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Happy Not to Be a Manager February 5, 2012

Posted by Tim Rodgers in Management & leadership, Organizational dynamics.
Tags: , , , , ,

A very dear friend of mine sent a message the other day after reading one of my posts, remembering with gratitude the hiring manager who didn’t choose him for a management position many years ago. Today my friend enjoys a successful and fulfilling career as an engineer, and I believe he’s very happy with how things turned out.

Management is not for everyone, and I have the highest respect for those who have the self-awareness and confidence — and, in some cases, courage — to choose a different path. Unfortunately I think there are a lot of people who become convinced that they are some kind of failure if they don’t eventually get themselves promoted to a management job, and a lot of those people end up miserable. I’ve said it before: management is a completely different job requiring a different skill set. The job description includes administrative, HR and fiscal responsibilities (many tedious or unpleasant) that leave little or no time for the hands-on work you enjoyed before you became a manager. You need a lot of patience to deal with the stream of daily issues that come from the folks who report to you. You’re accountable for the performance of the entire team, not just yourself, and there are days when that can be a tough burden to carry.

Nevertheless, it’s hard to resist. The money is usually better, despite the fact that many companies have some version of a dual ladder system with comparable pay ranges for non-managers at higher levels. Well-meaning family and friends may contribute to the general societal attitude that “moving up” is good and being left behind is bad. Eventually your immediate manager will be someone who is younger and possibly less-experienced than you are, and that may be hard to accept.

It’s one thing to stay out of management altogether, it’s another thing to give it up. I’ve had managers come to me after a couple of years and ask to be re-assigned to a non-manager job, and in each of these cases I was glad to accommodate in order to retain a valuable contributor with leadership experience. Managers are certainly not the only ones who can exert strategic influence, and I’ve seen many examples of non-managers providing greater value to the business by working more freely in the white space of the organization chart. The former manager still has all the skills that helped them to be promoted previously, and there’s every reason to believe those skills will be at least as valuable in their new role. (See Manager With a Small “m”).

According to WordPress this is my 100th post, and I suppose that’s a noteworthy milestone. It seems that I haven’t run out of topics yet. Every day I find something that inspires me to write, although it takes a few days for a flash of inspiration to coalesce into something coherent. There is a growing risk of repeating myself as the number of posts increases, but I will do my best to maintain a high ratio of original content. I’ve been able to avoid “vanity” posts with commentary about popular culture or sports or politics or what I had for dinner last night because frankly I can’t imagine why anyone would be interested. Thanks for indulging me.



1. David Kanigan - February 6, 2012

Great post Tim..

2. Helping Engineers Become Leaders « Managing in the 2000s - September 14, 2012

[…] and can resist the usual financial or status rewards that go with the management track (see Happy Not to Be a Manager). However, engineers may find themselves attracted to leadership positions in order to have more […]

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