Effective communication and influence skills
Being able to win over stakeholders clearly and succinctly is absolutely necessary. Without this skill, you will find it very difficult to challenge attitudes and behaviours and your utility as an interim will be limited. You will also need to be able to handle difficult individuals with resilience, whilst maintaining respect both for them and your own position in the eyes of those around you.
There are two elements of strategic savvy needed. One is being confident and comfortable with the competing dictionaries of strategy speak you will encounter across different organisations – you will need to know your Blue Ocean Thinking from your Emotional Value Proposition. But much more than this, the expectation is that you will know how to join what you are doing to the business strategy. The expectation is that you not only know strategy but that you know how to plan and implement it effectively. This applies equally as well to the public sector as the private sector. In fact, in some government organisations this will have greater emphasis than in commercial entities.
Agility and adaptability
Interim managers face ambiguity at every turn. Part of this is natural because you are in a new organisation and everything may appear different – or at least not make immediate sense. The other part, the important part for your client, is that they don’t know exactly what they are doing or should be doing in the area they have engaged you to tackle. That’s why you were brought in. It means that your assignment and its scope can be subject to ambiguity (You can read more about this in our article: what is an interim manager role?). You are there to work out what should be done, establish what is going on and how to change and harness it in pursuit of the assignment’s goals. The revelations will not come all at once so an ability to be agile to an emerging situation is necessary. You may need to visit sites and locations that you hadn’t originally expected to or seize the opportunity for a meeting with a stakeholder that hadn’t initially seemed important. More than this, no environment remains static. Things will change beyond your control while you are there and you will need to adapt your plans as you go to ensure the correct outcome. Though the benefits can be great – in terms of stimulating work, job satisfaction and remuneration – interim managers need to be comfortable with a level of uncertainty, ambiguity and change.
At the end of the day, interim mangers are judged on their results. Delivering a lasting legacy of benefits from an assignment is the basis for your engagement on a new one. It’s the reason that interim executives and managers can expect higher due diligence than they would have undergone as a regular hire of an organisation. Clients need to be sure that you will deliver for them. This comes with its own risks. Because of your proven track record, you will often be asked for your input into other initiatives and there is a risk of “assignment creep”. To stay on target, you will need to be able to manage expectations and focus on the outcomes that you’ve committed to as part of your assignment, while adding value where you can.
Expertise, experience and competence
Interim managers are hired on the basis that they are overqualified for the role. Clients are looking for a “safe pair of hands” where there is no question in their mind of whether you have skills and understanding to deal with the task at hand. They are not hiring “high potential”, they are bringing onboard the finished article to do the work and then leave before getting bored. They need quick impact and for the outcome never to be in doubt. As stated earlier, this is a baseline requirement for the interim management skills needed. However, understanding of various working cultures, management styles and different sectors and industries will aid you in completing the task.
Assertiveness and confidence
You will need both the confidence to secure the role at interview stage by demonstrating your skills to the client and the confidence once deployed to lead those around you. You will be called upon to challenge ideas and may well have your own thoughts challenged back. This much is normal in any senior job but a calm assertiveness is expected of the interim manager. And this needs to be combined with empathy and emotional intelligence so that it is not interpreted as arrogance. Equally, you will need to know how to back off, how to pick your fights and decide which you can afford to win or lose in the interests of the assignment’s objectives.
First-class leadership and management
As you might expect, interim management is in many ways about being a good manager and leader. You will need to be able to assess and make decisions quickly, explain them well, be open to feedback and able to motivate teams towards the goal. Most of all, you will need to be able to lead by example, be the change you are looking to make in the organisation. If colleagues are not confident in the leadership and skill of the interim, whether they be high or lowly, it will significantly dampen the chances of success.
Ability to project a fresh perspective
Part of the reason you will have been engaged is to provide a fresh outside perspective. Your job is not to fit in or become embroiled in internal politics but to act as a critical friend to the business. It is a tough tight rope to walk between biting your tongue too often or pushing too far and becoming a heretic. Nonetheless, this is what the interim assignment will need. The guiding principle is always to put the client’s needs first and to continually reassess whether your approach to interaction is helping or hindering.
Change management & process re-engineering
It is not enough to be an expert in area and to have seen how things could be better, you also have to have skills in how to do it. Most interim managers are good change managers, either by instruction or experience. Ideally both. Many also have the detailed orientated eye for re-engineering processes – the opportunities, the pitfalls and the critical “get rights”.