Transitioning from Peer to Boss Successfully

Most people pursue growth and promotion in their work life. This should be rewarding and lead to a feeling of success and accomplishment. But it can be awkward when a promotion means you will now supervise your friends or the same people who used to be your peers.

Your close colleagues or the people you’d become accustomed to hanging out with may resent you. Others may think they now have an “in” with the new boss. Others may not know how to behave. It’s common for both you and the people you work with to feel a sense of concern, maybe even fear, about how your promotion will change your relationship and how you treat each other.

What do you need to know about taking a promotion that places you above the people you used to work side by side with? Here are some suggestions I give to help my clients to transition from peer to boss successfully.

Perception and Communication

Positively transforming your previous peer-to-peer relationships should be one of your first objectives. When making this transition, remember two things: communication and perception. Effective communication is the best way to manage perceptions. You’ll need to change your former peers’ perception of you from coworker to boss and the way to do that is to effectively communicate a new set of expectations about your relationship.

The first expectation to change is with former peers who think your promotion won’t change the relationship you have with them. The relationship must change. Each management level on the organization chart is held to a higher standard than the level below it. The higher you go, the more you represent the organization’s highest policies and objectives. To do that you will need to be more thoughtful (even careful) about what you say and do with your subordinates and colleagues than you did when you were peers.

The most important thing to do is to have a conversation. It’s best to put the issue on the table, address it, and have a conversation about how things have changed. Again, communication helps to manage perceptions.

Another way to indicate the change in your relationship is to dress more like those higher in management. Depending on how perceptive each of your former peers is, this small change can signal things have changed.

A more obvious change is to adapt your words and actions so they are appropriate to your role as the boss. This is especially true when interactions could be interpreted as too friendly or unprofessional. Off-color jokes and comments on appearance carry a different weight when in a boss-to-subordinate relationship compared to a peer-to-peer relationship. And while sexual relationships between peers are often frowned upon, that relationship between a boss and subordinate is a definite no-no. The risk of legal and financial liabilities substantially jump as do the threats to team morale, cohesion, and effectiveness the closer the parties involved are in a direct line of supervision.

Keeper of Confidential Information

One important expectation that must change when you become the boss is in the area of confidentiality. The higher up you go in management, the more likely you are to know information that is not to be shared immediately or at all with other employees. These secrets can range from which employees have letters of reprimand in their files or wage garnishments, all the way to impending company mergers and layoffs.

There may also be secrets you were told as a friend by a fellow peer that the peer would not have shared with you as a boss. For example, that a worker is planning to leave the organization or is having a sexual relationship with another coworker.

Part of changing the expectations around your new relationship is to communicate to former peers that you won’t use secrets you learned as a friend against them, but that you also cannot share with them new information you’ve gained through occupying a higher position. It’s important to carefully consider which information is okay to pass up or down and which information must stop with you to safeguard trust with those higher and lower than you.

You will likely need to tell some of your former peers that as their boss you may need to document some conversations you have with them. Use this to remind former peers that the relationship you had with them has changed and that they need to be careful of what they say to you and around you. As their manager, you have additional responsibilities to ensure work interactions are professional and above reproach.

Changes in Trust

Another relationship aspect that will change is trust. Now that you have the ability to reward and review your former peers, you need to show them you base your decisions on how effective they are at fulfilling their workplace responsibilities rather than on the depth of your friendship with them. Former peers will quickly check to see whether your assignments are biased or based on each individual’s capabilities and production. If former peers believe you are prejudiced for or against them, based on their previous relationship with you, their perception can poison the atmosphere at work.

This is where documenting expectations and measurable performance against those expectations can be a savior. The more you base your employee management decisions on facts rather than perceptions, the better you will prevent and protect yourself against claims of bias.

Managing Former Peers

Soon after being promoted, meet with each of your employees. Ask them what they see as their strengths and share your view of their strengths as well. Talk to them about ways they can focus on what they enjoy and do best. To the extent you can, work with them to match their abilities to the roles and responsibilities they have within the group and jointly agree on expected behavior and performance.

Rather than make big changes in your group autocratically, work to build group support for your ideas. Share your vision of what you want the group to achieve and how their individual strengths are needed to reach that result. Invite them to do the same and build expectations around a shared vision. Document what was agreed to in measurable outcomes and how often you will get together to check on progress and resolve challenges. Be sure to meet regularly so a pattern of communication is set.

If a promotion puts you in a management role over your peers and friends, don’t think you have to stop being friends. Your friendship can continue. But do keep in mind the advice above. Your workplace relationships will likely change, and so will the relationships you had with them outside of work. Talk with each person to reach an understanding and acknowledgement that you each no longer have the same perspective and responsibilities. That doesn’t mean you cannot work and play together to reach common goals. It just means that those relationships must change in order to continue working and playing together.


Julia is a Career Strategist, Leadership Coach, and Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach based in the Bay Area. She helps career-focused professionals showcase their unique abilities and talents in order to amplify their presence in their chosen fields and when re-entering the job market. Julia uses her extensive leadership experience in executive management, business development, team building and recruiting to help her clients have the career they always wanted. Learn more about Julia at,, (@JuliaHolian)  and


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