This month’s “Career Pathways in L&D” series has highlighted the many paths that people have taken to arrive at their role as training managers, starting in such diverse areas as social services, information technology, the radio, higher education and music education. These blog posts have highlighted the reality that there are a number of avenues that can lead to a job as a training manager.

From Subject Matter Expert to Training Manager

Deep expertise in a particular topic area, such as how to use specific technologies, can make you invaluable to the training function as it designs programs. Subject matter experts (SMEs) often work directly with instructional designers to turn their knowledge into a course, which can sometimes lead to greater involvement in the training process. The training team may also tap them to facilitate training in the topic area in which they are experts. In this case, they’ll typically participate in a train-the-trainer program before teaching.

If you’re an SME, each of these roles can be a doorway to the training function that enables you to start to build your training chops and make a case for becoming a manager. For this kind of move, it is important that you don’t rely too heavily on your previous subject matter knowledge but, instead, find a way to rapidly acquire knowledge of the principles, best practices and core processes of the training function. In addition, if the training manager job is your first time as a manager, you’ll need to acquire some foundational management competencies, such as business acumen, driving performance through others and management of personnel resources.

From Functional Manager to Training Manager

Similarly, functional managers have deep expertise in what it takes to drive performance in their function. For example, sales managers have a broad view of the sales process and the kinds of skills that lead to success as a sales rep. Often, this expertise makes functional managers great candidates to step into a training leadership role. It also represents an opportunity to learn more about how their company operates, because they will now gain understanding of a core HR/L&D function and likely gain access to different company leaders.

However, as with the move from SME to training manager, if you’re looking to make a move from a functional manager to a training manager, it’s important to make a concerted effort to acquire the knowledge and skills of the training function. Taking a crash course in training management is one avenue for obtaining this knowledge.

From Another Training Role to Training Manager

Perhaps the most obvious avenue to the training manager role is to move into the position by acquiring new responsibilities progressively. You might be an instructional designer, facilitator, administrator or learning technologist. You’ve learned a lot about the way a training function operates, and as a training manager, you’ll have the opportunity to apply that knowledge in a leadership role. For these individuals, it’s important that you don’t neglect your management skills. You’ll need an understanding of how to select and manage resources, including personnel management and decision-making, as well as foundational competencies, like business acumen and driving performance through others.

Your challenge, compared to the two previously mentioned paths, is to gain a deep understanding of the business you support. In order to be a good business partner, you’ll need skills in internal consultation, information management to help you identify needs, and strategic planning to ensure that the work that your team produces is strategically aligned to business needs.

From a Degree to Training Management

Some people with advanced educational degrees land their first post-education position as a training manager. If you’re in that boat, congratulations! You probably have a textbook understanding of adult education principles but may not have had a chance to get your hands dirty in applying those principles.

You also many not know a lot about how a training function operates and/or may not have yet developed various foundational management competencies (depending on how you spent your formative years). That’s OK! Here again, a training management course is a good way to start on the right foot. Don’t neglect the value of social learning. Ask your peers, subordinates and superiors for help. Let them know that you don’t know what you don’t know, so you’d appreciate their help as you get your bearings.

Once you’re a training manager, you may find that you and your peers in different companies serve in the role in different ways. Training managers come in all shapes, sizes and forms.

The Department of One

Many training managers find themselves as the sole employee in their company’s training “department.” In this instance, your personnel management skill set likely takes the form of vendor management, as training providers are often your best bet for filling the gaps in your “team.”

Skills around influencing, negotiating and consultation are key for training departments of one, because they often need to scale back on what their stakeholders request from them and prioritize business needs to account for resource realities. You’ll end up wearing many hats – facilitator, designer, administrator, etc. – but don’t be afraid to ask for resources. Many training managers start as a department of one and end up with more employees on their team.

The Centralized Training Function

Some training managers find themselves in a leadership role in a training department that serves the entire company. In this instance, you may serve a specific functional area (e.g., sales, leadership, onboarding), or your management role may be more generalized in its training focus.

Here, the challenge is staying on top of business needs. When you work in a centralized training organization, it’s easy to lose touch with the day-to-day operational issues of the business or businesses you support. You’ll want to rely more heavily on information gathering techniques like focus groups, informational interviews and regular check-in meetings with stakeholders.

The Decentralized Training Function

Training managers also commonly find themselves working within the business they support. For example, sales training managers might work in the sales department, and technical training managers might work in the IT department. This situation gives you the opportunity to observe day-to-day operations. It also helps both learners and stakeholders see you more as a member of the business than an outsider.

Here, your challenge will be staying aware of what’s happening in the training world. Make sure you keep up with your professional development through industry events, webinars and courses, and build your network of peers to ask questions when challenges arise.

It’s a Great Time to Be a Training Manager

The outlook for training managers is good. The skills you’ll need to develop are variable; consult the Training Manager Competency Model™ to understand your skills gaps. You can also take a competency assessment here. If you aspire to training management but haven’t found your path in, there are a couple of career boosters that may help:

  • Education: Advanced degrees can kick-start your training management career, and many training manager job postings list a master’s as the preferred highest level of education. For example, a master’s degree in education with a focus on adult education can provide you with valuable knowledge about adult learning principles.
  • Certification: Certifications can also validate your skill set and establish you as a valuable professional in your field. Certifications have a few advantages over an advanced degree, including a tendency to be less expensive and requiring a smaller time commitment.

Whatever your path to training management, you are a critical part of a high-performing training organization. Remember to continue your focus on professional development to maintain your skill set and value.

Are you already a training manager? What was your path to the position? Let us know by tweeting us at @AmyCPTM and @TrainingIndustr!

Download the free e-book “Career Pathways in Learning and Development: Perspectives and Strategies for Your Training Career”: