How to Handle Pressure at Work as a Middle Manager
As a manager, you’re under pressure. Pressure to produce results, meet deadlines, and do more with less, just to name a few.
But the pressure on performing and being productive is most acute when you’re in the middle of the organization. This is because pressure comes at you from all sides.
While there’s no magic wand to make it all go away, understanding where your pressure is coming from is key to dealing with it in the most effective way.
To help you handle the stresses of your role while also taking care of yourself, here are the three main sources of pressure you’ll face:
- Pressure from above
- Pressure from below
- Pressure from across
So let’s talk about these three main pressures you’ll face at work and how to handle them.
The three main pressures you’ll face at work
1. Pressure from above is unavoidable
From entry level to C-suite, hardly anyone in an organization is immune to the pressures of senior stakeholders who sit “above” in the organization chart. Even CEOs report to their board of directors.
Senior stakeholders can put more projects on your plate, set unrealistic deadlines and ask you to do more with less resources. This is especially a problem for those of us who have a strong work ethic and find it hard to say “no.”
And if you’re one of the dependable team members who can take on challenges and produce results despite seemingly insurmountable odds, more of these pressures are dumped on you because you’re so great at handling them.
But even the best producers reach a point where the pressure is counterproductive. The thing is, senior stakeholders can’t know unless you tell them.
That’s why a key strategy for handling pressure from senior stakeholders is to communicate.
Like my client Olivia (not her real name) who got promoted to lead the department but still had her old responsibilities. No amount of pleading got her the okay to hire a support resource. Until her managers asked about a project in a meeting and Olivia said, “I’ve stopped doing that because you’ve asked me to do X, Y and Z and make them priorities.”
Hearing the consequences of the “no new hires” policy finally got senior management to understand that Olivia and her team were at the breaking point. They gave Olivia the go ahead to hire a team member.
What do you need to communicate to your senior stakeholders and how can you do it in a way that lands with them?
This brings us to the second source of pressure.
2. Leading a team means facing pressure from below
Whether or not they report to you, team members are key to helping you get things done. But they can also put pressure on you, whether that’s for more resources, a pay raise, more feedback or help with solving problems.
Or maybe they want an explanation for why top management turned down your request when you don’t know the answer either. When they’re asking for things outside your control, that makes the situation even more stressful.
But part of your job as leader and manager is to do your best to provide an environment where your team can do their best work.
When your juniors have concerns or ask for things they need, the most important thing you can do is listen.
If they’re not telling you what’s on their minds, ask first and then listen. And make sure to listen in a way they feel seen and heard.
Once you hear people out, you can enlist their creativity to come up with options and solutions. Like the manager I had who encouraged me to “put together the case for hiring and let’s take it up the line together.”
People want to feel that they have agency and to know that something is being done about their concerns.
So, listen to your team members, think about what’s in your control, and take action to relieve the pressure you feel.
Which leads to the third source of pressure.
3. Pressure from across can make delivering results difficult
You also get pressure from people across the organization at similar levels to you.
Like the colleague from another department who’s slow to respond to your requests. Since you don’t have authority over them and your boss doesn’t want to make waves by escalating the issue, you and your team have to work overtime to meet the overall deadline.
Or external stakeholders like customers who complain on social media about your services or powerful suppliers who negotiate for every advantage.
In my case, it was the pressure of being caught in the middle between clients demanding better pricing and our product managers who refused to budge, with the expectation that I would find a solution.
The key to handling pressure when it’s coming from across the organization is to establish boundaries – both for yourself and for others.
For colleagues, it could be agreeing the terms for working together at the start of a project, like deadlines, response times and how you’re going to resolve issues.
For external stakeholders, it could be developing a mutual understanding of what success looks like for each party and where the non-negotiables lie.
Often, the toughest boundaries to set are with yourself. Like identifying when it’s time to stop working, checking your emails, or worrying about things outside your control.
What kind of boundaries do you need to set?
Identify the source of pressure so you can handle it well
Handling the stresses and pressures of being a leader and manager are important if you want to have longevity in your career and a sense of well-being in your life.
When you feel pressure from all sides, take a step back and remember that it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. A good starting point for dealing with each source of pressure is this:
- For pressure from above – start by communicating
- For pressure from below – it’s important to listen
- For pressure from across – it’s about setting boundaries
Which source of pressure is affecting you most?
Leave a comment and let me know.
How to Communicate Effectively at Work
Effective communication is a crucial skill because your career is filled with important conversations, and how you handle them can make or break your chances of success.
You must be able to have difficult conversations, especially with more senior managers, to build trust and respect, convey your achievements, be seen as a leader, get paid what you’re worth, and more.
In this Career Mastery training, Carla Harris shares her advice and word-for-word scripts for difficult career conversations so you can articulate your expectations, advocate for yourself, and be the captain of your own career.
- How to communicate your achievements in informal conversations
- When to start having promotion conversations
- How to negotiate your salary and when to start the conversation
- What to say to fix a negative reputation with a key stakeholder
- How to talk about what you’re good at without sounding like you’re bragging
- How to say “no” to your boss without damaging your career
- How to get real, constructive and actionable feedback
- The three most common communication mistakes you must avoid
- And much more