Career Transition: From Technical Expert to Effective People Manager

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    career transition from technical expert to effective people managerRecently I spoke to a talented young software engineer who had been fast tracked into a management position.

    In a very short period of time, he went from a self-fulfilled, highly competent individual producer to a stressed out leader. He found that he did not enjoy confronting under performers; didn’t know how to motivate or hold them accountable; and disliked navigating the inevitable office politics.

    His training had equipped him to develop programs not people He was concerned that he had made a mistake in accepting the promotion.

    What’s the Challenge?

    Technical experts are often promoted because they have recognized knowledge and skills in their field. Whether it’s IT, finance, sales, or marketing, they know their job very well. After all, that’s what got them noticed! The problem is that organizations often promote people based on these technical skills, not on their management skills. And many organizations offer very little support to new managers.

    Another issue is that your identity in the organization changes. You may have been a superstar in your previous role, but now you’re starting at the beginning again. It can be difficult for new managers to cope with this “identity crisis.” Am I a competent technologist or an incompetent manager?

    Strategies for Making the Transition to Manager

    1. Make a list of what you must improve to be a better manager.
    Many managers let others assess their skills, and then wait until their performance review to discover what skills they lack. Don’t make this mistake – spend time now identifying your weaknesses, so that you can start improving on them immediately. Some of the skills that are essential for managers are delegation, motivating others, communication, performance management and coaching, etc.

    2. Stay away from technical work.
    Resist the temptation to get involved with technical projects that aren’t your responsibility. Spending too much time doing technical work will only hold you back as a manager. Sure, it’s good to pitch in when you can, but make sure that you do the managing part of your role first.

    3. Meet with every team member.
    Make it a priority to meet with everyone on your team personally. Find out what interests and motivates them, and check that they have everything they need to be happy and successful in their role. This shows that you’re taking an interest in them.

    4. Find a mentor or coach.
    Look for someone who has made a transition similar to yours. An internal mentor can help you avoid some of the mistakes that he or she has made as well as give you insight on the political challenges. An external coach, who has worked with technical people transitioning into management, can offer you advice on how to make the transition and excel in your new role.

    Career Success Tip:

    Making the transition from technical expert to manager can be challenging, especially if you have little or no management experience. Look at the key skills you need to be an effective manager and focus developing them as quick as possible. Also, focus on gaining some early wins – small victories that you and the team can achieve quickly. This will give you a sense of competency and accomplishment. See also Moving Into Management

    Readers, what have been your challenges in moving from a technical expert to an effective people manager? and how ca I be of assistance?

    Do you want to develop Career Smarts?