Making the Transition from Doing to Managing When You Have a Disability

From Doing to Managing

Always be preparing for your next job.

I find that simple tip can be particularly important for those of us with a disability for two reasons:

First, we need to carefully prime ourselves to be qualified and “visible” to our superiors as candidates for promotion from “doing work” and to “managing others.”

Being prepared for that transition is vital, if we are to be seriously considered for promotions (even though we may be considered to be “different” due to our disabilities). Taking personal responsibility for being ready to take the next step in our advancement can give us a jump on other candidates for an open position.

Second, it’s important for us to gain experience as both a “doer” and a “manager” so we can successfully transition to successful self-employment later on in our careers when competition for the top jobs in any field or work situation usually become increasingly fewer and more competitive.

At that point, self-employment becomes a more viable option for anyone’s continued career growth. That alternative can be particularly attractive for employees with a disability. But, in any case, a self-employed person who seeks “contract work” needs to be both a “doer” and “manager.”

Of course, prepping ourselves for your next job or stage in your career is not easy. It’s not the “natural” thing to do. We’re usually so absorbed in learning how to effectively carry out our present job that we don’t think about our next career move.   

In my own case, I made the transition from newsletter writer/editor (doer) to vice president for corporate communication (executive) in several steps over a span of 20 years.

And, in a way, I prepared myself for such a career path without much forethought about potential job titles or functions. Instead, I continually completed workshops and courses in business, management, leadership, and communications so I could understand and communicate what employees on the production floor as well as supervisors, managers and senior executives were telling me. It was simply what I needed to learn to do my job well.

But, in the process of cultivating my business savvy as a corporate communicator, I was also training myself to be a senior executive. Then, when the time came for my last big promotion (from director to vice president) due to a major acquisition, I was ready.

If you’re currently seeking your first entry-level job or if you’re a “doer” in your present job, now is the time to start preparing yourself for the challenges you’ll face down the road when you may eventually go from “peer” to “person in charge” within a work situation.

Here’s why the time to gear up for that leadership position is now: The preparation for that transition takes time and practice.

In fact, beyond breaking into competitive employment as a person with a disability, that change from doing to managing people and functions may be one of your most difficult career transitions, according to Kevin Eikenberry (, co-author of  “From Bud to Boss: Secrets to a Successful Transition to Remarkable Leadership” (Jossey-Bass, 2011).

Eikenberry makes that assertion because, to successfully make that transition within an organization where you’ve worked for any length of time, he says you need to:

  • Acquire new work competencies (skills).
  • Be able to lead friends and co-workers (relationships).
  • Focus on others instead of just your own career (perspective).

Let me explain each of these transitions.


In his “Bud to Boss” book, Eikenberry outlines 13 competencies which are marks of an effective leader. Those competencies include:

  • Communicating effectively.
  • Championing change.
  • Enhancing collaboration.
  • Building teamwork.
  • Developing capabilities in others.
  • Committing to goal achievement.
  • Focusing on customers.
  • Solving problems.
  • Managing relationships.
  • Making an impact.
  • Leading processes.
  • Cultivating innovation.
  • Establishing a community of learning.

In my own development as an “executive” instead of “doer,” I found the “people” side of managing offered the most challenge (and satisfaction). It involves helping people to work together, to resolve their differences and to build a personal interest in corporate goals.

With very little help from my employer at that time, I developed my skills, over nearly two decades, in effective leadership, strategic planning, human resource management, and organizational development. I took night classes, enrolled in one-day workshops, read business books, networked with leaders and attended national conferences.

I learned that listening was the key to effective leadership.


Listening is also a key to maintaining and building relationships when you suddenly become a leader of a team and have a new boss.

You’ll likely encounter some resistance from others when you’re promoted. You may suddenly now be supervising your friends -- people who have been your co-workers for years. Others may have trained you and were considered a candidate for your new job but didn’t get it.

Still others may have trouble accepting a supervisor with a disability when they, as non-disabled individuals, consider themselves more capable than you are.

In such a situation, Eikenberry recommends that you go on a “listening tour.” Have private conversations with your new boss, your old boss, your friends, your new team, and your old team to gain trust and understanding.

Show both confidence and humility, develop your own voice, lay out your vision but ask for ideas about how to make that vision come true, he advises.

“Have a conversation with your friends about what’s different in terms of new boundaries and talk about why they weren’t selected for your new job and how you can help them get promoted,” Eikenberry suggests. “You can still be friends.”


In looking back at my gradual transition from doing to managing, I noticed a shift in my thinking about the world of work. Instead of dreading change, I became its champion. I began to approach work problems like a manager. I became more aware of how what I did and said influenced others and set the tone for my work team and the organization.

Most of all, I struggled with letting go of “doing” the things I could do best (because I had done them for years) and, instead, managing my team to accomplish corporate goals and helping the members of that team grow in their jobs.

Copyright © 2015 Hasse Communication Counseling, LLC. All rights reserved.


Author Bio:

Jim Hasse (, Global Career Development Facilitator, has compiled and edited the recommendations of HR experts and the personal observations of both jobseekers and hiring managers into Perfectly Able: How to Attract and Hire Talented People with Disabilities (, a comprehensive disability recruitment guidebook for hiring managers published by AMACOM (September 2010), the publishing arm of the American Management Association. He’s the founder of, a comprehensive career coaching guide for parents of youngsters with cerebral palsy, and owner of Hasse Communication Counseling, LLC, which develops win-win direct mail fundraisers for champions of disability employment.