So you think you’re a Senior Manager?


Professional services is one of the best industries to work in as a BD or Marketer. It offers intellectual challenge, high end clients, higher salaries and excellent career paths.

The career trajectory can however be tricky to navigate. We have published previous insights challenging the importance of job titles however we acknowledge that for many of you it does remain an important part of both professional identity and acknowledgement of your career journey. We see this more in the BD space and therefore the focus of this article is on BD careers.

In our experience job title and ranking matters most to professionals until they hit Senior Manager. After this, it’s acknowledged that not everyone wants to or will be Head or Director level and career paths quite often vary, not always staying linear.

However for those early in their careers it often becomes a “race to Senior Manager”.

We often hear things like “but I’m doing the exact same job as them!?” from Senior Execs and Managers which often refers to them managing a portfolio of the same size and shape. However, this is not how CMOs define a Senior Manager. To them it’s a reflection of having much higher influence and impact on that portfolio.

If you’re on the journey and not quite there yet, here are some insights from the market to keep in mind:

  • Not every firm has the same levels of hierarchy in their teams – the Senior Manager level does not exist in all firms.
  • Some CMOs seek to avoid too many layers of hierarchy in smaller to mid-sized teams. There can be cultural/workplace benefits to this.
  • Your next employer cares more about what you’ve done that what you’re labelled. The same usually goes for your Partners!
  • One firm’s definition of a Senior Manager does not always equal another’s. Interestingly, we often hear this feedback after interview “whilst they might be a Senior Manager at X firm, they are operating at a Manager in our team and so we could only bring them in at that level”. This is based on their perception of your influence and impact as compared to their existing Managers and Senior Managers. (This sort of feedback is often a mix of perception and reality.)

To ensure this isn’t completely subjective, many firms now have a transparent matrix to share with their team showing the behaviours and impact of a Senior Manager compared to a Manager (and other levels on the team).

Common themes we hear from CMOs and BDDs about what makes a Senior Manager in their firm are:

  • Generating ideas and spotting opportunities whereby ‘but for you’ that growth initiative would not have happened.
  • Contributing to partner meetings and discussions with opinions and contributions that have a positive impact on the chosen direction.
  • Coaching your stakeholders in a deeper way than just providing advice leading to greater BD and client development success.
  • Being effective and having impact when facing clients (or demonstrating this ability even if there has not been much opportunity to date).
  • Sound judgment and a calm and collected approach to tough situations that almost always come with maturity and experience. Firms will promote on merit, it’s not about time served, but there’s no escaping the fact that all people improve with experience in an area – think of Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours.

Tips if you want to get promoted:

  • Be open in your communication with your direct manager about your career path. It’s great to be ambitious. It will also play well to bring humility and acknowledge where you’re still growing. Pro-activity around learning, growth and self-development will get noticed.
  • Ensure you understand what your firm’s metrics are to promote you to the next level. This is most relevant to larger teams with a number of bandings.
  • Seek out guidance and mentorship on the skills you need to develop to be considered to step up.
  • In some firms, team structures mean that roles have to grow organically as no hierarchy exists to move through. In this case, what projects and additional responsibilities can you take on? Stay connected to the broader market to understand what skills and experience you’ll need in order to be considered for the next level up in another firm.
  • Acknowledge there may not be a space for you to be promoted in your current team when you’re ready. Great leaders will be open with you about this. It’s then a choice between patience and assessing whether it’s time to move.
  • All these discussions are best contextualised with reference to the needs of the business. Asking for a career opportunity that isn’t aligned to business strategy and is only aligned to your personal ambitions will show immaturity.
  • Understand where you sit in the market. A great way to get there is to call us. A regular topic of conversation with candidates is whether they are in the right role to get them where they want to be. If your current Manager role isn’t giving you the right experience to be Senior Manager in your dream firm, you’re better off moving sideways to a more appropriate role that better positions you for that step. For some, if they are promoted at their current firm without deeply gaining the experience required at their dream firm, they may be the person we’re calling with the feedback “you’re not perceived as Senior Manager level by them”.
  • Be sure you understand what you’re asking for. CMOs often say to us that they don’t think Managers or Senior Execs know how much responsibility they’re protected from. The promotion (and reward) comes with a much bigger weight and expectation on your shoulders. Hopefully that excites you. Be sure to demonstrate that you understand this.
  • Run your own race. Careers are no longer linear. Ensure you’re always improving and always learning and give yourself the freedom to make the right choices for you, not in comparison to others.

If you’d like career advice from one of our Directors, don’t hesitate to reach out.

Thanks for visiting our site. We’d love you to stay in touch. If you’re not ready for your next job, follow us on social media or sign up for our jobs & news so you can watch the market. When you’re ready, contact us for a confidential discussion about your next role.