Thursday, 12 October 2023 22:19

Accidental Managers: Promotion Without Preparation

Whilst exhibiting at the World of Learning Conference this week, we spoke to dozens of delegates and visitors from an array of businesses spanning many different sectors. Well, that was the point of being there. Despite the variety of backgrounds and businesses represented, a theme kept recurring during many of the conversations; that of the issues created by accidental managers.

Predictably, most attendees at the conference were involved in training, development and HR within their organisations. However, many expressed frustration at the lack of planning their own organisations undertook when rewarding good performance by individuals with promotion to a position that entailed supervising or managing others.

The rise of the accidental manager is something we have blogged about in the past and it clearly remains a significant issue. Individuals, often exceptional in their primary roles, find themselves elevated to managerial positions not based on their leadership abilities but rather their performance in a particular field. This path, while initially seeming like a just reward for dedication and talent, can lead to significant challenges for both the individual and the wider organisation.

Examples can be seen across a range of industries. For instance, an excellent software developer whose code is error free, develops innovative solutions and leads their peers in productivity might get promoted to ‘lead Developer’ or ‘Development Manager’ in recognition of their contribution to the company.

Suddenly however, their daily tasks shift from coding to managing a team: setting objectives, handling conflicts, offering feedback, and ensuring project deliverables. Yet, this person has never been trained in these managerial tasks. Their brilliance in coding doesn't automatically translate to ability in management. They have become an accidental manager.

The crux of the issue is that technical expertise and managerial skills require distinct and separate sets of skills. Being a whizz in sales, engineering, or design doesn't mean someone can effortlessly handle team dynamics, set clear expectations, or foster a motivating work environment. These skills, which we would consider vital for successful and productive management, rarely come naturally. They require training, experience, and often, a natural propensity.

The consequences of not recognising this can be very damaging. Typical consequences include:

  • Employee Dissatisfaction: A manager ill-equipped to handle team dynamics can inadvertently create a toxic work environment. Miscommunications, favouritism, or simply the inability to provide constructive feedback can lead to disillusioned teams.

  • Decreased Productivity: Without clear direction and objectives, teams can flounder. A manager's role is not just supervisory but also directional. The absence of clear leadership can adversely impact team output.

  • High Staff Turnover: Consistently poor management is a frequent reason employees leave companies. The cost of hiring and training new employees is substantial and diverts resources, making high turnover rates a significant concern for businesses.

  • Personal Burnout: For the accidental manager, the sudden and unexpected challenges can lead to overwhelming stress and burnout, affecting both their professional and personal life.

Addressing accidental manager syndrome is crucial for the health an prosperity of businesses. Organisations should consider:

  • Tailored Training Programmes: Upon promoting an individual to a managerial role, and preferably prior to promotion, businesses should offer training focussed on leadership, conflict resolution, and team dynamics. Our ILM Level 2 Certificate in Leadership and Management is a perfect solution here.

  • Mentoring: Pairing new and potential managers with seasoned leaders can provide them with invaluable insights and guidance; not only in managerial skills but in the nuances and dynamics of the particular organisation.
  • Feedback Mechanisms: Regular and genuine feedback from their teams can help new managers understand areas of improvement. The organisation must offer support and solutions for addressing any shortcomings of course.

Whilst promoting top-performing employees seems like the logical next step, businesses must recognise the distinct skill set managerial roles demand. With proper training and support, accidental managers can transition to intentional, effective leaders, motivating their teams and ultimately contributing to the overall success of the organisation.

Planning the appropriate path for your new and potential managers means you can talk to us about training them for career progression rather than about how to exit them from the business after six months for underperformance. Call us on 01452 331331, or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Read 642 times Last modified on Thursday, 12 October 2023 22:25


HR Champions provide first class HR and Employment Law support and advice to UK businesses; operationally and strategically. If you're an employer you'll potentially need some, if not all, of the services we offer.

We deliver excellent management and soft skills training suitable for all organisational levels. We are ILM and City & Guild accredited and Ken Blanchard approved.  





We are located in Gloucester in the West of the UK close to the M4 and M5 corridors. For a precise map and directions find us on Google Maps

We have clients all over the UK but predominantly within about an hour's drive time of our offices; in Gloucestershire, South Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Bristol and Swindon & Wiltshire.