By Caroline Smith and the Mind Tools Team
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From Technical Expert to Manager

Learning Management Skills

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richcarey

Taking a managerial role can leave you feeling out of your depth.

So, you finally earned the promotion you dreamed about. Because of your technical expertise and your ability to reach performance goals consistently, your organization made you a manager.

You're thrilled with the idea of advancing your career... until reality hits you. After a few weeks, you start to realize that you're spending very little time doing what you used to do best – that is, using your technical skills. Instead, you're spending a lot of your time dealing with "people problems," navigating office politics, and coordinating projects and team members.

You knew things would be different, but it's exhausting compared with your previous role. Have you made a mistake in accepting the promotion? What can you do to improve your new situation?

Any management promotion can be a challenge, but it's especially hard on people with strong technical skills, but who have little or no management experience. In this article, we'll explore how to make the transition, and what you can do to excel in your new role. We'll also include links to several other resources that can help you strengthen the skills you need for success.

Management Challenges

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. This is why it's up to you to teach yourself the skills you need!

You first need to recognize that your technical knowledge may not help much in your new management role. Why? Because instead of just focusing on your own skills and successes, you now have to focus on the skills and successes of your team. Your mindset has to change.

This is where many technical managers make their biggest mistakes. Instead of paying attention to the "people aspect" of their new role, they continue to do what they've always done: work on their own projects and technical skills. But if you ignore your team and their needs, you're going to alienate them quickly.

Another challenge 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 demotion."

To fight this, focus on gaining some early wins – small victories that you can achieve quickly – in your new position. This will give you, and your new team, a great sense of accomplishment, as well as the motivation to keep moving forward. To help you identify opportunities for early wins, see our article on Pareto Analysis .

Skills You Need

The good news is that you can succeed – and succeed spectacularly – in your management role. To do so, however, you must learn a new set of skills, including:

  • Delegation – As a manager, you must know how to delegate tasks to your team effectively. This will keep you from spending time doing things that should no longer be your responsibility.
  • Briefing – You need to keep your team up to date on their progress, what you expect from them, and what will happen in the future.
  • Motivation – Your team is now your responsibility. This means that you must keep them motivated and moving forward. Our article Herzberg's Motivators and Hygiene Factors will teach you how to discover what truly motivates your people.
  • Communication – In your previous role, good communication might have been helpful, but not vital. But now, as a manager, the ability to communicate well is essential to your success.
  • Discipline – At some point, you'll probably have to discipline someone on your team. Whether a team member is breaking rules, under-performing, or upsetting others, it's up to you to restore peace. Knowing how to discipline effectively and diplomatically is key to keeping your team's trust and respect.
  • Recruitment – If your team is changing or expanding, then you'll have to hire new people , but finding the right new people can be difficult. Our Recruiting Skills Bite-Sized Training session will help you get better results with your recruitment efforts.

Tips for Making the Transition to Manager

  • Do a personal SWOT analysis – Make a list of what you must improve to be a better manager for your team. 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.
  • Stay away from technical work – Resist the temptation to get involved with technical projects that aren't your responsibility. Yes, you probably enjoy this type of work and want to feel successful doing something you know well, but it's now your team's 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.
  • Find a mentor – Look for someone in your organization who has made a transition similar to yours. A mentor can offer you some great advice on succeeding in your new role, and help you avoid some of the mistakes that he or she has made.
  • 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, and it helps you get to know the people you're managing.
  • Find out what your team expects from you – These expectations are often unspoken. Our article on The Psychological Contract will help you learn how to discover these hidden expectations.
  • Learn one skill at a time – Acquiring a whole new set of skills for your new management position can be overwhelming. Don't try to learn everything at once. Focus on one skill at a time, so that you can learn each skill well.

Tip:

You can learn more valuable tips for making the transition from technical expert to manager with our Book Insight on What Got You Here Won't Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith.

Key Points

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 on learning one new skill at a time. Do a personal SWOT analysis, and try to find a mentor who has experienced the same transition. Also, don't do tasks associated with your previous role – your job now is to manage your team.

This site teaches you the skills you need for a happy and successful career; and this is just one of many tools and resources that you'll find here at Mind Tools. Subscribe to our free newsletter, or join the Mind Tools Club and really supercharge your career!

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Comments (10)
  • Over a month ago Midgie wrote
    Hi julop042875,
    Welcome to the Club and thanks for sharing your situation of doing both the administrator job and the manager job. That is always a challenge yet after a short transition period, there needs to be a line draw between the two responsibilities.

    Why not share this situation in the Career Cafe area of the Forums - http://www.mindtools.com/forums/viewforum.php?f=2 - and see what other members have to offer as ideas and suggestions as a way forward!

    The forums are a great place to share ideas, get input and learn about many different professional and personal situations member face.

    If there is anything I can help you with, just let me know.

    Midgie
    Mind Tools Team
  • Over a month ago julop042875 wrote
    I'm currently in this same situation but doing both jobs as a network systems manager and network administrator. My recently new boss (going on two years now) likes to have meetings every week and he almost always invites me to those meetings, even if I have little or nothing to do with it. Perhaps he is looking for some reassurance himself on any decisions he might need to make since he has only been there a short period of time and I have been there for 14yrs. However, how can I be both a successful manager and at the same time continuing being a successful network administrator? I usually find myself working until late hours of the evening and on weekends in order to catch up with projects and/or respond to emails.
  • Over a month ago Yolande wrote
    Hi waleed7794

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts - and I think you're asking an important question.

    Firstly, I do think it's normal to feel a little unsettled in a new role - even if it's in a higher position. However, I don't think you're less important. What you may experience is that because you're not in the 'thick of things' you may feel as if you're not as necessary. As the manager though, you are responsible for the smooth running of the whole department or division although you aren't involved in moment-to-moment technical support.

    And don't worry too much about your team members learning new tools. Learn something about those tools - you don't have to know them in depth. Also remember, that a leader or manager doesn't have to know everything as you aren't there to supply all the answers. Rather, you are the person asking the important questions.

    If you'd like to, you can pose this question to our other members on the forums and hear how others have experienced a similar situation. Go to http://www.mindtools.com/forums/viewforum.php?f=2 and start a new topic. We'd love to welcome you there!

    Regards
    Yolandé
    Mind Tools Team
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