12 Challenges New Managers Must Conquer

new manager smiling as he overcomes common challenges of first-time new managers

Struggling as a Manager?

It’s tough to make the transition from an individual contributor who does the work well, to a leader who must continue to do the work plus lead others. Many first-time managers feel that no one understands what they’re going through and find themselves struggling as a manager. 

The numbers prove it:

  • 20% of first-time managers are doing a poor job, according to their subordinates.
  • 26% of first-time managers feel they weren’t ready to lead others to begin with.
  • Almost 60% say they never received any training when they transitioned into their first leadership role.

No wonder 50% of managers in organizations are rated as ineffective.

To better understand the most common challenges of new managers and to help them overcome the difficulties of their new roles, we conducted a study to analyze the challenges of nearly 300 emerging leaders who took our training program for first-level managers, Maximizing Your Leadership Potential.

The 12 Most Common Challenges Faced by New Managers

And the New Skills to Develop If You’re Struggling as a Manager

Our researchers found that those new to managerial roles often struggle at making the identity shift needed as they transition from being an individual contributor doing the work themselves, to a leader of others in doing their work. As outlined in our white paper, that these are the 12 most common challenges of management — especially for those who are new to leading others — and the skills needed to tackle these common challenges.

1. Leading former peers.

First-time managers often find it difficult to transition from being a friend or colleague to being a superior, all while maintaining positive personal relationships and gaining respect. New skills needed include influencing others, managing, and coordinating employees who aren’t in their direct line of authority.

2. Balancing the new workload.

First-time managers must learn to be leaders while still being productive employees themselves. New skills needed include time management, stress management, relationship management, and industry-specific expertise.

3. Driving team achievement.

First-time managers must provide leadership and guidance to their team when directions and expectations are unclear, a challenge that’s magnified when leading hybrid teams. New skills needed include the ability to give directions to team members and monitor the team’s work to stay organized and meet deadlines, the ability to build and lead a team, and the ability to maintain or enhance team chemistry.

4. Navigating the organization.

First-time managers now must learn to assert their opinions to upper-level management, including speaking for their subordinates or department. New skills needed include gaining visibility with upper management; gaining an understanding of the company’s corporate structure, its culture, and politics; and navigating organizational change for themselves and their team. Those without strong political skill may find themselves struggling as a manager.

Discover the art, science, and practice behind learning and leading as a first-time manager with this research-based book filled with practical advice and lessons.

5. Motivating and inspiring.

First-time managers must be able to motivate both direct and non-direct reports. New skills needed include the ability to inspire others to complete assigned work, to encourage them to meet or surpass expectations, to understand and boost employee motivation, and to be able to communicate the vision of the organization to subordinates. 

6. Holding people accountable.

First-time managers have to overcome discomfort with giving different types of feedback, especially negative feedback, and this can feel even trickier when it involves managing remote or hybrid teams. New skills needed include holding subordinates accountable for their actions and effectively dealing with employees who lack ability, knowledge, or experience.

7. Coaching and developing others.

First-time managers are now in the position to develop subordinates’ knowledge, skills, and abilities. New skills needed include mentoring team members in their career development and holding coaching conversations with their people. For most new managers, a focus on developing employees is new.

8. Communicating more effectively.

First-time managers must be able to span boundaries and communicate with people across all levels in the organization, including team members, superiors, and peers in other departments. New skills needed include keeping lines of communication open, learning how to communicate to achieve the best outcome — even (and especially) when that message must be delivered as a virtual communication — and effectively setting goals and expectations with subordinates and superiors. Communication is one of the most important skills for leaders.

9. Delegating and trust-building.

First-time managers need the ability to identify which tasks can be done by themselves, versus which tasks can be given to subordinates. New skills needed include giving up control; knowing when to interfere or assist team members without micromanaging or taking over a task; and trusting others on the team to do the work for which the first-time manager will ultimately be held responsible.

10. Resolving interpersonal conflict.

First-time managers must proactively and reactively resolve conflicts between group members. New skills needed include identifying and addressing smaller issues before they turn into larger conflicts, mitigating conflict once it occurs, and dealing with resistance from team members. Confronting problem employees is often especially challenging for new managers.

11. Connecting across differences.

First-time managers must be able to work effectively with and lead employees who have different opinions, personalities, backgrounds, and abilities. And leading with a focus on equity, diversity, and inclusion requires that they be able to understand others’ perspectives, as well as how aspects of their own identity affect the way they lead. New skills needed include the ability to adapt their behavior based on the ways in which different people work, and showing sensitivity and compassion when leading multicultural teams.

12. Prioritizing competing demands.

First-time managers have to learn to hold competing interests in mind and discern how they align with organizational goals. New skills needed include the ability to manage paradox and understand how to balance competing tensions, moving from a mindset of “either/or” to one of “both/and.”

A Closing Word on These Common Challenges of New Managers

If you’re a new leader struggling as a manager yourself: Dealing with these challenges of management can be hard for anyone, but especially so for new leaders. Sometimes, simply knowing that these are common challenges faced by many new managers can help you feel less alone. Moving into a leadership role is a big change, and it takes time. Be kind to yourself.

If you’re an HR or organizational leader: When organizations are committed to developing leaders, not just bosses, they’re better able to provide the support their new managers need to succeed in their roles. We recommend exploring different ways to set your new managers up for success, such as providing ample on-the-job learning opportunities, plus formal development, peer learning, and networking, and/or coaching and mentoring programs to develop new leaders.

Your first-time managers need help to ensure they’re effective in both the realm of an individual employee (such as job skills specific to your industry or organization) and the realm of a leader (such as acquiring people and relationship skills to get the job done). Organizations are wise to support their new managers, often their largest population of people leaders, in both ways.

Ready to Take the Next Step?

Are your new leaders struggling with these common challenges of management? They can develop the skills needed to overcome challenges with our new manager courses.

Download Now: Common Challenges Faced by New Managers

Our research shows that new leaders face 12 most common challenges of management. Download our visual guide to make sure you’re keeping each of them top of mind as you lead your team.

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October 25, 2022
Leading Effectively Staff
About the Author(s)
Leading Effectively Staff
This article was written by our Leading Effectively staff, who analyze our decades of pioneering, expert research and experiences in the field to share content that will help leaders at every level. Subscribe to our emails to get the latest research-based leadership articles and insights sent straight to your inbox.

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