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Being a bored and disillusioned middle manager is no fun, but there are ways out of the rut, says Hamish Davidson ...
Being a bored and disillusioned middle manager is no fun, but there are ways out of the rut, says Hamish Davidson

Stuck in middle management for years? Struggling to break through the glass ceiling? Can't see a clear path into senior management? Feeling abandoned, in a rut, with no sense of how to get moving again?

In this age of performance development, succession planning and Investors in People, why is it still so hard to get promoted to senior roles within your own authority? And how do you make that transition from manager to head of service, and, if desired, beyond?

Senior managers often bemoan the 'soggy middle' of their organisations. Talent too often ends up just sitting there - lacking confidence, under-utilised, under-motivated, and under-engaged. Why? For a whole host of reasons, but to take just one issue, since the new political arrangements have been in place there would appear to be fewer opportunities to work directly at the political interface. The jump to senior management in terms of the skills and experience has never been greater.

Almost inevitably rising stars or those with ambition are faced with little choice but to leave and join another authority in order to climb the ladder. This lack of investment in staff, and the consequent bleeding of frustrated talent is incredibly wasteful - and all too often at total variance to the proclaimed values and beliefs of the organisation.

There are a variety of obvious and simple initiatives that employers can undertake to help staff gain the skills and confidence they need to move upwards. The provision of mentors can be an effective means of identifying the barriers - personal or organisational - and developing solutions to overcome them. Shadowing is another excellent way to see how things are done at the top. It would not be hard if every chief executive and director allowed one of their middle managers to shadow them for a day a week. Secondments, both within the council and externally would also help broaden officers ' skills and can show them how things are done differently.

So why focus on middle managers?

-- 'Excellent' or 'poor', every council wants first class staff to help deliver their ambitions and in many cases, they have those staff already, but they just do not realise it.

-- It's an attempt to be part of the solution, building capacity, rather than just seen as part of the problem - seeking out and stealing frustrated talent.

-- The best way to increase the supply of talent from groups that are typically under-represented at senior levels is not to positively discriminate or lower standards, but to provide the support to such individuals to help themselves.

-- To ram home the belief that as an ambitious, aspiring but frustrated or blocked manager, there is no point waiting for others to help you. You have to take charge of your own destiny and help yourself.

Veredus has developed 'Leaders of the future' workshops, to help third- and fourth-tier managers think about their longer term career aspirations and look at the practical measures they and their organisations can take.

The workshops bring together high-profile, established and successful local government leaders - politicians and officers - to tell their personal stories and to share their expertise and experience with those poised to climb the next rung of the local government ladder. The talent, enthusiasm and skills are there and councils should not be quite so quick to decry their 'soggy' middles.

Hamish Davidson

Chairman, Veredus Executive Resourcing.

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