An office manager is the heart of any company. And these days, a great office manager has more opportunities for advancement than ever before.
“It used to be just about maintaining the physical space—making sure employees have desks and chairs, for example,” says Maria Dunn, Head of People at office management platform Managed by Q. “Now, office managers are taking more responsibility for the employee experience as a whole and thinking about ways to make the office more productive and engaged.”
If you’re currently working as an office manager (or thinking about taking a job as one!), consider your position the foundation of a long-lasting career—one that offers plenty of growth opportunities, whether it’s adding additional responsibilities to a current role, growing and leading a team of your own, or moving from a small company to a larger organization. Here are some tips to help set you up for success.
1. Figure Out Your Passion
An office manager is sort of a jack-of-all-trades, offering a helpful hand in many parts of the business, from human resources to finance to IT. If you find yourself drawn to one particular area, make a point to learn everything you can about it.
“My office manager is interested in facilities management and is constantly looking at what’s going on within the building—like if anything needs fixing or if construction needs to be done,” Dunn says. “Someone like her would also benefit from connecting with an experienced facilities manager. Having a mentor you can go to with questions is really important.”
Adding responsibilities that fall under human resources is another common path, especially in a start-up environment in which office managers often play a larger role in the “people and culture” aspects of an office. “If you realize that you really like helping people, HR is a natural fit,” Dunn says. Others, she adds, may discover they’re more inclined to grow their skill set in payroll or billing, which is more tactical and not as employee-facing.
2. Leverage Your Insider Knowledge
Office managers are typically at the center of it all, and have a good grasp of company culture, IT issues, and employee satisfaction. It also means they are privy to lots of information—and gossip—from many different teams. A smart office manager can use this position for good, Dunn points out.
If, for example, you hear a rumor going around based on misinterpreted information or that certain employees are unhappy about something going on at the office, Dunn suggests talking to them and asking for feedback. “From there, the office manager can take it to their manager or other leadership, who can then clear the air with correct information,” she says.
Dunn also recommends establishing relationships with decision makers even before you have something to bring to their attention. “Assuming the leadership team is approachable, I would take it upon yourself to set up a meeting or go to office hours to say that you care about the company and ask if there is a way to make suggestions or submit ideas,” she says. “It shows you’re passionate about making the office the best place to work.”
If management does not have an open-door policy, consider talking to their executive assistant, who may have some insight on how best to get your foot in the door.
3. Say Yes to Everything
As someone who has contact with many different higher-ups, an office manager may often be asked to work on side projects in addition to their everyday duties. When this happens, Dunn advises, “Say yes to everything. Additional projects, which can be completed during down time, are a great way to learn or get exposed to a different part of the business.”
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Speak Up
But you don’t need to wait for the extra work to come to you. In fact, being vocal and asking to get involved in additional projects is a surefire way to attract the attention of those in leadership roles and earn their trust.
It’s a strategy that worked well for Gabby Goldstein when she was the Theatre Operations Receptionist/Assistant for New York’s The Shubert Organization. “When I was fielding calls for some of the VPs, I would always say, ‘Please let me know if I can help with anything else,’” she says. “Anytime you’re interacting with someone who might be able to assist you, make it clear you’re ambitious and looking to grow.”
In addition, Dunn stresses the importance of asking questions in order to get to know the business. “It seems obvious, but it’s surprising how many people in administrative roles don’t truly understand the business—how it works, who are the clients, how they make money,” she says. “Ask to go to meetings or set up time with leadership to ask them questions. Put yourself out there.”
5. Recognize—and Hone—Transferable Skills
Office manager positions require both hard and soft skills that can make you exceptionally qualified for whatever comes next. For Goldstein, answering phone calls from dissatisfied customers as a receptionist is a task that serves her well today in her current role of Theatre Operations Coordinator. “I would take the complaints, pass them along to my superior, and then get back in touch to deliver the solution to the issue,” she says. “I still deal with customer service a lot, only now I’m making the decisions about how to handle the problems.”
One skill that Dunn suggests focusing on is the ability to say no to low-priority asks. “As an office manager, there are so many requests that come in and it can be overwhelming,” she says. “It’s important to not only say no, but also to learn how to explain why you’re saying it and manage the expectations of employees.” This skill will come in handy the more responsibilities you take on.
It’s also crucial to be open-minded and understand that good ideas can come from anyone. “I once had an office manager who would only execute her own ideas,” Dunn recalls. “Especially when you’re organizing events or outings, it’s important to recognize that people like different things.”
6. Never Stop Learning
Whether it’s applying for a fellowship in your particular industry, becoming a member of a professional organization, or taking a class in a topic of interest, there’s no wrong way to approach professional development. Some companies even provide opportunities in-house. Take Managed by Q, which promotes continuous learning through a number of initiatives like on-site trainings, a speaker series, and learning days that allow employees to miss work to read a book or attend a seminar. “Any type of learning in the function you’re interested in is key,” Dunn says.