Q: I have just become a supervising attorney in our legal department. While my staff management experience is limited, I’ve led project teams and supervised paralegals. However, I’ve had limited experience in other aspects of managing, such as staffing, professional development or performance reviews. How can I establish credibility with the team and get off to a good start?
A: There’s no question that supervising others presents unique challenges. Becoming a supervisor will likely mean a shift in relationships with colleagues, especially those who are now direct reports. It’s important to approach the role with sensitivity. Here are some suggestions to make the transition easy for everyone:
- Meet immediately with your staff. You’ll be more successful if you adopt an inclusive management style. One of the first items on your agenda should be to meet with staff as a group to discuss the new arrangement. Be sure to allow time for them to ask questions and voice concerns.
- Clearly define roles. Have one-on-one conversations with direct reports to make sure employees’ understanding of their responsibilities are in synch with your own, especially if duties must be reallocated as a result of your promotion. This is also a good time to share your expectations and how these may differ from your new staff’s current responsibilities.
- Delegate effectively. The goal is to match the right tasks with the right people based on the strategic needs of your firm or department and the unique talents of each staff member. You’ll also need to gauge the right level of oversight – too much can be as counterproductive as too little. A good strategy is to be available to clarify priorities or address problems that arise, rather than trying to be involved with every minor detail.
- Seek advice from trusted role models. Remember that even the most senior leaders at one time had little or no experience as managers. Your colleagues will likely be willing to share what they have learned and give you advice and guidance as you transition into your new position.
Charles A. Volkert is executive director of Robert Half Legal, a leading staffing service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. Based in Menlo Park, Calif., Robert Half Legal has offices in major cities throughout the United States and Canada.