Over the years, the expectations the top management has had with regards to the middle manager’s role, have changed drastically.

The traditional middle manager was used to receiving praise for being a control freak and for focusing on their expertise area. Now it is all about people engagement and development.

But what does that actually mean for a leader? What should this person know and do, in order to meet the expectations and needs of the organisation?

Building up the profile of a middle manager is not an easy task. It is clear that throughout the years this role has changed fundamentally. The classic competencies needed to fulfill this role were:

a)       Specialised knowledge and ability to transfer this knowledge into the daily work

b)      Accountability – the middle manager would be the one who would need to answer in front of the top management if something went wrong

c)       Task and results orientation – what to do and how to do it was always the main focus of the traditional middle manager

d)      Decision making – being the one who would make the final decision meant having the control of what was happening in the team, and the only person who could change things

Of course, competencies like leadership, communication, teamwork, were always included in the profile, but they never really meant anything concrete. Even if the organisation would send their managers to communication and leadership training programs (and they did that in abundance), they never really knew what to do with them afterwards.

This phenomenon happened not just because these concepts are too abstract and too broad to be understood and put into practice. The main reasons, in our opinion, were:

  • the role of the leader was never truly understood, having the focus on the management tasks, not on the leadership tasks, just as the title implies

  • the leadership role was never seen as a priority by the top management, and consequently by the middle managers also

We can help to clarify the first, but the second lies solely with the management.

Yes, everybody knew that the middle managers need to manage their teams, but what that meant for most of the organisations, was that they were the:

1. Operational control – which meant ensuring the tasks are being done by the employees, and the goals are reached

2. Technical expert – whenever a specialist was needed, the middle manager would be the “go to” person; not surprisingly, the main criterion for promotion on such a position has always been how good of a specialist that person was

3. Link between the top management and the employees – and by that we mean merely a transmitter of information from top to down

If you think about these 3 responsibilities, there is not even one reference to the roles that build up a true leader. So what should a leader do, actually?

4. Motivate and engage – first and foremost, as a leader you need to care about your people. You need to want to understand their needs and help them fulfil them. This is the best way to engage your team - for them to know their leader is genuinely interested in their well being

5. Develop the people – one of the most important tasks of a leader is to support their team to develop and become the best version of themselves. One should never lose the desire to learn and grow, and this needs to be understood, encouraged and even facilitated by the leader

6. Empower the people – gone are the days when the leader needs to be the one to find the solutions – people need to feel they can contribute and they need to be encouraged to act proactively, not just to do as they are told. This means the leader needs to be able to listen, and then to ask the right questions, so that the answer comes from the team

A person who can take on these responsibilities successfully, is a person who cares, listens, respects, trusts their colleagues, or, in other words, a person who has good leadership, communication and teamwork skills.

To make the formula complete, besides the professional (technical) and leadership competencies, it is essential to add another ingredient: the business competency.

Nowadays, a middle manager cannot be successful without a better understanding of the entire picture, going beyond the specifics of their own department and connecting their work with that of the other departments. We can even take it as far as venturing outside their organisation to understand and work well with other partners, suppliers, customers.

Above all, these skills need to be accompanied by three fundamental values: caring for the others, trusting (in self and others) and fairness. These values represent the foundation on which the knowledge and skills can grow and transform a manager into a leader.

So, to summaries, a middle manager that has been transformed into an empowering leader, needs to develop the following competencies:

I.                    Leadership competencies:

1.       Emotional intelligence – empathy, care, ability to manage your own emotions and those of the team

2.       Active listening – listen to understand, not to reply and offer solutions

3.       Positive perspective – look towards the future and focus on the solutions, not on finding whom to blame

4.       Honesty and integrity

5.       Self-confidence (not overconfidence) and confidence in the others (trust)

6.       Accountability – don’t just accept the mistake, also look for ways to fix it

7.       Commitment to the job, the team, the company


II.                  Professional competencies

8.       Competence in their field (or technical expertise, though not the most important, as before) – act as a consultant for the management, but also for the employees

9.       Presentation skills – be able to share information in a way that is motivational, inspiring and easy to understand

10.   Results oriented and decision making


III.                Business competencies

11.   Good knowledge of the HR processes (recruiting, on-boarding, evaluating performance and offering feedback, etc.)

12.   Good understanding of the business and the environment


Paladia Petrar, HR Specialist with 14+ years of experience in Human Resources and Managing Partner with 8+ years of experience in IntegraHR, provides solutions for performance management, employee motivation and satisfaction, retention and many others. Paladia has worked with 30+ international and national companies, offering managers consultancy for creating and developing stable teams.

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