Transitioning To Leadership: How Senior And Middle Managers Spend Their Time

If you are a middle manager it is easy to fall into the trap of believing that as you move into senior management you will be doing a very similar role.

In their excellent book The Time Trap, Alec MacKenzie and Pat Nickerson share some interesting data about the stark difference between how senior and middle managers spend their time. While both are involved in some common areas, the analysis is enlightening.

So what exactly did they highlight in different areas?


When people are in a senior manager role, they are spending somewhere in the region of 30-40% of their time on planning. Middle managers are typically only spending 5-10% of their time on planning. So if you are the type of manager who likes to be doing a lot of things, perhaps senior management is not for you.


Senior managers it is claimed spend 20-30% of their time on this compared to the 10-20% spent by middle managers. I have to say that this surprised me a little as when you are on the detail of managing it can feel like you are spending a huge amount of time organising.

Measuring, Controlling And Performing Routines

It is in these areas we see the biggest differences. Middle managers can spend up to 85% of their time on this compared to a maximum of about 30% for senior managers.

What all of this means is that if you are looking to climb the career ladder you need to start get experience and exposure to operating with this very different focus. One way of doing this might be to take a short term secondment or perhaps cover the senior role when a post is vacant.

Don’t fall into the trap of believing that being a senior manager is just more of the same with greater responsibility. As the analysis shows there are some vital differences in focus.

Duncan Brodie of Goals and Achievements Ltd helps professional people become great leaders. Sign up for his free 6 part audio e-course.

About the Author Duncan Brodie

Since 2006 I’ve worked with in excess of 8,000 accountants and professionals in workshops, seminars and one to one helping them land their next jobs and become better leaders, presenters and business partners. Before that I spent 25 years in accountancy climbing the career ladder from Payments Clerk to FD. I’m a CIMA Fellow, Certified Professional Coach and Team Coach Facilitator.

Leave a Comment:

mohamed bhimj says 27 November 2011

Duncan – an excellent post. When friends or family ask what I do and I try to break it down, they think its crazy that I spend so much time in planning and measuring. However I find that if you don’t, something (or someone) takes you for a wild ride. In fact, our team is on a wild ride right now. Luckily planning has paid off and while we’ll be in a crunch, we are prepared.

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