Seeing the Bigger Picture: How to Move Ahead as a Middle Manager or SME

Stoke Consulting - Management Consultants

So, you’re doing quite well at work, but have been thinking lately:

  • How can I make a bigger contribution? Or;
  • I’m doing OK as a manager but would like to move into a more senior role. Or;
  • I’ve got a detailed knowledge of my field but am feeling a bit boxed in and want to move into a wider role. 

That’s where seeing the bigger picture can help. 

Typically, Subject Matter Experts “SME’s” and “Line Managers” know a lot about their particular area or speciality. That’s why they are in that role. Some people are quite content to remain in that role. Others might want to add more value in their work or put it in the mind of their manager that they could be capable of more.

Of course, there are a host of ways to do this.  This is not a good way: “I’ll just stay back and work even harder”. It is something of a cliché, but the trick is to work smarter, not harder.

Here are some ways that could help. They are largely based around thinking more like your manager thinks, not what is on your desk in front of you.

  1. The Big Picture

Line Managers and SME’s know lots of detail; lots of detail. That’s their job. That is what they have spent quite some time developing. However, typically, your manager doesn’t want to know all this detail. (By the way, trying to impress them with your deep technical knowledge will rarely help. They take that for granted.)

Your manager, and your organisation, is going down a wider highway. They are thinking about things like:

  • How is this getting to our goal?
  • Are we progressing?
  • What general direction are we heading in?
  • What am I going to report to the Executive Management Team?

So, if you can frame some meeting responses, or emails, or reports, in more general terms it will help no end.

Telling a short story along the lines of:

  • The three big elements of this new initiative are…
  • Overall, we are going well. The main hold up is … but we think we can fix it by doing …. (solutions, not problems).
  • If we can do “a, b, c” by the end of this quarter, we should be right on target.
  • There’s lots of detail behind this project but the key next steps are…
  • There are two or three key factors here and they are….
  • The Team is working really well. We have got these big-ticket items in hand…

Always, always, always, you are keeping it short and to the point.

  1. What is it you want me to do?

This is an invaluable lesson I learnt from a great MD many years ago. Because he was the MD, he had people constantly in his ear:

  • “The competition is doing blah, blah blah”
  • “Our pricing for the product is not competitive”.
  • “This Dealer is causing us lots of trouble”
  • “The ‘x’ department are getting in our way”
  • “We could do a lot better if we were selling into this territory”.
  • “We are getting these complaints from our customers”.

But what is it you want your senior Manager to actually do?

You want them to:

  • Approve a promotion to tackle the competition?
  • Review and approve this pricing proposal I have put together?
  • Contact the major Dealer and tell them they need to change their behaviour?
  • Come with me and have a chat to the Department head who is causing the trouble?
  • Review and approve this proposal I made for us to move into this new territory.
  • A common theme of the customer complaint is … . We could fix this by doing…. I need your support to implement this.

So, you are coming to your Senior Manager with a specific action you want them to take.

  1. Imagine you are them.

Overall, try to elevate yourself from your tight little world and imagine you are your manager, or Team leader.

  • What would they be thinking?
  • How could I help fix the problem?
  • What’s worrying them? What can I do about it?
  • What do they need to know?
  • What do they need to tell their management?
  • What questions are they going to get asked? What are the answers they need?

In summary, if you can align yourself to your management’s thinking and to your organisation’s broader goals, you are going to become a real asset. You can be in the wonderful position where management will start turning to you and asking what you think. You may even get a compliment on how you presented your ideas!

If you are a senior manager and know of people in your organisation who could do with some help with the above, contact Stoke Consulting to find out how we can help via


Rod Wallace
Stoke Consulting

Rod is a Consultant with Stoke Consulting and has been with the organisation for more than nine years.  Before that, he has more than 30 years in a variety of Executive Management roles companies ranging from global multinationals to mid-sized Australian organisations.