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."

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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 (15)
  • Over a month ago BillT wrote
    Hello mohdpirduan,

    I have empathy for your colleagues who were not well prepared for becoming managers. Something that many don't realise is that, although they may have been promoted due to their technical skills, these are often not the skills needed in a manager's role. Leadership and soft skills become much more important. Some who are highly skilled in technical areas tend to want to stay in that role as a manager, and so the focus is on the wrong skill set, causing sometimes poor annual reviews.

    I do agree with you that, if this was the issue, it should have been identified and rectified long before the review took place. Thank you for your comments.

    Bill
    Mind Tools Team
  • Over a month ago Michele wrote
    Hi mohdpirduan,

    Making the transition to manager is challenging for many, and as you have discovered in reading this article, many businesses do not prepare new managers for the changes they will face. My experience was the same when I was promoted to a team lead. My first year in the role would have been smoother had I been better prepared.

    Thank you for sharing your experience with us.

    Michele
    Mind Tools Team
  • Over a month ago mohdpirduan wrote
    It's stressful. I've many people get promoted due to their technical capabilities. Unfortunately, management are not putting efforts in developing them to be good leaders. Some of these leaders perservere or resign. I had friend who are in this situation. He was demoralised to get low rating during his yearly appraisal. He felt cheated by his boss who had told him that his leadership development will be taken care by the company.
    This article opened my eyes. I realised it's the same everywhere. And this article essential for those who are in similar situation.
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