Ask 20 Rock: How does a manager get promoted to a director?

by Kathi Antonson

Ask 20 Rock is your opportunity to peek into the minds of other leaders. What are they wondering about? Where do they struggle? What are they navigating? See a bit of yourself here and get inspired.

Dear 20 Rock,

I currently oversee my company’s first marketing department and am looking for guidance and insight into what differentiates a Marketing Manager versus a Marketing Director and how to communicate that to an executive team that is still fairly new to having a marketing department? I have been active within the marketing field for over 15 years across multiple industries and joined my current organization three years ago.

While I am still new to this industry (3 years), I am wanting a bit more guidance on what my career path looks like for a firm that isn’t familiar with having to create a career path for Marketing. I have completed big initiatives in my time here and am continuously looking for ways to up our marketing game.

Any insight would be tremendously valuable and thank you again for the help!


Aspiring Director

Dear Aspiring Director,

Titles, and what they indicate in terms of job function and responsibility, vary from one organisation to the next. Goldman Sachs, for example, hands out a Vice President title to roughly one-third of its employees as a “courtesy title”. Hmm, but what does it mean then to have that on your business card?

You’d have to ask the specific organisation and the person living that role.

Generally, I notice a few differences between “manager” and “director” titles within organizations:

  • Size of the team/department/organization. Directors will often oversee managers, who then oversee individual contributors.
  • Directors often have a responsibility for the overarching Key Performance Indicators of the business (revenue, margin, growth, etc.) rather than their department’s metrics specifically.
  • Directors design, propose and oversee key initiatives and business functions to achieve the overarching KPI’s. A manager is generally implementing those initiatives, though they may do some design and recommendation if they are the subject matter expert.
  • Directors make a measurable impact on multiple areas of the business, not just the area they oversee, through collaboration with other Directors and Executives.

I have observed a pattern that at smaller, but growing, companies that have not had that role/title before it can be challenging to get to the Director level in Marketing (People Operations, Accounting, etc. too! Basically any role not directly billable/sellable to a client.). Not because these functions aren’t critical to the business, but because the career path doesn’t exist yet and is generally more specific to the individual and the organisation.

If a growing organisation has not had a Director of X before, it is unlikely that they realize how impactful having a Director of X could be!

It might be useful to you to turn your question around a bit . . . What is the career path you see for yourself? If you were the COO, what would you expect and create for your role? What problems would the Director of Marketing be solving? How would the Director of Marketing be moving the business forward?

Once you are able to envision that and articulate it, you can begin enrolling champions within your organization. Something like, “Hello there COO, I am looking ahead in my career path and would like to get to the Director level in the next X years/months. Will you help me? This is what I envision that path to look like (insert your vision here). What do you see? Where would you point me?”.

Partnering with champions within your organization will be critical to moving into the Director level. And requesting their help (people love to help!) in advance of expecting the promotion often results in a more collaborative process and a positive outcome.

A coach is a great partner for developing your career goals and preparing for career planning conversations. Get in touch to find out how a coach can support you.


20 Rock

Kathi specializes in coaching and training Leaders as they identify, explore and move into their next leadership roles. She blends coaching and leadership methods, with her extensive experience in organizational strategy to partner with clients in moving toward their goals. Kathi holds coaching qualifications from the Coaches Training Institute, is a graduate of CTI’s Experiential Leadership programme and holds a certification in The Science of Happiness at Work from UC Berkley. She supports her clients in deepening their collaborative partnerships, examining their strengths, and creating a vibrant future for themselves and their teams.