The key competencies found in great interim managers

The key competencies found in great interim managers

Interims can be required for a range of reasons: from expansion, start-up/scale-up or product development, to delivering improvements, recovery, and restructuring. They can also be brought in to cover gaps in the existing structure, infill during planned leave or to back-fill while a permanent search is undertaken. Interims could also be required to deliver a specific project or programme.

Our deep understanding of the interim market tells us the following key competencies are necessary for success.

Adaptability and Ambiguity

Interims can face ambiguity from the very start of the recruitment process – with undisclosed client names, minimal information on deliverables and interviews being requested at short notice. All of this can be challenging and requiring interims to act without a complete picture. 

Assignments are often time critical and come with the expectation that candidates hit the ground running and assimilate at speed. Therefore, interims must cope well under pressure and be unfazed by uncertainty or ambiguity.

Uncertainty can continue into the assignment as interim managers may begin work without a full job description or clarity as to what has or has not previously worked on a project. They may also need to work with the hiring manager to identify the issues and how to tackle these. Adaptability, the ability to cope with ambiguity and to remain calm in uncertain situations is unquestionably a vital trait.

Business acumen

Whether in public or private sector roles, an appreciation of how strategies and decision-making impact business performance is a must. Interims must apply their expertise and business knowledge whilst deciphering inter-relationships and imperatives within an organisation.

Capability, competency, and experience

The considerable amount of knowledge and prior experience interims bring to their roles creates a quick impact and leaves a positive and lasting legacy. Knowledge of various working styles, different sectors/industries and other organisational cultures helps with assessing, monitoring, identifying, and implementing changes and deliverables.

Composure, communication, and negotiation

Interims need to display both sensitivity and gravitas so they can quickly integrate into the organisation and engage and motivate existing employees. They also need to be self-aware and recognise in some roles, existing employees may initially be wary of them.

Strong, clear and concise communication as well as exceptional listening skills are essential in any assignment – this can influence how we are received by others. Suggesting changes or identifying failings can be challenging and interims may need to articulate balanced descriptions of the state of play, using objective language to clearly identify next steps, without displaying frustration or anger at any possible resistance.

Negotiation techniques enable better conflict resolution, improve decision making and help gain buy-in from those initially resistant to change.

Confidence, and Managerial Courage

Interims require the confidence to secure the role at interview stage by demonstrating their skills and expertise to the client. Once on board, it may be necessary to challenge ideas confidently and calmly. While confidence is sought after, arrogance is not. It is just as important to know when to back off from pushing ideas or promoting alternative solutions.

Decision making and leadership

Assessing situations, quick thinking and making decisions under pressure are all key qualities. Good interims frequently help with defining problems and implementing solutions – requiring the ability to lead and instil confidence in others. If employees are not confident in the leadership and skill of the interim, it reduces the likelihood of them following and investing in their ideas. Interims should look for creative solutions to problems, listen to employees and deploy innovative strategies, whilst also remaining delivery focused.

Fresh mindset and innovative management

Interims often display a different mindset to projects than their permanent colleagues. They do not necessarily have to get involved in organisational ‘politics’ or ‘baggage’, instead focusing on what is needed to deliver the requirements. That means putting the client’s needs first, while being flexible and task oriented. It is also important to be realistic about what can be delivered and when. Never over promise and under deliver.

Interims also bring with them a wealth of knowledge of what has worked in similar organisations and how this could benefit future clients. They can objectively assess a situation and suggest ways of improving processes and systems based on previous experience, they are also able to challenges process that may have become a habit.

Planning and process management  

Strong planning and process management enable interims to plan the steps needed to deliver results; estimate, assess and redefine timeframes; and evaluate and articulate progress. It is important to simplify complex processes, break actions into manageable steps, remain goal focused and concentrate on the essential requirements of a project. Successful interims not only identify the steps required to achieve the overall goal of an assignment, but they are also effective at communicating this plan to others.

Strategic ability and Strategic skills

Interims are often required to draw on strategic skills quickly to deliver quantifiable results in complex, demanding and fast evolving environments. They must review the organisation, gather ‘intel’ to assess cause and effect relationships, using their knowledge and expertise to identify viable alternative solutions and consider the best approach to deliver the greatest long-lasting benefits.  

For more information, please contact Zoe Spalding.


Barry Ryan at 22/02/2022 14:50 said:

An excellent article Zoe. Very informative and a great insight into the life of an interim!

Terri Lucas at 22/02/2022 16:31 said:

Definitely agree with those points and can add a few more. How about a fresh approach, external perspective and quick contribution?

Margaret C. Beatty at 21/03/2022 14:52 said:

Zoe, I enjoyed this article. I have always valued interim managers for their influential leadership style, capacity to incorporate seminal materials rapidly, assess the culture quickly and add value to the teams/customers. These leadership skill sets are very useful in short term but deep consulting initiatives - public or private sectors.

Tanya Curry at 29/03/2022 15:06 said:

A great article, thank you for sharing. As an experienced interim I feel reading the room, respecting that every organisation has a story & remembering to manage the assignment with respect and sensitivity, all vital in this unique relationship we hold. I love your phrase of having a quick impact and leaving a positive legacy…… it’s what we should do each and every time. It’s a world I truly love! Thank you for sharing. T

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