Skip to main content

Top ten lessons for stepping into senior leadership

16 June 2020

It can be daunting making that step from middle management into a more senior leadership role. Having been there myself and knowing what it feels like, I’ve tried to share my experiences and help others by mentoring people in the charity sector making this move.

Recently I was reflecting on what I’d learnt, so here’s my top ten lessons based on my experience:

  1. Cement your leadership style and personal brand. Lead by example. Be authentic by being the same person at work as you are outside of it. Deliver on your promises and do your best to model resilience to your team. (I find that a positive, solution focused attitude is the top thing my team values in my approach). Make unpopular decisions if they’re the right thing for the organisation, like terminating contracts or making redundancies.
  2. Demonstrate impact. Be realistic and aware of over-promising. This will help you to smash targets. Be ruthless about making sure the work plan of the team really does deliver against organisational strategic objectives. Consider different ways you can show your team’s impact outside of formal reporting, whether that’s writing up a case study for an internal e-newsletter, or creating a quick infographic based on the results from a project.
  3. Take the initiative. See opportunities and take them. Look for ways you can add value. For me it meant championing a more audience centred approach to planning, but it could be volunteering for extra responsibilities. Be brave.
  4. Have vision. Share your vision and think about how to pitch it to make others care. Have a plan of action and clear goals. Be aware of what may affect it internally and externally and be prepared to change it. This is more important now than ever.
  5. Build an amazing team. Give them the support, tools and encouragement to be the best they can. Empower, trust and celebrate them but recognise and address underperformance early and deal with it head-on. It’s always been one of the most challenging aspects of my role but the rest of my team have ultimately thanked me for it.
  6. Manage up. Think about what your line manager needs from you. Look at things from their perspective and make sure you deliver against their needs. Make things easy for them where you can. Get to know their reporting deadlines and make sure they have the info they need without having to ask.
  7. Cultivate advocates. Build trust and influence. Know who to speak to in order to get things done, pinpoint colleagues to develop relationships with. Keep important people informed.
  8. Develop a support group. Develop relationships internally and externally who you can use as a sounding board, let off steam and go for a glass of wine with after work. Remember that some conversations you won’t want to have with internal peers and external contacts will give you a different perspective.
  9. Collaborate. Work in partnership with colleagues to improve/inform your work and welcome feedback. All of my best work has been done in collaboration with others.
  10. Be curious. Listen to people who work across the organisation. Be open to learning new stuff and continuously improving. Carve out time for your professional development. Get a mentor!

Ultimately don’t be shy about asking other people what they would do in your shoes. While advice from colleagues and bosses can give you a certain view, mentors are in a unique position of being untarnished by internal politics so can give a fresh perspective. Don’t be afraid of giving them a try.

Claudine is a CharityComms mentor. If you want to share your expertise with others in the sector too then you can find out more about becoming a mentor with us here.

Photo: Lindsay Henwood on Unsplash

Claudine Snape

deputy director: communications, The National Deaf Children’s Society

Claudine is the deputy director: communications at The National Deaf Children’s Society. Previously she led the comms team at Asthma UK for over four years, leading on brand, awareness campaigns, digital & social media, PR and publishing. She has 20 years’ experience which includes PR roles at Cancer Research UK and for the agency Lexis PR.