Management Skills: Not Just for Supervisors


We all know that weekly one-on-ones with direct reports aren't the only situations in which employees use management skills. You can manage up or across; you can manage projects or expectations; and you don't have to be someone's supervisor to be a leader. That said, it can be difficult to prove you're ready to lead people and teams if no one has ever reported to you. Read on to find five ways to flex your management muscles when you don't have direct reports, and show your superiors that you're up to the challenge when a leadership opportunity comes your way.

  1. Be a one-woman/one-man welcoming committee. When a new employee joins your organization, offer to take them out to lunch or coffee during their first few weeks on the job. This is mostly just a nice thing to do and a good way to get to know the folks you work with, but it also gives you an opportunity to present yourself as a resource to your less experienced colleagues and build a reputation as a friendly and generous team member.
  2. Serve on a task force or volunteer for a workplace campaign. Does your organization have a United Way campaign? What about a diversity and inclusion task force? A group of people who organize soup kitchen shifts, plan the holiday party, or promote healthy living? If not, would your colleagues be open to you kick-starting any of those efforts? Volunteering some of your time to a passion project is not only a great way to make work feel like play, it's also the perfect opportunity to practice planning, meeting management, and inspiring collective action. What's more, these types of projects are often noticed and appreciated by higher-ups since they tend to improve office morale.
  3. Organize an office book club. So much to read, so little time. Why not use your colleagues to source recommendations for books on personal and professional development and hold yourself accountable for reading them? Pick a day each month (for example, third Thursdays), reserve a conference room, and invite everyone who's interested to read the chosen book beforehand and show up with a brown bag lunch to talk about it. Some of my favorite books in this genre include Susan Cain's Quiet, Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, and Adam Grant's Give and Take. Pro tip: more people will come if you bring baked goods.
  4. Lead a team-building activity at your next retreat. Ask your boss if you can have some time to facilitate an exercise focused on team dynamics at your next retreat or all staff meeting. Depending on how many minutes he/she can spare, this could be a simple icebreaker or an interactive workshop. If you have 30 minutes to an hour, consider asking everyone to take the StrengthsFinder 2.0 assessment or another test that highlights core competencies, and then compare results to gain a more nuanced understanding of how team members' skills and personalities diverge or overlap. The University of Michigan's Center for Positive Organizations is a source I've used in the past to find tools that are easily customized for use by groups.
  5. Ask to supervise an intern. Does your department host a summer intern or even a dedicated volunteer? Make a case for yourself to be appointed their supervisor. Treat them like a full-time, permanent employee by not just assigning duties, but creating an onboarding plan and designating check in points throughout their engagement with the organization to measure their professional growth and happiness in the role. (Gallup's Q12 employee engagement index is a great set of questions that you can use to guide these conversations.) Show your boss that you're not only a good delegator, but also a talented motivator and caring mentor.

Go forth and manage, my friends!

Kelsey Nelson | LinkedIn


Kelsey Nelson recently moved back to Chicago from Ann Arbor, where she was Assistant Director of Annual Giving at the University of Michigan. She joined the Girls on the Run-Chicago Associate Board and is looking forward to re-entering the city's nonprofit community as both a professional and a volunteer.