Department of the Interior Bison fenced in angle bracketsOpen data, design, & development at the Office of Natural Resources Revenue

Stepping out of my comfort zone - into management

November 18, 2021

I have survived one year as the Product Manager for the Open Data, Design, and Development (ODDD) team! My transition from a Program Analyst to a Manager role has been an amazing learning experience. It started off with self-doubt and hesitation to transitioning into a confident manager with my team’s support. I will share my story along with advice I would give to a new manager or to someone considering a similar role.

Deciding to step out of my comfort zone

I have been with the Office of Natural Resources Revenue (ONRR) for 11 years. It was my first job after graduating with my Master’s Degree in Minerals and Energy Economics from Colorado School of Mines. I started my career in ONRR with the Economics team. I stayed on that team for 5 years then I joined other teams across the agency to get a deeper understanding of how ONRR functions.

I was hired as a Program Analyst on the ODDD team in 2019, and I served in this role for 3 years until the manager opportunity came about. At that time I wasn’t looking for a promotion and I was hesitant to apply. My hesitation was due to having two younger kids who were 3 and 5 at the time and I doubted whether it was a good time in my life to take on a manager role.

After a lot of thought and discussions with my family, I decided to go for it. I really loved working on this team and I didn’t want to regret my decision later. I applied, interviewed, and got a call with the offer on a Friday. I accepted, but spent the weekend doubting whether I made the right decision. A lot of thoughts ran through my head: Can I really do this? Can I fill the shoes of the previous manager? How do I build trust with my team as a manager?

Building trust and transitioning to management

I have always been taught to put myself in others’ shoes to be able to understand their perspective and viewpoints. When I started the role as a Product Manager, I put myself in my team’s shoes. I thought to myself “it must be awkward to have someone who was your peer suddenly be your new manager.” I knew it must have felt awkward for my team members since it felt awkward for me as well. I had already built trust with my teammates, but as a fellow analyst, not as their manager.

As a Program Analyst, I stayed within my comfort zone. I stuck to my duties and helped when I could with other duties. As a manager, I wanted to earn my team’s respect and I knew I had to force myself out of my comfort zone.

During my first few weeks, I spoke with each team member individually. I asked them what challenges they were facing, what would they like to see happen differently, and how I could be supportive. I gained a lot of perspective from these discussions, and I quickly realized that I had to turn these discussions into actionable goals.

To do so, I started a document with fiscal year goals. I then asked my team to prioritize the goals based on how much value they bring and how complex the goal would be to implement. After setting a priority level for each goal, I assigned goals to each quarter in the fiscal year and planned to evaluate our progress towards these goals during our road mapping meetings (every 6 weeks). I believe that as the team started achieving the goals we set together, it helped me gain the trust of my team.

Although one of the main duties as a manager is to delegate assignments across team members, the team was very short staffed for a long period of time. I had to pick up analyst assignments along with my manager duties. For several months, the User Experience (UX) Designer and I took over tasks normally covered by 2 program analysts and a content strategist.

I will be forever grateful to our UX Designer (Shannon McHarg) for her support during that time. It was quite the struggle since it felt like I was in so many different roles along with managing. However, filling in for these roles helped me better understand all the different duties across the team. I believe this also helped gain my team’s trust.

As their manager, I wanted to be viewed as their equal. I often share work or personal frustrations with my team, I want them to know that I’m doing my best and I make mistakes like anyone else. I also share work or personal successes with my team and encourage them to share their stories to create a culture where we celebrate each other’s successes. Having this open and vulnerable dynamic with my team helps me build trust.

Getting and giving feedback and support

I faced a lot of challenges during my first year as a manager. The team was very short staffed and I had to learn how to pursue upper management to secure the resources I needed. I learned that I have to push boundaries and look for different routes that haven’t been done before. As I settled in my role and with my team’s support, I started to feel confident and capable.

As I wrapped up my first year as supervisor, I sent a survey to my team asking them for honest feedback. To ensure the feedback was candid, I gave them the option to remain anonymous when submitting the survey. The survey asked whether the team felt supported, whether there’s something I should be doing differently and what I’m doing that’s working. I sent that survey to give my team a platform to be heard and receiving their feedback helps me grow as a manager.

Reflecting on my first year as a manager and reviewing answers from the survey, it seems that I have successfully stepped out of my comfort zone. Great managers are those who identify areas for improvement and are aware of their team’s challenges. I aspire to keep improving and to come up with creative solutions to tackle my team’s challenges. Below is advice that I would give to a new manager or anyone considering transitioning to a management role.

My advice to a new manager

  1. Set Goals – set clear goals for your team and plan to achieve them, this is crucial for the team to stay connected and focused.
  2. Build Relationships – communicate often and effectively with your team, this will build trust and result in a high performing team.
  3. Lead by example – if you want a highly efficient, collaborative, communicative team then start by doing all of that yourself!
  4. Bring Change – don’t be afraid to advocate for your team and find creative solutions to propose to upper management.
  5. Feedback – ask your team members for honest feedback and give them timely feedback in return. This creates an open culture and helps everyone’s growth.
  6. Delegate – assign tasks based on the skill sets and strengths of each employee. Also, encourage collaboration and knowledge sharing.
  7. Grow with your team – identify areas for improvement, listen to new ideas and encourage growth opportunities while seeking to constantly grow as a manager.
  8. Celebrate Success – recognize small and big success. Recognizing each other creates a positive and healthy work environment.

Continuing my management journey

I am so glad I didn’t let self-doubt drive my decisions and took on the challenge of becoming a manager. I’m happy that I was able to turn my focus from my life timing and looked at the fact that it was the perfect team and opportunity for growth. As I continue my journey, my goal is to maximize my team’s potential and productivity while creating an environment that nurtures growth.

I plan to continue to grow as well. To better serve my team, I aim to pursue a leadership coaching or mentoring opportunity. I believe this type of partnership will be provide me support and help me thrive in this role. I will continue to encourage feedback, celebrate successes, be supportive and always seek improvement.

Note : Reference in this blog to any specific commercial product, process, or service, is for the information and convenience of the public, and does not constitute endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by the Department of the Interior.

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Maroya Faied: Product Manager at the Office of Natural Resources Revenue.