Transitioning to people management: 3 tips for search marketers

Are you an individual contributor who’ll soon be stepping into – or just recently started – a people management role? Congratulations on such an exciting move!

I’ve been in your shoes and know firsthand the journey you are beginning to embark upon. This will be one of the most significant changes you will experience in your professional career. 

In this article, I’ll share learnings from my personal journey and essential insights on mindset shifts, problem-solving dynamics, and diverse motivation approaches.

From associate to team lead: Key learnings

In May 2016, I began my digital marketing career as a paid media associate, managing diverse campaigns. Over time, I desired a shift to mentoring and teaching, which led to my transition to a paid media team lead role after five years as an individual contributor.

The month before my new role, I immersed myself in people management. I sought insights from colleagues and mentors and read “Be The Boss Everyone Wants To Work For” by William Gentry. I thought I was fully prepared at the end of those 31 days.

Spoiler alert: I was definitely not as prepared for my new role as I had thought. 

On Jan. 3, 2022, I was no longer solely responsible for meeting my clients’ KPIs. As a team lead, I now had two analysts under my management.

Analysts sought my help with issues in campaign performance, client retention and conflict resolution that were beyond the guidance I had received or read about. I felt awkward and even let imposter syndrome creep in at times. 

You might be going through the challenges of moving from a contributor to a manager or feeling fully prepared – just as I did. 

Either way, I’m here to share essential tips from my own journey into people management, offering insights I wish I’d had from the beginning.

1. You have to shift your mindset

You got this people management role because you have proven to someone somewhere that you are good at what you do. 

No broken link got past you as an SEO analyst. 

Or maybe you can optimize a paid search campaign like nobody’s business. 


I hate to break it to you, but that won’t get you far in people management. Why? 

Because it’s not about you anymore. 

Your success is no longer measured by what you yourself can accomplish. Your success is now measured by the success and development of your team. 

It’s great that you can import conversions into Google Ads from Salesforce. 

But what happens when a client asks one of your direct reports about that? Would they say:

“I don’t know how to do that, let me ask my manager.” 


“Yes, I’m familiar with this process, and I can help you implement it.” 

I know which I’d prefer if I were your client. This brings me to my next piece of advice. 

Dig deeper: 5 leadership traps new SEO team managers should avoid

2. You have to learn to let go of the reins

As an individual contributor, you were trained to be a problem-solver. A client comes to you with a problem, and it’s your job to solve it. 

As a people manager, you can no longer be the problem-solver. Yep, you heard that right. 

Resist that urge to immediately problem-solve for your direct reports when they come to you. Instead, guide them toward a solution. 

This may come in the form of:

Helping them develop the necessary skills or tools they need to solve the problem.

Asking the right questions that will lead them to a conclusion on their own. 

It does not help their development if you simply give them the answer. 

As I said before, you got to people management because you probably already know how to solve most problems yourself. 

We know you can do it, but can your team do the same? Find opportunities to put your direct report in the driver’s seat. 

Dig deeper: Marketing leadership: The dangers of ego

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3. You have to accept that people are motivated differently

When I started my career, I was hungry to learn and eager to grow quickly. Chasing promotions and seeking words of affirmation from my superiors kept me motivated.

Stepping into people management opened my eyes to the different ways that others are motivated and the various aspirations they have for their careers. 

When managing people, you should consider the platinum rule instead of the golden rule. By that, I mean instead of treating people how you want to be treated, you should treat people how they want to be treated. 

Your direct report may not be chasing a promotion like you. They may be content in their current role and want to hone their skills to help them become more efficient. 

Unsure what motivates your team? Ask! 

As you step into people management, it’s so important to be in tune with what motivates each of your direct reports. 

Dig deeper: Personal connection is key to your marketing team’s success

At my agency, we provide all employees with the book “The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace” by Gary Chapman and Paul White, which helps people uncover their top languages of appreciation. 

I found out that one of my direct reports does not find words of affirmation motivating at all. Instead, spending quality time with managers and colleagues motivates them the most. 

People are different, and that’s OK. Be mindful of how each person on your team likes to be celebrated, motivated and appreciated.

Crafting your path to effective people management

People management is an ever-evolving skill. It’s something that you craft over time.

Unfortunately, you won’t wake up one day and say to yourself, “I’m perfect at managing people now! Woohoo, skill achieved!” 

I’ve been in people management for just two years now and have grown my team from two analysts to five. I’m still learning every single day and will continue to do so. 

By sharing my journey into people management with you, I hope it has helped motivate you, excite you, or maybe even see things in a new light.

Pat yourself on the back! People management is no easy feat, so congratulations on reaching this point in your career. I wish you the best of luck!

Dig deeper: 12 strategies to scale your SEO team without losing your culture

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