transition from manager to director


Do you feel trapped in your current manager role? Do you think your company finds you so valuable where you are, they aren’t considering you for promotion? Is there some aspect of your professional style that is missing and keeps you from that next step in your career? The transition from manager to director is much more difficult than from analyst to manager. Here are the critical differences that can help you define what you need to work on to transition from manager to director.

Strategic Thinker

The skill of thinking strategically may not be something you can showcase in your manager role but it is critical for you to be successful as a director. Managers spend their time reviewing metrics, meeting with individual team members and managing obstacles and systems to fulfill projects and client’s needs.

Directors must manage multiple groups, multiple managers and insure their focus on day-to-day activities and tactical thinking is fulfilling broader and longer-term company goals. Directors have to be comfortable with change and comfortable helping their staff implement that change they may resist.

People Management

In recruiting we joke that candidates who want to be managers have never managed. Managing people can be a real challenge. A big difference in the transition from manager to director is the necessity to be skilled at motivating others. Can you effectively portray the company vision and your translation of that vision to your team in order for them to meet the objectives of the business? Career coach,, say directors need to not be good at telling people what to do, “but good at teaching people how to be great.” A good director sets the bar at a higher level and helps her team embrace improvements that are orders of magnitude better than the current status quo.


Strong staff management means strong communication skills but to be successful in the transition from manger to director you must manage up and cross-functionally as well. Seek guidance and feedback from someone in your organization who has successfully had the career you want. Communicate with people on your same level who are impacted by projects your team manages. Understand how their vision fits into the work your group is doing. Visibility and interaction up and laterally will improve your skill set and make others aware of your strengths.

Some people seek to transition from manager to director to salve their ego or feel they will have more control to fix everything around them they thought should be better. A good director knows that a broader leadership role means less control not more, and focusing on your own ego will keep you from building relationships and interactions outwardly. Remember “the buck stops with you,” says  Sally Bennett, Executive Manager at Team Executive. Are you ready?

Smith Hanley Associates’ Pharmaceutical Commercial Analytics Executive Recruiter, Eda Zullo, can help you transition from manager to director. Reach out to her at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.