Steve Madewell

Pedestrian Ramblings


So You Want To Be the Boss? 

Observations and thoughts on the transition from front line interpretation to administration.

Moving into a supervisory role is generally regarded as essential part of career advancement. The the transition however, from front line interpretation to an administrative or supervisory position often requires significant changes in attitude and self motivation. These shifts are necessary to accommodate changes in responsibilities. Taking the time to recognize that this is an essential process can enhance a successful transition, avoid unnecessary stress or a bad career decision.  

I started working for a small park system as an environmental educator and within a matter of months began supervising staff. Ultimately I became an upper level administrator and served as the executive director of several regional park districts before retiring in 2016. Through the course of my career I had several personal experiences with this regard and watched many colleagues go through this transitional process as well.

On many occasions the organization or individuals involved realized this was not a good move. Some people successfully negotiated returning to a prior position but in some instances they left the agency or even left the field.

Understand your motivation.

Before considering a supervisory position an individual should understand not only their motivation, but also what personal rewards are essential for success.

For many people in this field there are many important motivators beyond a pay raise.

A successful interpreter/educator knows how incredibly rewarding it I can be to see a look of understanding come across a program participants face or the light heartedness that  comes at the conclusion of a successful presentation. 

This gratification may not come as often for an administrator or supervisor who are often spending inordinate amounts of time resolving problems. A successful supervisor must look for other rewards to fuel their sense of accomplishment or success. Often times success for mid and upper level managers is evaluated in numbers and not nearly as much about personal interactions.

It is important for a new supervisor to expand and embrace additional methods of measuring personal success and perhaps finding new methods of rewarding success. 

It’s lonely at the top.

There is some truth that that old saying. This is especially true when an internal promotion results in the supervision of peers.  Suddenly the new supervisor is no longer a true peer and as such there maybe a host of issues to work through. This may include resentment or jealousy, favoritism, recognizing or failing to recognize new responsibilities, accountability and authority. Old relationship maybe strained or may create undue stress.

Consequently it is helpful to identify new parallel management peers either within the agency and with similar positions in other organizations. It is also very important to look for new mentors who can share insight and motivation especially in challenging times. 

Generally speaking, I have found that there are many people involved with conservation, education and interpretation who are much more cause driven than ego driven. It is ok to want personal success but in the long run many of us are promoting ideas and values for issues and beliefs that much greater than any individual agenda.      

Before becoming consumed with “climbing the ladder” and pursuing a supervisory position, ask yourself if you are good at what you do, are you happy with what you are doing and finally if you are committed so deeply to what you are doing to leave the present behind in order to promote this cause from a position that may take you away from doing what you love.