How to Adapt Leadership Development Strategies Across Managerial Levels


Mar 20, 2024


When organisations select a leader, they are making a multiyear investment in development. As leaders prepare to move to higher managerial levels, they need to develop skills to equip them for success in their changing role. The skills of leadership aren’t technical skills such as Scrum, SEO, or SQL. Rather, they are socioemotional skills such as setting vision, building relationships, driving change, and making decisions. These skills evolve with leadership advancement. Experienced talent professionals recognise the importance of leadership development strategies at every managerial level.

Leadership development does not equate solely to executive development. At Hogan, we don’t define leadership by job title but as the ability to build and maintain a high-performing team. Thus, people at every managerial level—from entry-level supervisor to C-suite executive—can benefit from leadership development. As the demands of leadership shift across managerial levels, development objectives should change too.

Sometimes leaders need to develop new skills. Sometimes they need to reduce their use of certain skills. At other times, they need to apply existing skills in new ways. Consider integrity, for example. While integrity is a core skill at all managerial levels, how a leader demonstrates integrity when managing a three-person team looks different from when they are leading an entire business function.

How a leader’s actions appear to others matters. Fostering the development of socioemotional skills in leaders is a long-term process that focuses on reputation. Reputation is related to behaviour. With sustained behavioural change, reputation change can occur—a meaningful outcome of leadership development.

Keep reading to learn how similarities and distinctions in the leadership skills required across managerial levels should inform leadership development strategies.

What Are the Managerial Levels?

Broadly, managers are employees with authority over organisational resources. They perform a variety of these tasks: organising, planning, prioritising, assigning, and directing work across the organisation. Managers at any level succeed or fail based on the accomplishments of the people they lead. If they build and maintain high-performing teams, they’re leaders by Hogan’s definition.

Hogan identifies three managerial levels: (1) entry-level supervisors, (2) middle managers, and (3) executives. Entry-level supervisors manage teams and employees and report to middle managers. Middle managers manage other managers, teams, and employees and report to executives. Executives manage business units and report to stakeholder teams.

The objective differences among the three managerial levels are the positions they manage and the positions to whom they report. However, the functional differences among managerial levels can be considerable. The impact of a leader’s actions increases in breadth and scope as they gain organisational responsibility. For instance, a digital marketing manager, a marketing director, and a chief marketing officer all differ in more than just their job descriptions. The socioemotional skills they need to be successful in their day-to-day tasks of leadership differ too.

Distinctions Between Entry-Level Supervisors, Middle Managers, and Executives

To explore the similarities and distinctions in necessary competencies across managerial levels, Hogan conducted a job analysis. Hundreds of subject-matter experts rated key skills for entry-level supervisors, middle managers, and executives. Then, Hogan data scientists used the results to average, rank, and compare how important each skill is for each job level. The results show that some skills are shared among all managerial levels, some skills overlap, and some are unique.

Shared Skills

Managerial levels share many job skills. Integrity, accountability, decision-making, and teamwork are all examples of shared competencies ranked highly by our subject-matter experts.

When skills are shared across job levels, they tend to differ in scope. Take teamwork, for example. Teamwork for entry-level supervisors involves actively participating in day-to-day tasks. Teamwork for an executive is more remote, requiring the executive to rely on the team’s expertise to accomplish tasks.

The scope of decision-making changes in a similar way. Quinn, as an entry-level supervisor, will likely make frequent, rapid decisions to help individual contributors accomplish tasks. Their decision-making will involve tactics for executing strategy set by others. When Quinn becomes a middle manager, they will make decisions with more strategic impact, given their increased accountability. Reaching the executive level, Quinn will likely make wide-impact, high-stakes decisions about organizational strategy, which will be executed by others. Overall, decision-making evolves gradually from how to implement executives’ vision to how to inspire others.

Overlapping Skills

Data suggest that middle management is a transitional managerial level. The required skills middle managers share with entry-level supervisors are focused on outcomes. The competencies they share with executives are focused on relationships.

Both entry-level supervisors and middle managers need to work hard and overcome obstacles. These speak to the importance of accomplishing tasks. Those who manage frontline employees or individual contributors, whether singly or in groups, likely require more skills related to the job function. For instance, a manager of a team of bank tellers probably relies on their knowledge of customer service to overcome obstacles more often than the regional banking director.

Both middle managers and executives need skills related to widening their network and sphere of influence. Building relationships, building teams, and inspiring others all concern how a leader behaves with other people. Getting along with others at work matters deeply at every managerial level, of course. At higher organisational ranks, however, cooperation becomes even more integral to performance success.

Unique Skills

Subject-matter experts ranked some skills as key only at certain managerial levels. Generally, competencies progress from operational to strategic across managerial levels.

Entry-level supervisors need the skills of dependability, problem-solving, stress management, and time efficiency. Collectively, these skills focus on accomplishing immediate tasks and fulfilling short-term responsibilities. At the executive level, leaders need the skills of driving change and listening to others. These skills emphasize long-term organisational success rather than individual or team success.

Of course, the unique competencies for a given leadership role will also vary based on the organisation and its industry.

Leadership Development Strategies Across Managerial Levels

Oftentimes, leadership development strategies are focused mainly or exclusively on executives. Implementing leadership development at an earlier managerial level helps leaders navigate the widening scope of relationships and influence along the path from supervisor to executive. Identifying high potentials for leadership development opportunities at initial positions of management could lower recruitment costs, improve retention, and increase leader effectiveness. Early leadership development allows leaders to build, refine, transform, or expand essential skills in preparation for advancement. Encouraging leadership growth within the organisation means facilitating seamless transitions from one level to the next, fostering a culture of continuous learning, and investing in leadership development for long-term success.

Understanding how leadership competencies evolve from one managerial level to the next can help organisations to optimise their leadership development strategies. Nevertheless, it’s important to note that the same approach won’t work for every leader at a given level. Tenure, education, experience, and even exposure to bias are all factors that can shape a leader’s unique development needs. Even for two leaders at the same managerial level, a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work.

This is why data-driven personality assessment is key to executing these goals successfully. Leadership development strategies backed by valid, reliable personality assessment produce measurable outcomes. At every level, Hogan’s assessments provide leaders with awareness of their strengths and limitations as others are likely to perceive them. With 72 quadrillion possible score combinations, Hogan’s assessments enable talent professionals to individualise the leadership development experience for every leader’s unique needs.  Personality assessment can also be instrumental to helping leaders build and maintain high-performing teams by facilitating talent acquisition, as well as both team and individual development. Ultimately, personality predicts performance, and understanding how enables organisations to excel.

Your leadership development strategies can – and should – have measurable outcomes.

Expert Contributors

Deidre Hall, MA, MS, is a talent analytics consultant on the data science team at Hogan Assessments. She conducts research studies to validate customised assessment-based solutions using Hogan tools to help client organisations improve their selection and development processes.

Cody Warren, MA, is a senior consultant on the direct team at Hogan Assessments. He collaborates with clients to address their unique assessment needs and to implement selection, development, and research initiatives.

*This post originally appeared on Hogan Assessments


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