Is People Management the Right Career Path for You?

Even though career paths are no longer linear, the title and position structures of many professions have not adjusted to the changing nature of work and how people are navigating their careers. In many professional jobs, it is very common to be a technical worker in your field for a number of years and then, the next natural progression would be a people management role and then a senior leadership role. Is becoming a manager and people management actually good for you? You’re the only one that can answer this question as long as you’re prepared and know what you’ve signed up for. Do your homework. Remember there is no glory in becoming a manager. It’s actually ‘ok’ to stay in an individual contributor or technical role if that’s the work you enjoy most. However, if you think that becoming a manager is for you, there are 3 major areas you’ll need to consider when making the shift from a technical role to people management. But first I’ll highlight common reasons why people take on promotions:
  • Satisfying the ego
  • Larger income
  • Meeting career goals
  • It’s a natural next step
Rarely do I hear the following from people when asked why they want to be a manager:
  • I want more responsibility
  • I want to deal with difficult situations
  • I want to manage performance issues
  • I want to collaborate with others to build organizational capacity
  • I want to motivate and develop others
I highly encourage you to look beyond the prestige of the job title and salary to determine if a people management role is really meant for you.

Common Challenges People Managers Face

The next step towards a leadership position may not feel natural because being a high performing technical expert requires very different skills sets than a manager. Shifting to a management position is one of the toughest career transitions. Here are a few reasons why:
  • Your responsibilities have increased.
  • You’ll need to manage multiple agenda and interests.
  • You’ll need to let go of former technical responsibilities and deal with conceptual ideas.
  • You need to deliver difficult messages even if you don’t agree with them.
  • You’ll need to focus on the big picture, results, and employee development.
  • You’ll need to collaborate across the company and influence without authority.
  • You’re stepping into a new social role as you are no longer a peer to former colleagues.
  • You’re expected to navigate office politics gracefully.
I’ve seen many technical staff get promoted because they’ve done a good job for a long time. However, after the promotion, many have shared their struggles and the feeling of being “out of their element.” The job was not what they expected or they weren’t ready for the transition. Technical skills will only get you so far. Just because you’re good at your job doesn’t make you management material – yet. Here are some questions to help you decide if a promotion to become a manager is right for you:
  • Why do you want to be a people manager?
  • What and who are doing this for?
  • What type of work is fulfilling for you? Be very specific here.
  • What are the responsibilities and expectations of the role you’re aspiring for?
And here are some challenges faced by new people managers or even experienced managers:

Understanding the Big Picture and Future Direction of the Organization

As the leader of your team, you need to ensure that you have a sound understanding of the company strategy so that the actions of your team is aligned with the direction of the company.

Increased Organizational Visibility

With increased responsibility as a people manager, you’ll be more visible since you’ll represent your team. It’s not just about you anymore.

Identifying and Streamlining Processes

You’ll need to continuously find ways to integrate with other departments.

Thinking Outside of Your Functional Area

You’ve got to move beyond your functional area and observe the interests of other teams and the overall goals of the organization; so that you and your team can deliver results that are aligned with the company.

Collaborating Across Boundaries

To achieve company results, you need to represent your team and partner with other teams to achieve company goals.

Managing Multiple Agendas

Not only do you need to consider your own interests, but you’ll also need to be mindful of your team’s, company’s, and other stakeholders' interests.

Influencing without Authority

Your ability to influence and persuade others is essential when navigating the company and having an impact to achieve your team’s objectives.

Driving Accountability and Empowering Others

To achieve optimal results for the team and company, you’ll need to clearly communicate how your team will support the company strategy and motivate them to perform.

Maintain a Balance Between Driving for Results and Supporting Employee Development

In addition to all your other responsibilities, you can’t neglect the development of your employees who are doing the day-to-day work to help achieve the team’s objectives. This is where you need to have a solid handle on your own management style and understand each of your employees well. Each individual is unique and needs to be managed differently.

How to Become an Effective Manager

Key Mindset Shifts to Learn

Having highlighted the major challenges shifting from a technical role to a people manager role, there are a few mindset shifts you’ll need to make as well.((Center for Creative Leadership: 6 Shifts New Leaders Much Make to Succeed))

1. You’re Responsible for the Successes and Failures of Your Team

With increased authority as a people manager, you also have the responsibility to use your power for good to support your team to achieve goals. This also means shouldering the failures of your team without blaming your team. Because ultimately, you manage your team and you are part of the failures for any mismanagement of your team. Being resilient to learn more about the failures of your team can help you become a stronger manager.

2. You Represent the Team Within the Organization

When you attend meetings, build relationships and navigate the organization, remember that you represent the interests of your team.

3. You No Longer Need to Be the Technical Expert or Need All the Details

Many managers have a challenging time letting go of the details because they were high performers in a technical role. You’ll need to trust the ability of your team to look after the daily details so that you can focus on the strategic work.

Basic Skills and Competencies of a Manager

Now that you’ve had a preview of the key responsibilities of a people manager, here are some of the skills and abilities you’ll need to develop:
  • Translate company strategy and integrate it into functional plans for your team.
  • Take different perspectives and ‘think outside the box’.
  • Manage resources, risk, and processes.
  • Identify opportunities to drive improvement and changes.
  • Build high performing teams.
  • Coach and develop employees.
  • Influence and persuade multiple stakeholders.

Advancing Your Management Skills

Here are some key areas to help improve your management skills:

Summing Up

Becoming a people manager is a challenging undertaking. You need to look inside yourself to determine if this is the right career path for you. Are you taking on increasing responsibilities that are aligned with your values and strengths? Revisit the questions at the beginning of the article to determine if this is the right move for you. Talk to people who you believe have successfully made the transition to a management position. What were some of their challenges and how did they overcome them?

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