are properly resourced.

Top-level managers don’t really concern themselves with how a task is carried out or who takes it on – as long as it gets done. That’s the mid-level manager’s job. As such, allocating resources needs to be high on the list of any mid-level manager’s priorities.

When recruiting middle managers, ask candidates for examples of how they’ve managed staff in the past and what factors apply when resourcing projects.

4. Motivate employees and encourage cooperation

It’s the mid-level manager’s responsibility to keep the operation’s engine efficiently chugging along and without too many obstacles.

Two of the best ways to do this are to motivate staff with incentives and maintain open lines of communication to ensure the team carries out the strategy and that the organisation continues to thrive.

Experienced middle managers can inspire their teams through positive reinforcement and lead by example by being collaborative in carrying out their work.

5. Manage up and out

Managing up is equally important for middle managers. As they are far more involved in the day-to-day running of the business, it’s their responsibility to provide regular feedback to senior managers about the progress of projects.

They should also offer suggestions about how to solve problems that arise, instead of just dropping issues in senior management’s lap without solutions.

New business models (and cuts to internal budgets) have seen recent growth in outsourcing certain parts of the business, and it’s often mid-level managers who maintain transparency when it comes to external operations. They can be the operational glue that holds remote teams together, so it’s important they have experience communicating with off-premise teams and keeping track of projects.

Being able to successfully ‘people manage’ is an underrated skill at any level. It’s important to ensure your prospective mid-level managers can do it well.

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