Stopping Accidental Managers


Accidental managers are a contributing factor in the UK’s low productivity. An ‘accidental manager’ is someone who has done well in their role and is rewarded with being promoted to a management position without any guidance. It is where people have been ‘thrown in at the deep end’ and are left to sink or swim. Managing people well requires a specific set of competencies.

Why leave it to chance?

Managers have a major impact on performance, motivation, engagement, well-being and the overall profitability of the business. Good management is crucial to driving growth and productivity. A change of mindset is needed to make management a professional role. The quality of that role requires being given a higher priority. Ignoring this is a ticking time bomb for future growth and succession. The natural ambition, drive and motivation of potential managers can be damaged. Can you afford to leave it to chance?

What are accidental managers costing your business?

We should not lose sight of the fact that there are some excellent British businesses, large and small. There are also some exemplary leaders. However, there is another side to this. As well as the uncertainty of Brexit, the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) identifies the 2020 challenges British industry faces as:

  1. Productivity is 21% lower than that of the rest of the G7. The measures of management are similarly lower than those of many rivals.
  2. The cost of time wasted by poor management could be as much as £19bn a year.
  3. Government data shows that the UK labour market will need 200,000 new managers annually.
  4. Of the leaders surveyed by CMI, 71% confessed they don’t train or could do better at training first-time managers. This means about 150,000 employees a year could be taking on management roles without adequate preparation.
  5. Almost 60% of businesses in decline do not train their staff or do so poorly.

Whilst we can look at the national picture, you need to be thinking what it could be costing your business. This is not just now, but in the challenging times ahead.

Rise of the accidental manager

A person may be good at their job. This is not the same as being good at managing. They can be promoted into management without training or support. In this situation, they have to learn the hard way or rely on copying their role models. This can work if their leaders are good, but it can lead to the perpetuation of bad habits.

Alternatively, a person can have an over-inflated perception of their capabilities and feel they don’t require training. Like Icarus, they think they can ‘wing it’. The danger is they may get burnt (along with those around them) and fall to earth with a bump.

Even where training is given, the learning may not be applied; if there is no encouragement and accountability back in the workplace. It is too easy to go back to previous behaviours.

Some managers will have the where-with-all and motivation to secure their own personal development, but this can be extra hard work on top of the day job.

Impact of the accidental manager

We have already covered some of the global impact of poor management, but it can also lead to:

  • Loss of confidence and self-esteem for the manager.
  • Feeling over-whelmed or a sense of drowning.
  • Increased conflict and stress for all concerned.
  • Risk aversion and unwillingness to change.
  • Lower morale, engagement and motivation to perform by the team.
  • Higher staff attrition rates.
  • Ineffective processes leading to lower productivity.

Some employees are like sharks. They can ‘smell the blood’ of an untrained manager and will ‘close in for the kill’. They can make a manager’s life extremely difficult.

Actions to stop accidental managers

We can hope that the education system will build employability into their curriculum. A good example of this is Budmouth Centre for Excellence in Industrial Liaision, Weymouth. As an employer, can you find the time to get involved with your local school or university? You could encourage them to focus on more and earlier leadership and employability learning.

I was an adviser for two years with Young Enterprise in Rugby. It showed me the great potential that young people have to be entrepreneurial and leaders. The Prince’s Trust is another good organisation for building the right attitudes. It would be good to see more businesses involved in these.

Perhaps the Government will focus and fund the development of the necessary leadership skills in British businesses to take us out of the Brexit crisis. Who knows?

In the meantime, you can make a difference to your managers. You can throw them a lifeline by the following actions.

  • Have a positive pro-active approach to the manager role. Recognise it’s importance to your business.
  • Let your managers know clearly your expectations of them and give regular feedback.
  • You can ensure the right learning journey to meet your managers’ needs, if you have a skills matrix and a structured development programme.
  • Encourage your managers to train and support them to implement their learning. Coach and champion them in their work.
  • Be an exceptional role model in the behaviours you desire and in personal development.
  • Review and reward behaviours, not just performance.

Achieving the Best in Leadership

We run a number of open courses for managers, which aim to give them the skills they need. We would be happy to talk about these, bespoke programmes, leadership and judgement profiling or helping you develop a structured development process.

Stopping accidental managers is in your hands. It requires you to recognise, challenge, train and support them.  Please contact us for more details.

Also published on Medium.

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