Paul Hartley can often appear as though he is as well acquainted with the practice of self-promotion as he is with shaving.

The Alloa Athletic manager has led his club to consecutive elevations since taking charge two years ago – staying only a season in the second division before moving up via the play-offs last month – and has picked up a good number of followers along the way, most of whom have mapped his career to a post somewhere in the new SPFL Premiership.

There were steers last season, when Hartley was linked with the Aberdeen job and the potential vacancy at Motherwell, although he said nothing to encourage the speculation himself. It has been one of his most enigmatic qualities since stepping into management; sculpting such an impressive reputation without ever appearing to lift a finger, instead allowing the attraction to grow freely and with a healthy sheen.

Hartley might privately have felt an irritation at the sight of Allan Johnston being sourced by Kilmarnock after one – albeit highly impressive – season in the dugout, although he will be aware that settling Alloa in the second tier for the first time since 2002 will shine just as brightly as any trophy.

He is fully immersed in his role at Recreation Park – during the draw for the first round of the Ramsdens Cup yesterday the 36-year-old was heard willing prospective away ties against the likes of Formartine United and Elgin City to be foisted on to other clubs – and he was unflinching when his side were paired with Dundee. It is a daunting tie given the Dens Park club have retained a certain formidability, although it is one which the Alloa manager will not expect to leave his side in knots.

That resolve was burnished with the signing of Andy Kirk, the former Dunfermline Athletic striker, on Thursday, a man he played with at Hearts. "We needed somebody who will put the ball in the net, somebody who will stay in the box," said the Alloa manager. "I've said that to him, he's got experience and he's just to stay in the box and grab me a goal. We shouldn't complicate it.

"He's done that over the past 10 or 15 years, he's an internationalist and is a good signing for us. I played with him at Hearts and know his qualities. He has the experience that we will probably need in the first division next season and hopefully we can create chances for him."

His own delivery was typically assured. Hartley can seem an intense character: always seeking to meet the eye of his inquisitor before answering in quiet, assured tones, yet there is an almost parental warmth when it comes to his players. That is perhaps nothing new for a manager – not least one who owes his burgeoning reputation to those under his charge – but it seems more prevalent this summer.

Alloa will comprise one of only three part-time sides in the SPFL Championship and there is concern they may be bullied by bigger, more conditioned players but Hartley has enabled his squad to stand up for themselves by enlisting former Celtic physio Niam Mohammed and fitness coach Tam Ritchie, whom he worked with at Hearts, since taking office two years ago.

"I saw the guys last night and the fitness levels were fantastic," added Hartley. "The ambition for next season for us is to stay in the first division. We know we are up against seven full-time clubs so if we can stay in the first division then it will be a good achievement.

"We will have a go every week, we will not go out, sit back and try and be boring. We will try and be positive and set up to attack every week. We are looking forward to it but the challenge is different to last season. We were going for promotion then, but the challenge for us now is to stay up."

Alloa have sought to find a solid foothold before stepping, though, and Hartley's budget is augmented by the club's ability to encourage local residents and other senior sides to rent out their artificial pitch for recreational use and training. "We have a good chairman, we are stable and we are financially secure. The players know they will get paid every week and that helps," said Hartley.

"You look at Hearts and Dunfermline and the one thing is our players will always get paid. Our chairman says our guys will always get paid on time."

It does, though, seem unlikely that funds will have to be found to facilitate the signing of another former Hearts striker, Craig Beattie, who has trained with Alloa this week. "We've just asked him to get some sharpness but I think he's got a couple of things in the pipeline."