Stranded in Middle Management? 4 Tips

Last Updated Jan 26, 2011 4:45 PM EST

What's the difference between the women who occupy 51.4% of all management and professional positions and the women who occupy 14.4% of executive officer spots at Fortune 500 companies?

And how can you adopt the winning ways of the women at the top so you can join them?

The Management Research Group has pinpointed several characteristics of women executives, based on its database of evaluations completed by peers, bosses and the executives themselves. The average age of the managers in the analyzed group was 45, and they had at least five years of management experience.

Executive women:

  • take more risks
  • think strategically
  • draw in the opinions of others
Their bosses -- 81% of them male-- perceive their executive-women direct reports as:
  • nice, as opposed to male direct reports, who are described as 'hard-charging'
  • actively collaborative with peers
  • accommodate the perspectives and needs of others in their decisionmaking
So if you are a woman stranded in middle management, take these four steps.

Don't just plow through your to-do list. Tie your work to bigger growth initiatives. Go beyond the scope of the task in front of you and incorporate additional information, functions, or context that demonstrates that this task either helps your employer accomplish one of its primary goals, or positions it to pursue an emerging market or goal.

And, duh, don't keep quiet about it.

Present your completed work in the strategic context. Here's an example from my business, which is designing and managing research projects that tell industries where women are in the leadership pipeline, why, and how to advance more women. I recently tried out a new research associate who faithfully plowed through the assignment outline and ground out a chunk of research. No more, no less.

That contractor won't be getting any more work from us, and will be perplexed as to why. That's because the standard for our contractors is set by Kristen, our longest-term associate. When I hand off a piece of work to Kristen, I know she's going to get the job done, accompanied by commentary about how certain trends might apply to other clients. She's usually right, and I routinely use Kristen's insights in client meetings.S he proves that she's about the success of the project, her team and our clients -- not just about clearing her desk.

Create an internal network of peers for brainstorming and reality checks. Their opinions about how you will filter up through their bosses to yours. You want your boss hearing about your influence from unexpected angles, because that becomes an endorsement of your growing influence at your workplace. (By the way, the MRG research found that subordinates don't give women bosses more credit than male bosses for being collaborative, so don't think that your staff gives you extra props for that.)

Cast your decisions in terms of your collaborative process. You gain authority when your bosses and peers realize that your recommendations are informed by input from others. As you rise in the organization, you will have to make decisions with ever-smaller groups of ever-more-powerful people. Paradoxically, the way to break from the midlevel pack is to make the pack your platform.

Image courtesy of Morguefile contributor mconners.