Buddy to Boss: 3 Key Challenges Impacting First Time Managers

Mar 31, 2021 | Blogs

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By Aaron Telnes, Registered Psychologist

The transition from specialist to manager can be a challenging one, for numerous reasons. At the core, a shift from “buddy” to “boss” is a social one (soft skills) that is intimately intertwined with a shift in technical expertise (hard skills). Thus, navigating this change can be incredibly challenging and stretch the skills and abilities of most first-time managers.

Buddy to Boss

When we look at this shift from a psychological standpoint, we see a clear need to adjust ones mindset from leading self to leading others. A shift in attitude is necessary where sharing the work (delegation) becomes paramount, an expansion of your perspective is imperative so that you’re more comfortable and focused on seeing the larger picture (business strategy), and your decisions and actions must come from a point of integrity (being right/just) rather than easy or self-serving. In addition, when we consider this shift from a behavioural perspective, we see a clear need to develop new skillsets with regards to leadership and management in order to support you in being an effective and efficient leader, as well as a shift in the relationship with your team from “buddy” to “boss”. This transition involves a focus on personal relationships to a focus on the relationship with the team as a whole (Centre for Creative Leadership, 2020). As such, in this multi-part article series, I will first describe 3 Key Challenges that Impact First Time Managers (FTMs) as they navigate both the psychological and behavioural transition. In forthcoming articles, methods to address these challenges and other discussions to aid FTMs will be described.

3 Key Challenges that Impact First Time Managers

A study by the Centre for Creative Leadership (CCL) was conducted that determined 12 of the most common leadership challenges faced by FTMs. The 3 Key Challenges most cited by FTMs in that study will be explored here and include: Adjusting to People Management and Displaying Authority, Developing Managerial and Personal Effectiveness, and Leading Team Achievement (Gentry, Logan & Tonidandel, 2014).

Adjusting to People Management and Displaying Authority

Adjusting to People Management and Displaying Authority was cited by 59.3% of FTMs in the CCL study, making it the most mentioned leadership challenge in the study. Adjusting to people management and displaying authority can be defined as a difficulty in asserting authority, managing the transition from co-worker to superior, adapting to new responsibilities, and influencing, managing, and coordinating employees that are outside their direct line of authority (Gentry et al., 2014). Displaying authority while simultaneously maintaining positive personal relationships and gaining additional respect from your team can be a complex situation to address, particularly for FTMs (Gentry et al., 2014), yet it is a vital hurdle for FTMs to overcome in order to support their development as a leader and the health and happiness of the team they now lead.

Developing Managerial and Personal Effectiveness

Developing Managerial and Personal Effectiveness was cited by 46.1% of FTMs in the CCL study, making it the second most mentioned leadership challenge in the study. Developing managerial and personal effectiveness can be defined as a difficulty with becoming a better leader while simultaneously remaining an effective employee, these difficulties can include time, stress, and relationship management, and developing leadership competencies (Gentry et al., 2014). The ability to integrate the requirements of a management role with the requirements of an effective employee can be challenging as leadership is an addition to an individuals job description not a substitution (Gentry et al., 2014), and understand that logic can support FTMs in conceptualizing the challenges that they face in this new role.

Leading Team Achievement

Leading Team Achievement was cited by 43.4% of FTMs in the CCL study, making I the third most mentioned leadership challenge in the study. Leading team achievement can be defined as difficulty providing guidance to the team, leading the team through times of unclear/ambiguous goals and targets, provide direction and monitor progress towards goals and deadlines (Gentry et al., 2014). Leading team achievement is highlighted as one of the largest skill gaps for FTMs where it is a skill that is necessary for their role yet they are often limited with their training and expertise in this area as they transition into their new role (Gentry et al., 2014). As such, this further highlights the necessity for appropriate and effective leadership training for FTMs, because skill-limited and lacking FTMs grow into more senior managers, with more influence and authority which can destabilize an organization from the inside out, leading to reduced effectiveness, efficiency, and productivity for the leaders themselves and their teams.

In summary, this article highlights some of the most important challenges faced by First Time Managers as they transition into leadership roles. In forthcoming articles, we will take a deeper dive into strategies and methods to address these challenges and support new leaders in their transitions and career development.


Be an Effective Boss: 6 Shifts New Managers Must Make to Succeed: CCL. (n.d.). Retrieved March 4, 2020, from https://www.ccl.org/articles/leading-effectively-articles/identity-shift-achieving-results-by-managing-others/

Gentry, W.A., Logan, P., & Tonidandel, S. (2014). Understanding leadership challenges of first time managers: Strengthening your leadership pipeline [White Paper]. Retrieved: March 3, 2020, from http://myccl.ccl.org/leadership/pdf/research/UnderstandingLeadershipChallenges.pdf