​Getting promoted from manager to director level is a competitive space and we often hear senior candidates express a lack of visibility or understanding on what differentiates themselves from other managers at their current level. Here we share our insights on key points to consider to achieve a promotion to that next stage in your career. 

Knowledge and skills

Education and training

With training becoming more accessible and flexible for senior managers to fit around their schedules, it is even more important to ensure you have the relevant qualifications. Today’s workplace has placed a higher priority on continued learning opportunities, so be sure to take advantage of it.

Not only do people managers overwhelmingly prioritise learning and development for employee growth, but most businesses are keen to see employees take advantage of ongoing training.

  • 96% believe a culture of learning is important to the business

  • 76% have a training and development budget

  • 73% offer support for employees studying part time

The right course for you

Depending on your chosen career path, there will be a number of study paths you can take to support you. MBAs are desirable for aspiring MDs and CEOs, while Chartered CIPD status is a must for HR Directors. Each business function will have their own course or qualification, so make sure you research those most relevant to you.

Your organisation may also have its own preferences for qualifications they'd like you to have, particularly for aspiring financial directors, so ensure you find out what these are. Not only will further study increase your knowledge, it will also show your commitment and investment to reaching that promotion to a senior position.

That being said, education is only part of the picture. A survey of 231 of the top CEOs from around the world showed a a variety of different education levels. While it appears some form of Bachelor’s degree is a must, obtaining an MBA isn’t necessarily a silver bullet to success. So whether it be an MBA, extra certification or other secondary degree, be sure to align your professional goals, e.g. becoming a finance director, with your education path.

On a certain level, technical skills will only get you so far. A 2018 LinkedIn survey found that over half of executives find “soft skills” more valuable than hard technical skills. Displays of strong leadership, ease of collaboration and confident communication can all be an invaluable asset to your skillset.

Soft skills

57% of executives feel that soft skills are more important than hard skills. Of those soft skills, the following come out as the top three priorities:

For talent developers:

  • Leadership: 74%

  • Communication: 66%

  • Collaboration: 50%

For executives:

  • Leadership: 65%

  • Communication: 64%

  • Collaboration: 55%

Strategise and network

The overriding skill required for senior managers is the ability to develop and deliver strategies, which may require a different mindset from your current role and the level of responsibility and ownership that you may have experienced so far in your career. It requires a strong ability to lead and inspire others, be confident in solving problems and decision-making, alongside creating clear implementation plans to drive results.

According to leadership development consultancy Zenger/Folkman, the top 10 ten desired skills for senior management positions are:

  • Inspire and motivate others: 38%

  • Display high integrity and honesty: 37%

  • Solve problems and analyse issues: 37%

  • Drive results: 36%

  • Communicate powerfully and prolifically: 35%

  • Collaborate and promote teamwork: 33%

  • Build relationships: 30%

  • Display technical or professional expertise: 27%

  • Display a strategic perspective: 24%

  • Develop others: 21%

Proactive approach

Champion new projects

Whatever your current role or department, there will always be a new project or development requiring someone to take ownership. Directors or MDs may be too busy, so take the opportunity to volunteer for it and prove your leadership qualities. Try to:

  • Take the time to get a full understanding of what is involved. Asking questions is a strength not a weakness, but self-discovery goes a long way to guiding the right questions. 

  • Prepare a thorough and well-presented written strategy document. Try to use a house-style for this if your organisation has one, and discuss this with your manager and/or project sponsor. 

  • Once signed off, put your team together. Deliver your project efficiently, effectively and on time, demonstrating your capabilities.

Reach out 

You may not know everything there is to know about a project, so make time to network with anyone in your organisation who may be able to help, or who may be affected by the end outcome. Value their responses and come back to them again at the end of the project to complete the circle of communication. You will then be seen as someone who can manage the project and internal expectations.

The LinkedIn '2018 Workplace Learning Report' ranks the following skills as the ones executives believe they must develop:

  • Communication: 66%

  • Display high integrity and honesty: 56%

  • Solve problems and analyse issues: 50%

  • Drive results: 49%

  • Communicate powerfully and prolifically: 34%

  • Collaborate and promote teamwork: 24%

97% of employers would put mindset ahead of skill set when recruiting

James Reed

'Put Your Mindset to Work' by James Reed and Dr Paul G. Stoltz

Seek guidance

Don't try to do it alone

Even the most motivated of individuals become consumed in their day to day roles and responsibilities, and forget to progress activities that support the bigger picture. By enlisting someone as a sounding board you then involve someone else who is able to hold you accountable for sticking to the steps you need to take to achieve that promotion. A little external pressure goes a long way to keeping you on track, with valuable opinions and checkpoints along the way.

Use a coach or mentor

In your networks, find somebody who would be prepared to give you this outside, unbiased perspective on your career development, and be there for advice and guidance when required. A good mentor would be someone who is more senior than you in their career, who has perhaps taken a similar path but who isn't someone directly involved with your day to day work.

Mentors can be anyone from an ex-manager or former colleague through to your parents or former teachers. The 'Paymentsense Mentor Survey' found that good mentoring helped with:

  • Improving confidence (39%)

  • Manage stress (23%)

  • Achieving a promotion (20%)

  • A job application (20%)

  • Coming up with a creative idea (18%)

Speak with senior management

Depending on the structure of your organisation, seek out the people who are most likely to be able to assist you in your career development within your current organisation – that could be your current manager or director, or even CEO. Schedule some time in, be upfront about what you want to discuss, and ask what opportunities there may be coming up in the next six to twelve months. If possible, identify a future challenge or opportunity before the meeting to form the basis for discussion. At the end of the meeting agree on an action plan or timeframe for next steps, and make sure you follow up on this. 

For further information or qualified advice on what employers look for specific to your role or industry, speak with one of our specialist recruiters. You can find someone in your field of expertise and local area here.