Who put you in charge?

Stepping into a managerial role in an animal hospital can be challenging—especially when it means supervising former peers.

By Jenn Galvin

Congratulations! You’re moving to a leadership role!

The dynamics of shifting from co-worker to manager are complex, particularly in a close-knit environment like ours, where your former lunch buddies are now looking to you for leadership. Here are some insights and strategies to help you navigate this transition smoothly, ensuring your and your teams’ success. 

Understand the challenges 

The first challenge many new managers face is the relationship shift. Yesterday, you were listening to a co-worker talking about their awkward date night, and now you’re handing out new responsibilities. Your relationship with a peer is often equal and informal, but as a manager, you work to balance friendliness with authority. This change can cause your team to be hesitant to chat freely and worry that their casual banter could become a “casual” performance review.  

Establish credibility 

Former co-workers might question your qualifications or decision-making, especially if your promotion was sudden or unexpected. It’s crucial to show them you’ve got more going for you than just a shiny new title. You’ll need to demonstrate competence and fairness in your new role to gain their trust and respect. 

Enforce policies 

Moving from colleague to boss can be as challenging as convincing a cat to take a pill. It’s no longer just about being part of the team; it’s about leading it. You might find yourself having to call out the same person you once teamed up with for after-work karaoke. Making unpopular decisions or addressing underperformance are uncomfortable tasks necessary for the team’s success. 

Establish clear communication  

Be clear about how you intend to manage. Kick things off with a meeting. Make it clear, constructive, and shorter than a Chihuahua’s attention span. Encourage openness, allowing your team to express their feelings about the transition. This helps to clear the air and demonstrates that while your role has changed, you value their input and perspective. 

Set boundaries 

While friendships in the workplace are valuable, as a manager, you’ll need to redefine these relationships. It feels good to be the boss everyone likes, but you’ll need to draw a line somewhere. It’s important to be friendly but professional. Setting these boundaries early on helps manage personal and professional interactions, preventing potential conflicts. 

Be fair and consistent 

Apply rules like you’re giving out dog treats—evenly and without favoritism. Fairness is critical in managing former peers. Being impartial not only helps maintain professional respect but also ensures that all team members feel valued and treated equally. Ensure everyone knows the rules apply to all, whether they’ve been at the clinic for 10 years or 10 minutes.  

Foster professional development 

Show your team that your goal is to help them grow. Invest in their professional development through training and learning opportunities. This not only enhances their skills but also helps in building mutual respect and loyalty. 

Lead by example 

Remember, your team will be watching you—not in a creepy way, but they’ll take notice of how you handle the pressure and responsibilities of management. Display the qualities you want to see in them: work ethic, integrity, and passion for pets and client care. Setting a high standard motivates your team to strive for excellence. 

Seek feedback 

Just as you provide feedback to your team, encourage them to do the same. You can accomplish this through regular one-on-one meetings or anonymous surveys. Feedback is crucial as it helps you improve your management style and address issues before they escalate. 

Manage conflict wisely 

Conflicts will inevitably arise, especially during the early days of your transition. Be fair, listen to all sides, and use these moments as opportunities to strengthen team dynamics by resolving them constructively. 

Transitioning from co-worker to manager isn’t just about changing your job title—it’s changing how you interact, lead, and support your team. It’s a journey fraught with challenges, but you can navigate this transition successfully with the right mix of humor, honesty, and strategic planning.  

Remember, the goal is to lead a competent, motivated, and committed team to provide the best possible care to animals. Embrace this new challenge with openness and determination, and you will grow as a manager and lead your team to new heights of success. 


Cover photo credit:  lemono via Getty Images Plus 

 Disclaimer: The views expressed, and topics discussed, in any NEWStat column or article are intended to inform, educate, or entertain, and do not represent an official position by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) or its Board of Directors. 



Subscribe to NEWStat