How to Become an Analytics Manager: A Guide

It’s a good time to be in analytics. Data analysts and scientists together comprise the No. 1 emerging occupation, poised to grow dramatically over the next four years, according to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2018. Not surprisingly, the report also lists “analytical thinking and innovation” as the skill set that will grow most in prominence over the same time frame.

But even within this booming field, moving from a front-line role into a managerial track can really pay off. According to Glassdoor, Analytics Managers earn about $135,000 per year on average. That's over $30k more than a Senior Data Analyst The perks include not only an increased salary, but also a chance to guide the direction of projects within a company. So how do you become an analytics manager?

The following is based on a conversation with Joshua Poore, Recruitment Manager for digital analytics and marketing at Harnham in San Francisco.  His knowledge was as broad as anyone's on the topic, but don't take my word for it, just check out his LinkedIn URL:

In this article, we’ll explore the path into management and how to gain the critical skills and experience to becoming an analytics manager.

Create Your Own "Management Experience"

When it comes to hiring for an analytics manager role, most companies seek candidates with managerial experience already, rather than taking a chance on a senior analyst who hasn’t yet led a team of his or her own.

That’s because applicants with established management skills can hit the ground running, using their own crucial leadership insights and drawing upon past experiences guiding teams. But if you’re an analyst looking to move up into management for the first time, you might be scratching your head at what seems like a chicken-and-egg scenario. So how can you break through into your first management job?

One strategy is to flex your management muscles before you have the job title. Create experiences within your current role that show you’re ready for more complex projects and increasing levels of responsibility. For example, you might try proactively pitching a deep analysis that you know will result in a quantifiable ROI. Convince a senior-level stakeholder that it’s important enough and you might even find yourself with budget and a team or partners to accomplish your goal. 

Of course, you’ll have to follow through and prove the worth of your project. But, once you’ve demonstrated you can problem-solve and deliver real results that save the business money, the company is more likely to invest in training you up toward a management opportunity.

Seek Out Growth Opportunities

When you’ve shown that you have the vision and the motivation to lead others toward achieving a meaningful outcome, you may find it easier to move up internally within your organization rather than jumping to an analytics manager role in a new company. From the company’s perspective, promoting analytics managers internally can make a lot of sense. After all, bringing in an outside hire to become a first-time manager over the company’s existing senior analysts might ruffle feathers.

Creating your own upward trajectory is easiest within an organization that is truly data-driven—meaning, it has a deep commitment to its employees in data roles and has the infrastructure and support system in place to train them into analytics managers and future executives.

How can you tell if a company is truly data-driven? Here’s a rough guideline: the company’s data workforce makes up at least 10 percent of the overall headcount. A company with a data-focused culture is also more likely to put senior stakeholders—that is, C-level or VP-level executives, depending on the size of the company—on interview panels for new data employees. (So take note of who you’re meeting with during the interview process, as it may be telling.)

Cultivate Your Management and Leadership Skills

Managing a team takes a lot more than being a whiz at the programs and tools your direct reports will be using. It takes real leadership, meaning you’ll need to acquire some complementary skills:

First, get comfortable with networking, both within and outside of your organization. Take advantages of opportunities early in your career to make a good impression among key stakeholders and senior executives. Building good relationships with these people demonstrates that they can trust and rely on you, which can enhance your reputation and in turn pave the way toward management. This doesn’t have to wait until you’re running a team. (Remember that winning project you pitched to prove your worth? That’s a prime opportunity for face time with influential decision-makers.) Don’t be afraid to make connections when possible in the role you already have.

Second, hone your soft skills. As you rise within an organization, you’ll be tasked with less hands-on execution and more big-picture planning, so you’ll need to know how to set strategy, build consensus, network, negotiate, and persuade. You’ll be judged more on how effectively you can present information in meetings or convince other parts of the business of the importance of sharing data, and less on how well you can personally build a dashboard. Acquiring these “soft skills” are essential for distinguishing yourself as a potential manager.

Third, practice communicating with key stakeholders. When projects go sideways or initiatives just don’t drive results, analytics managers are often the ones delivering the bad news (and bad numbers). Learn how to deliver a difficult message in a way that is respectful and can set the stage for learning and problem-solving in the wake of a setback. 

Finally, learn how to manage beyond your own skill set. As you move up the food chain and into roles at the director and vice-president level, you’ll likely need to learn how to manage not only analysts but also engineers and data scientists. Having a broad enough knowledge base so that you know how to manage direct reports doing highly technical work—even if you can’t do that work yourself—becomes important at this stage. Diversifying your skill set to include a statistical background can also pay dividends, as high-level leadership roles continue to shift into a hybrid model. Those who are familiar with both web analytics and data science are poised to benefit.

Further Resources

As you prepare for your first role in management, boost your leadership development by learning from the people who have been there before:

Listen: Data Journeys is a podcast for aspiring data scientists. Host AJ Goldstein interviews world-class data scientists about their learning journeys to equip up-and-comers with strategies, tactics, and tools.

Join in: Get going on your networking by finding and attending analytics meetups in your area.

Learn: Hit the books through a MOOC (massive open online course) and learn virtually with peers from around the world. Coursera offerings include a course on project management from the University of Virginia and a course on the fundamentals of management from the University of California, Irvine.

Read: Build your “must-read” list with these 15 books that every new manager must read, according to Inc. magazine.

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