Downward, upward, and sideways
As a manager in an organization, there are different directions to apply focus and communications - downward, upward, and sideways. Test Managers who focus downward spend most of the time dealing with their team, with testing issues within the team, and generally push results through their team. If this is the only direction that they focus on, then they will do well when it comes to manager feedback and organizational health ratings. But what is missed is overall efficiencies, personal visibility, and opportunities with large scope for their teams.
The sideways direction for a Test Manager is defined as peers such as other Test Managers, Dev Managers, etc. It depends on the organizational structure, although managers shouldn't limit themselves to peers that are specifically at the same level in an organization since some orgs have multiple middle levels. TMs need to build solid relationships with these peers in order to gain efficiencies. For example, after I moved over to be a new Test Manager in a team, I sought out the other two Test Managers in the division and met with them to start building a relationship. They both basically told me to buzz-off because our teams didn't have any commonality. They were missing the point that this was the exact reason why I wanted to meet with them - there's always commonality and once found, efficiencies can be gained. In this case, my team was temporarily isolated. Other test teams were too far removed to make any significant gains by partnering with them. I found that my team had a lot to work on! Test teams don't just test their features, they write automation which involves significant deliverables and due dates. Test teams also need to collect measurements on the quality, create standards and best practices around engineering processes on the teams, set up lab environments to run tests, and interpret and incorporate customer feedback. This is a lot of work to do on one team. But if test managers partner with other test teams (and other Test Managers) they can end up sharing automation tools, finding better engineering processes, and plugging into measurement systems that already exist, all of which can gain a test team a ton of efficiencies. After a re-org, my team moved away from isolation and into a team with welcoming Test Managers and I was finally able to start gaining these efficiencies. The other benefit from focusing sideways is personal career growth by the growing scope of impact and influence. As I built solid relationships with those welcoming Test Managers, the tools and processes that my team developed started getting used by those teams and as a result, my team and I had a larger impact on the division as a whole.
Focusing upward is the final direction and that is defined as the bosses of a Test Manager (their management chain). I've seen Test Managers whose teams are miserable, they don't have clear direction and don't meet deliverable deadlines. But the TM just continued to get pet projects and recognized at meetings, and his career grew quickly. This was because he was focused upward. His top priority was to impress his boss and to do items that were the most visible and the highest priority for his boss and management chain. In this case, he focused too much in one direction and not in the others. For many people, it's more difficult to focus on this direction because the challenges and problems that need solved are potentially beyond a test manager's comfort zone. To some degree, managers focusing upward will have to turn on a bit of the sales pitch, self-promotions, and boldness. Managers that don't naturally focus upwards should start with small projects and tasks.
So which direction should a Test Manager focus on? All of them, of course. Typically, one direction gets the most focus and that is unintentional. But if the manager can see what direction gets the most focus and increase focus in the other directions, they will be a more well-round test manager. I find it natural to focus downward - and easier for most. So here are some ideas on how to focus upward:
Skip-level 1:1s up management chain with prepared agendas
Emails to VPs and higher ups when opportunities arise
Get onto newsletters with items about test team initiatives
Focus on items or issues that gain you some added visibility
Now for those managers who naturally focus upward, but maybe not downward, here are some ideas:
Walk the hallways and start getting to know individual testers
Find reasons to stop by testers' offices to talk (preferably about work)
Hold regular meetings with their team
Ask the leads for invitations to meetings where individual tester attend
Do regular skip-level 1:1s with individual testers
Ask them questions about what they are working on and allow them to give feedback and input without any ramifications - potentially in the form of a post-mortem exercise
I have found that keeping a balanced focus in these 3 directions works well!