I had the privilege, a few weeks ago, of sharing my experience of stepping up to senior management with someone who is looking to move up from middle management. Preparing for the conversation and talking about how she could build on her current experience made me reflect again on what I did to gain the necessary experience; it’s about ticking various boxes and getting the exposure needed to really know whether senior management is for you. It isn’t possible to be ‘fully’ ready and have all the skills required for a promotion, you grow and develop skills ‘on the job’ but it is important to consider what the next rung above requires of you and whether you want that additional responsibility and are willing to give up more headspace and time to your job, because even if it doesn’t look like it to others who aren’t in senior management, although it well might, you will put more time to work and will have to think about it even more.
Gaining whole school experience is really key. I was a Head of Department who’d been involved in various initiatives and steering groups, I helped coordinate EPQ and careers events as well as Young Enterprise but nothing really demonstrated a whole school responsibility. When the opportunity to be a deputy in a boarding house came up, I jumped at the chance – as well as just being a wonderful job it gave me the opportunity to learn about the pastoral side of the school and better understand safeguarding procedures. This also showed my line manager that I was looking outside of my ‘world’ of the department and able to manage a workload that was broader. As much as it might not be comfortable and will stretch you, to prepare for senior management you need to take on additional roles/responsibilities; this both pushes you outside of your comfort zone and raises your profile to those around you. I found it amazing how my capacity grew and that I did find I could handle more than my middle management role, it wasn’t easy at first but certainly worth trying and really seeing what I was capable of.
I also (successfully) applied to be a governor at my local secondary school which provided an insight into aspects of school strategic planning, finance and HR decision making that I wouldn’t otherwise have exposure to. Being a governor shows that you can cope with additional responsibilities, the pressure of a variety of jobs and have the initiative to take on roles that move you beyond what you know and are comfortable with. One question I was asked at interview for my current job was how I would cope with the pressure of senior management – as I have written in previous blogs, a senior management role requires carefully juggling of a wide variety of deadlines, tasks and a real ability to discern the urgent from the important jobs, you’ll need to know how to demonstrate your ability to do this during your interview.
Something else my conversation made me reflect on is that, at times you need to make your own opportunities. I badgered my line manager about stepping up to senior management and I found a course run by HMC (I was in an independent school at the time but the National College also run leadership preparation courses, in a previous school I completed the leadership pathways course with the National College). The HMC course was perfect – covering key points about the role of a senior manager and what to expect. Don’t wait for someone to do this for you, seize the chance yourself and demonstrate the initiative and drive to your line manager by planning what you need to do to prepare for the step up.
Never say you might not be good enough! The final piece in the jigsaw for me was my role as Assistant to our Director of Studies. I really wasn’t sure about applying when the position was created, doubted my credentials and believed that I wouldn’t be the best person for the role: was I analytical enough, did I have enough ideas, would I be able to lead other middle managers who were my colleagues, would there be the grace from colleagues when I made the inevitable mistakes? I really wasn’t sure I would be good enough. However, I am blessed with a really good friend who’s judgement I trust, she is honest and I knew she would tell me if she did (or didn’t) think the role suited me. We talked through the job description and with her encouragement I applied – I couldn’t have been more excited to have been offered the role and was very grateful that I gave it a go. That was a real lesson in never saying never!
There is so much more I want to say about this topic but that would make this post far too long. I’ll post more soon. I hope that has given you food for thought for now….