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3 Ways to Become a Strategic Manager

A true leader focuses on long-term goals and anticipates problems before they arise. If you're a specialist and have been promoted to a leadership position, you'll need to reframe your thinking from tactical to strategic to truly succeed.

By Rebecca Hawk

When you've earned a promotion, there's ample cause to celebrate: You've exceeded expectations for your previous role and are being entrusted with more responsibility and authority. But chances are, you haven't necessarily been trained on how to shift from a specialist dealing with daily tasks to a manager who's balancing many priorities and goals—and asking your team to do the same.

Pegotty Cooper, certified career coach and former association CEO, sums it up like this: "The big leap in being promoted to a leadership role is to go from being down in the weeds with a focus on what you are doing to taking on the bigger picture view, the why—the strategic view."

Studies confirm the significance of a strategic approach: In 2013, the Management Research Group [PDF] found that a strategic approach to leadership was 10 times more important, on average, to the perception of a leader's effectiveness than the other behaviors studied. A strategic approach was found to be twice as important as communication, and almost 50 times more important than hands-on tactical behaviors.

Whether you're a new manager or aspire to be one, read on for how to shift from tactical thinking to strategy.

Get to Know Your Organization's Structure

If you've worked in the association sector for a while, you've probably worked in a role in which you wore many different hats and in which your duties crossed multiple departments. This understanding of functions external to your department can prove extremely beneficial as a manager.

One of the best things you can do for yourself and your organization is to ask, "How can I help you do your job?"

—Pegotty Cooper

"At the managerial level, you're expected to think about the consequences of your decisions on other departments," says Cooper. She recommends that new managers undertake an informal new-role orientation, attending other departments' team meetings or arranging meetings with department heads to gain a better understanding of their work and their pain points.

"One of the best things you can do for yourself and your organization is to ask, 'How can I help you do your job?'" says Cooper.

Learn to Oversee—Instead of Overmanage

Especially if this is your first managerial role, you might initially find it difficult to move from focusing on tasks to strategy.

"If you want to create a frustrated team, keep doing your old job," Cooper says. "If you want to create an effective, empowered team, learn to embrace overseeing rather than micromanaging its work."

Part of being a great manager is allowing your staff to make occasional mistakes—and to learn the causes and consequences. If you continue to focus on details rather than the big picture, you risk creating a team that's dependent on you and isn't prepared for challenges along the way.

Start the Conversation

Association work is full of daily crises, from website mishaps to miscommunication with members to looming budget deadlines.

As you move from tactical to strategic work, you also move from a reactive to a proactive position. (Chances are, though, you have already been practicing proactive behavior to make yourself promotable in the first place.)

Cooper notes, "Many of my clients who have made the shift from specialist to manager have been overwhelmed by the amount of big-picture thinking they suddenly have to do. Plus, they need to predict potential issues before they come up. That's a skill takes a while to master."

Creating and executing on long-term goals requires foresight—and a deep understanding of the functions of, and relationships between, different departments. If you have a mentor within your organization or even outside it, start cultivating this skill by asking them about how they troubleshoot when creating new initiatives or working on existing problems.

Shifting from a tactical to a strategic mindset is far from simple, but it's a skill that you can improve on every day and that strengthens your organization.

Rebecca Hawk is the marketing specialist for Association CareerHQ at ASAE Business Services, Inc. Email: [email protected]

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