5 Essential Skills of an Outstanding Interim Manager

What does it take to be a tip-top career interim? Here are 5 essential skills every interim manager should have, regardless of sector or function.
1. Initiative

Interims often find themselves in situations where only they have the skills, knowledge and capacity to work out what to do next. Senior management know their desired outcomes, but not necessarily how to achieve them. Hence, a proactive approach is vital.

Good interim managers invest substantial energy in getting to know their client’s business inside-out, even if the timescale is tight. From there, they will draw on their own expertise to put together a plan of action. This part is likely to be largely autonomous, and require a significant amount of thought-leadership and confidence in implementing the plan.

Interim managers shouldn’t have to wait for direction. Just as an electrician comes in to fix a broken fuse, interims use their own initiative to deliver a specific assignment.

2. Communication

While initiative is key, total bullishness is not. In order for an interim to be successful on assignment, they must respect senior management and other internal contacts, and be respected in return. This includes clearly communicating the initial plan as well as further actions, and being open to feedback, insights and ideas.

A degree of charisma is helpful for some interim assignments, but transparency is more important. Clients enlist interim managers to help them realise their goals (that are often business-critical) so communication between the two parties should be open and honest. Interims who say the right things but don’t deliver will quickly lose the trust of the client.

3. Ability to adapt

Every business has its own unique company culture. This involves everything from structure and management style to modes of dress and talking. Seasoned interims can move from one company to the next with ease, regardless of cultural difference.

Permanent staff are often hired – or not – based on their “cultural fit”. Interim managers do not need to be chosen on the same basis, but they do need to be effective in whatever setting they are dropped into. This means being able to adapt to a range of different environments, styles and personalities, and working with them to achieve the best outcome.

4. Ability to challenge

Interim managers are objective in a way that permanent staff cannot be. No matter how well an interim adjusts to the company culture, they aren’t ingrained in it. Instead, they bring a fresh perspective that can bring about change for the better.

Business transformation requires certain processes and behaviours to change, and it often takes an outsider to spot issues with the current system. Good interim managers aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo and point out where improvements could be made. They are also adept at driving and implementing change.

5. Focus

Interim managers are hired in most cases to complete a given task, or set of tasks, and nothing else. They do not normally have line-management responsibilities or a need to get involved with internal politics, but are there to deliver a service.

Therefore, focus is crucial. Interim managers should be involved with the business enough to make a positive impact, but stay away from distractions. Successful delivery of the assignment is the primary aim.

A clear sense of focus is especially important when fast turnaround is needed. Interims don’t work 9 to 5 like permanent staff, and should be dedicated to meeting the client’s requirements within the agreed timescale.