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A challenging labour market and rise in job-hopping have had one largely positive consequence: more promotions to managerial positions.

Talent is increasingly coming from within organisations, with employees being given an achievable route up the ladder in order to keep them onboard. This requires good training and the right set of skills, but it also introduces a few challenges.

One of these is the prospect of managing your mates. People who may still be direct colleagues and friends are nevertheless lower on the power gradient, and may be impacted by the decisions you make. Navigating this requires a professional approach, and an understanding of where the line is between your responsibilities and your relationships.

Becoming a manager

An employee’s route into management will start with an assessment of their skill set and performance over a number of months or years. Communication and demeanour are both important facets of good management, and these should become evident after an extended period within a business. The person not only needs to be competent and committed, but also have the kind of positive energy and attitude that can be transmitted to colleagues.

Once a management candidate has been identified, we always recommend starting with Introduction to First Line Management training. First Line Management is the first step from being a proficient and capable employee, to bringing those qualities out in other employees. The training outlines the authority and responsibilities that come with a management position, but also the best means of communicating with employees, and motivating them to succeed.

Perhaps the most difficult part of the adaptation process, however, is having to manage your friends. New managers have often gotten into that position because they are gregarious, well-liked, and good at their job. All of this means they may have many good friends within the workplace. The fear some people have is that these relationships will be imperilled, and potentially broken down by a lack of trust, and the need to make difficult decisions.

Carrying yourself with confidence

Part of the shift to a managerial role is a change in attitude, and the way you carry yourself. Yet while there’s a general perception of managers that they should project authority, this can often lead new managers to change their personalities in a bid to fit this stereotype. The fear of having to discipline friends or correct behaviours can lead to new managers becoming more brusque and stand-offish, as they look to establish a ‘safe distance’ from colleagues.

Part of the reason this transition can be so problematic is that it often happens before training. There is an assumption that the leadership skills evidenced by an employee before they become a manager are qualifications in themselves, and that the finer points of the job can be learned on the job. Having been an employee conducting the same tasks means you should be capable at overseeing them, and making sure they are completed to a high standard.

Yet there is not only plenty of theory that can be learned from training, but also behaviours that may need to be unlearned. Without guidance and advice, this sudden pressure to change the way you communicate with people – coupled with a general increase in responsibilities – can lead to overcorrection, or draw your focus away from the important parts of the job. The result is a manager who cannot fully capitalise on their potential, and may be unhappy in their role.

Reworking your relationships

Sometimes, promoted managers and their colleagues have trouble finding the right line. The result is a tentative relationship, where either party may occasionally overstep their bounds, or hold back more than they need to. This uncertainty isn’t terminal, but it can develop into mistrust or a reluctance to share problems, and lead to breakdowns in communication. It’s important for all parties to understand the manager’s responsibilities from an early stage, but also the boundaries for these existing relationships.

What new managers have to negotiate is the need to dial back the more casual aspects of these relationships. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t space for casual conversations, but that more conversations and interactions are likely to be within a business context. Good relationships will be conducive to getting the best out of employees, but there needs to be a realisation from both sides that the burden of responsibility in those relationships has shifted. A shortfall in one person’s work now falls on you as much as it does on them.

This may start with an open conversation about your new role, and continue with one-on-one conversations. The great advantage that you’ll bring to management is an intrinsic understanding of how your colleagues work, and what the challenges of the work are. Your relationships can be reapplied and recontextualised to solve problems – working with your colleagues to solve problems and fix outstanding issues.

Easing your way in

It is possible to ride the line between friend and boss, but doing so is a careful balancing act. What’s important is not to sacrifice those personal relationships in a bid to establish distance. A good manager should be personal and genuine, giving colleagues the confidence to approach them with any feedback or issues. This kind of emotional honesty also helps to impart a good attitude onto a team, emphasising the importance and value of the work they are doing.

Getting your colleagues comfortable with your new position will give you time to settle, but it’ll also lay the groundwork for future changes. If you want to do anything that colleagues might find challenging, uncomfortable, or simply a change of routine, this is something you need to build towards. Even if the power gradient between you and your colleagues is minor, any perceived abuse of this power could turn people against you very quickly.

As much as you may want to change things, you also need to demonstrate the capacity to change. This starts with a reflection on and appreciation of your career to date, and the ways in which you feel you can improve. Self-improvement is as important to management as the work you do with your colleagues, and both will benefit from open dialogue, trust, and mutual understanding.


In the excitement of a promotion, it can be easy to forget the practical aspects of a management position, and managing your mates can be a challenging one. While it can be awkward to start with, it’s entirely possible to maintain good relationships with your colleagues while also establishing your authority, and working towards changes in the workplace. Introduction to First Line Management training is an ideal first step, helping you to find and ride the line between personal and professional.

Develop the leadership potential in your team

Leadership & management is about more than just decision-making. The best business leaders arm themselves with the information they need to make good decisions. Whether you are looking to gain a better understanding of your training and development gaps, build training plans across multiple teams, or need bespoke training solutions for a particular challenge, we can help identify your options and the solutions available.

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Mark Fryer

20th May 2024

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