How do I break out of technical leadership into management without technical skills holding me back?
Breaking through barriers. I'm 30+ years into an IT career that is split between full time and consulting work, hands on, leadership, and management. Because of the mix I get pulled into the details while trying to further my management knowledge and skills to push me to the side where I'm no longer a hybrid. A unique position I haven't found a way out of. I held my first managment position in 1998, yet still get questioned about having managment experience because I'm naturally technical and tend to know more about the details than my peers. I'm in a position where this is being recognized as a plus, but fear it will once again serve as an anchor causing me to eventually leave. I had broken through for good when becoming director of software development the day before the company was purchased. As his last act as CIO before being fired (being a nice guy) my boss demoted me back to software development manager so I wouldn't lose my job upon execution of the merger. But can't put that on my resume.
Start a little earlier: stay a little later and work all the time you are at work.
Take a course or two in management at night school.
Start to dress and act like those two rungs above you.
Stop looking for others to give you a leg-up: do it yourself.
Does your company have employee development program? If, yes explore it.
If not, have a career development conversation with your supervisor. If you're not taken seriously, leave.
Best of luck
Attorney at Law
(+ a 24 year high tech career)
Start demonstrating strategic long term planning and present everything in emails sent to key groups, i.e. organizational thinking and leadership.
My invitation to you is to explore how you would like to project yourself as. Your concern seems to be seniors or decision makers identifying you more as a technical expert than a managerial leader. And this is due to your strong technical capabilities.
It may be helpful if you shift your focus from 'How they perceive me' to 'How can I help them to perceive me the way I want '
It would invariably lead to changes in the way you communicate and position yourself. Your background as a strong technical expert is not a barrier- it could be seen more as a stepping stone in your career progression (eg "with my strong technical expertise, I am in a great position to guide, coach and demonstrate as the case may be to my team members. This helps in winning their trust in me as a leader quite naturally")
Wishing you success and very best!
Such a good question!
The shift from technical hands on to non tech or tech management is always a difficult one. I had to achieve the same thing way back in my career but was lucky enough to be fully supported both by the company I was working for and work colleagues.
You point out and appear to suggest that your technical knowledge is being seen as more important than your management knowledge. If this is true then you would probably benefit from sitting down and trying to analyse which of your work colleagues (if you are now managing them) is going to be best positioned to do the work you used to do.
Some mistakes will happen if you delegate, but plan to keep a watchful eye on the key elements of the job and only step in as a last resort.
Create a contingency plan just in case, but even if this comes into effect, do not do it yourself. Give it to the person who made a mistake and let them learn from it, and take the reward.
The more you delegate, monitor and control from afar, the better you will get at management and you will soon forget that you were a "techy" once, and so will everyone else.
Define a technician from your team who has the similar experience as you and
delegate all the technical issues you usually care about to him keeping just
really requiered level of control from your side. Dedicate all the time you will earn from this to improving your management skills and it's demonstration to your tops.
By this way you will not lose you technical level which is important for manager in IT
and will get chance to shift you position to the destination you want.
Start trusting those you manage to do the technical work, and you play the role of mentor, teacher, overseer, and problem solver. It is largely a mindset that needs to be overcome.
I don't have a solution but would make a few - hopefully helpful - points.
A good balance/mix of technical and managerial experience is a good thing. There are many people who are good managers but not technical and vice versa. So this is a strength not a weakness. Good management and leadership is as much about attention to detail as it is about seeing the big picture. So if you are strong at both this is a good thing, not bad. It's not so clear from your post what is holding you back, but getting pulled into technical activities seems like a problem of delegation. Not being able to delegate or recruit/mentor someone to delegate to is a management issue.
Scott, all of the advice that has been offered is good, but I like what Wayne and Oleg have to say. As long as you keep getting pulled into the details you will have a difficult time rising in the organization. Most technical people like to fall back into their comfort zone and yet this is holding them back. When you mentor and develop the staff who work for you, you will free yourself up to focus on more strategic issues. You will also be able to demonstrate how you can solve technical problems more quickly because you can delegate them. Companies look for leaders who can develop the staff, they don't look for leaders who like to get buried in the weeds.
Hello, Scott, as a long time leader of staff and operations, and an entrepreneur employed in the highly technical field of infrastructure engineering, I see your issue often with developing staff. Companies that sell 'brains' and the output from their people always value very much the technical individuals working in their talent pool. Often, these technical people seem to think that the only way up the ladder is through management. So, first, I challenge you to review your goals to see why you wish to make this move. Money, status, challenge and being bored with your current work. If it's the latter two, then you do need to make the change. Next, management competencies are vastly different from technical competencies, as you know. What you may not know is that even with training, sometimes a highly technical person doesn't fit well into a manager role without long term coaching, learning and mentoring. I would suggest you assess your personality to see if you have the basic competencies to perform management, such as listening skills, accommodating tendencies, sociability.. others. The assessment report describes the precursors to success, telling you where your gaps are and your preferences. Emotional Intelligence, Myers Briggs, and Profile XT are inexpensive and good assessment tools for this. It would be a shame to do all that work and not be successful in management because you didn't focus training correctly, or you end up hating what you do. After you become more self-aware and know what to work on in your skills/competencies, I would strike a bargain with your employer. First, though, before that, informally do as other great commenters here have said, which is to start creating your own mini-succession plan by delegating, mentoring to someone you KNOW management will accept. You may have to work more hours on doing this to eventually free you up. Next, while you are training in your development program on the areas where you need most, the bargain I suggest you strike is to say that you are ready to 'groom' your replacement on your 'own time' to create bench depth in expertise, IF they will recognize your training effort and desire to move into management, officially. In a meeting with both HR and your supervisor (maybe HR first) explain you are trying to make a career change to move into a management path. I would suggest this AFTER you do some homework and find out what the 'pain points' the company is experiencing currently and historically, in their management realm. Surely there is a problem there and business leaders are so much more amenable to listening when you offer a solution to their pain. That may be they have a poorly performing manager now, or they are exposed to some inherent risk in quality by not having enough oversight on a particular product.. whatever it is, you need to learn what it is, then offer a plan through your growing expertise, to solve their issue in the long run. Again, I have found that companies such as yours truly do value your expertise. They get nervous when they feel they have an aging or understaffed population of highly experienced technical people and often will make concessions to these employees moreso than to the overhead employees, where you want to go. Maybe you can offer to grow the company through recruitment after they receive a good contract. Remember, it costs much to take someone out of technical role as you are no longer generating revenue! So, you are much more 'at risk' for continued employment with a new company and during the down times when you're in management, so also consider this. Find out if you're going to be able to succeed through some assessment of yourself, then formulate several plans, a succession plan, an Individual Development Plan and a plan to solve a certain problem the company has in their management realm, either from their staff or performance overall. Hope this helps!
The most important thing about making this major transition is to be aware of it, which you so sagely already are, so good for you. Many of my clients are in the exact same boat, if it gives you any comfort. Below, I share a partial list of traits that can scream “technical or individual contributor” rather than leader. To craft the identity you want (as suggested by others here), consider which of these traits you can leave behind.
Common habits that keep one from being perceived as a leader include: being obsessed with factual truth as the point of your meetings or dialogue with others; holding dear to the opinion that doing good work alone will lead to the recognition you want and thinking office politics are beneath you; assuming others understand your intentions and give you credit for them automatically; and needing to prove how valuable or smart you are, often by falling back on your technical skill or knowledge.
Twenty more such habits are listed below, and these come from a book called "What Got You Here Won’t Get You There" by Marshall Goldsmith. (Note: the language he uses to describe the traits can come across as a bit hyperbolic but try to disregard the caricaturing aspect of his descriptions and look for clues to any tendencies you might have.)
a. Winning too much: The need to win or be right at all costs and in all situations - when it matters, when it doesn’t, and when it’s totally beside the point.
b. Adding too much value: The overwhelming desire to add our two cents to every discussion.
c. Passing judgment: The need to rate others and impose our standards on them
d. Making destructive comments: The needless sarcasms and cutting remarks that we think make us sound sharp and witty.
e. Starting with “No,” “But,” or “However”: The overuse of these negative qualifiers which secretly say to everyone, “I’m right. You’re wrong.”
f. Telling the world how smart we are: The need to show people we’re smarter than they think we are.
g. Speaking when angry: Using emotional volatility as a management tool.
h. Negativity, or “Let me explain why that won’t work”: The need to share our negative thoughts even when we weren’t asked.
i. Withholding information: The refusal to share information in order to maintain an advantage over others.
j. Failing to give proper recognition: The inability to praise and reward.
k. Claiming credit that we don’t deserve: The most annoying way to overestimate our contribution to any success.
l. Making excuses: The need to reposition our annoying behavior as a permanent fixture so people excuse us for it.
m. Clinging to the past: The need to deflect blame away from ourselves and onto events and people from our past; a subset of blaming everyone else.
n. Playing favorites: Failing to see that we are treating someone unfairly.
o. Refusing to express regret: The inability to take responsibility for our actions, admit when we’re wrong, or recognize how our actions affect others.
p. Not listening: The most passive-aggressive form of disrespect for colleagues.
q. Failing to express gratitude: The most basic form of bad manners.
r. Punishing the messenger: The misguided need to attack the innocent who are usually trying to help us.
s. Passing the buck: The need to blame everyone but ourselves.
t. An excessive need to be “me”: Exalting our faults as virtues simply because they’re who we are.
I hope this gives you some food for thought. You are at a very exciting place in your career and, if handled well, can lead to some incredibly rewarding professional experiences. Have fun and good luck!
If you can choose your team, be careful and choose people who know what you don't know. Remember that the team work is the thing that allows to ordinary people to perform straordinary task.
Additionally, it is difficult to help you, since I don't know what technical skills you need, but the web is full of online free courses (take a look at coursera.com, e.g.). Of course you can easily find something helpful for your purposes, even if you have not a lot of time off to spend on studying. Fortunately you are still 30+, therefore it's not too late :)