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Moving from Specialist to Manager

A woman standing in front of a sticky note board.

​Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column. 

As an HR specialist, how can I gain valuable insight and information in other HR areas to further develop my skill set—and eventually become an HR manager—while I maintain my strength in my core specialty area?


A manager's primary responsibility is to get work done through others. If the manager hires someone who can't do the work, that threatens his job stability. Consequently, people get hired for new jobs at new companies based on their credentials and not so much their potential—new managers are looking for a sure bet.

While people will also get promoted within their current company based on their credentials, managers are more willing to factor in existing employees' potential. The employees' past performance, which a manager has witnessed first-hand, can be an indicator of how successful they may be in developing new skills and responsibilities. 

Remember this throughout your career: You are far more likely to be promoted within your current company than you are to get a higher position at a new company. 

Which Skills to Develop

Skill identification and development in pursuit of moving up into management requires a little analysis. First:

  • What are the ranks above you?
  • What were the specializations of managers in these ranks? What titles did they hold as they progressed upward? Almost everyone will be happy to tell you how they climbed the ladder, and just the fact that you asked puts you on their radar.
  • Look at LinkedIn profiles and talk to managers at local SHRM chapter meetings to gain further insight. 

From these conversations, you should be able to pinpoint the next logical job title that takes you towards management.

Now that you know where you are headed and why, understand that getting there is going to require some focused effort, and this is where credentials and potential come back into play.

Collect half a dozen detailed job postings for your target job title and deconstruct them in order to learn how several employers—not just your own—prioritize requirements for the target job. What are skills needed, and what credentials are required or preferred? Then do a GAP analysis to find the skills and experiences you don't have, and bingo! There's your skill development program.

You now set about developing your skills by asking advice, volunteering for assignments that will give you relevant real-world experience and earning requisite credentials.

Find a Mentor

Finding a mentor, someone who will help you learn and grow in return for your willingness to help as needed, can give you an inside track to a promotion.

Your ideal choice comes from among those managers who hold the respect of their superiors and are liked by their direct reports. These people are most likely part of the inner circle of the management ranks and may be in line for higher leadership positions. You can have more than one mentor, whether with your company or perhaps met through SHRM.

Now, assuming the mentor has the hard skills needed for your target job, look for the soft skills your mentor and other inner-circle players use, and you'll notice all the different communication tactics, multitasking abilities, social graces, and listening and analytical skills they use for every interaction and decision. Start incorporating those tactics in your day-to-day work to "become today the person you wish to be tomorrow."

All this of course must be done while delivering superior results with your current responsibilities. That's why getting ahead in life, as Thomas Edison said, is "10 percent motivation and 90 percent perspiration."

Have a question for Martin about advancing or managing your career? From big issues to small, please feel free to e-mail your queries to We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know.  

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