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Is Management Right for You? Technical vs Management Career Pathways

Becoming a manager is often regarded as the next natural step on the career ladder
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30 Jan 2024
How to decide between a management or technical career_TTAB career advice
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Is Management Right for You? Answer These 4 Questions to Find Out

Becoming a manager is often regarded as the next natural step on the career ladder. And with a greater salary and the ability to call the shots at stake, it’s easy to understand why the promise of becoming a manager is so alluring. But is being a manager all that it’s cracked up to be, and are there alternative ways for working professionals to build a more lucrative and fulfilling career without leading a team?

What managers really do

Contrary to the popular belief, managerial roles aren’t mere extensions of entry-level positions that many of us grow to become familiar with. In fact, they often entail entirely different job scopes — even when working on the same projects. This can leave new managers feeling disoriented in what they anticipated as a familiar environment.

After all, managers don’t report to a single person within the chain-of-command, but to multiple stakeholders such as board members, investors, clients, or a combination of all three. They do this while simultaneously overseeing the needs, ambitions, and shortcomings of a less experienced team. This increased complexity can lead to a sense of feeling overwhelmed. Nevertheless, if you remain undeterred by the thought of such a challenge, here’s some questions to ask yourself to determine if a career in management aligns with your aptitude and aspirations.

Question #1: Are you a people pleaser?

The first thing to accept as a manager is that not everyone will like your decisions. Everyone has different preferences and interests, especially when it comes to projects that they’ve invested time and effort into. If you seek to please every single stakeholder, you’ll likely end up with decision paralysis and stall progress for the entire team.

Good managers are capable of making tough decisions, not popular ones. For example, you may be required to push a project in a specific direction that the team doesn’t necessarily agree with, but ultimately will be better for the business. Making decisions like these have great implications. Are the concerns raised by your team valid? How will their morale and motivation for future projects be affected if their concerns go unheard? At the same time, how can you balance the expectations of clients and investors while maintaining your team’s confidence in the project?

The work doesn’t stop there, either. How you communicate with each team member during one-on-one performance reviews also has a long-lasting impact. Learning to provide feedback for underperformers in a tactful and constructive fashion is key to keeping your team on an upwards trajectory. At the same time, shying away from such conversations is also a recipe for disaster. Ifconfrontation scares you, management might not be a right fit.

Question #2: Can you be responsible when things go wrong?

Changing one’s title to ‘Manager’ on LinkedIn can be a major flex, but as you know by this point of the article, the managerial lifestyle is not filled with just glitz and glamour. More often than not, managers are exposed to greater levels of pressure and bear greater liability for decisions that their entry-level counterparts are sheltered from.

Consider the critical factor of worker retention, for instance. A survey conducted by GoodHire revealed a staggering statistic: 82% of workers express willingness to quit due to dissatisfaction with their managers. It's essential to note that worker retention hinges not only on objective managerial competence but also on perceived effectiveness. In essence, there's a substantial expectation for managers not only to maintain team performance but also to cultivate an environment conducive to employee retention, thereby averting the need for extensive resources allocated to hiring and training replacements. Moreover, external economic factors such as recessions or competitive pressures beyond a manager's direct control further compound the challenges they face, necessitating adaptability and resilience.

To make matters worse, a manager's accountability extends beyond the mere headcount of their team. Each delegated task contributes to broader projects and periodic reports that must be presented directly to superiors. Even in instances where a team fails to deliver, it is the manager who faces scrutiny regarding their ability to train and guide their team effectively, ultimately impacting the company's overall performance. Consequently, aspiring managers must introspect: Do they possess the mental fortitude to shoulder the dual responsibility of overseeing both company interests and employee welfare?

Question #3: Do you enjoy listening to people?

With managerial positions being such communication-heavy roles, it's only natural for good listeners to shine in them. So take that stereotypical image of a superior barking out orders out of your mind. Being a good manager is about listening first, whether it's to your superiors or the team you’re leading.

Why is listening so crucial? Because team members possess firsthand insights into ground-level challenges, serving as your eyes and ears and providing perspectives on what is feasible and practical. Good managers must not only recognize the validity of such feedback but also actively cultivate environments conducive to open communication. Even within organisations boasting "flat hierarchies," inherent power dynamics persist. If you don’t proactively solicit feedback, your team members may simply comply with directives, especially work environments where individuals tend to be hesitant when it comes to expressing their personal opinions openly.

Being a good manager also means taking your team members' feedback and connecting them with the right people or resources they need to succeed. For example, if a team member identifies a recurring technical issue hindering project progress, a manager needs to facilitate communication with departments or provide access to specialised training. Similarly, if an employee expresses a desire for professional development opportunities, the manager should explore avenues for mentorship, training programs, or skill-building workshops tailored to their needs. 

Question #4: Can you work with ambiguity?

As a manager, you’re essentially steering major business projects that determine whether or not the business survives against the whims of the economy. Having the ability to work with ambiguity and adapt on the fly is therefore not only a desirable trait, but one that is absolutely necessary.

Consider client expectations, for example, which can change at a moment’s notice and even at times be unreasonable. There are no hard-and-fast rules on how to deal with situations like these, because every client is different and will respond to the same methods of communication differently. Similarly, what worked with a previous team under your wing may not necessarily work elsewhere. 

As they say, with great power comes great responsibility. Being a manager definitely has its perk, but you’ll definitely have to work for the juicer compensation package. If being stuck in a technical role for the rest of your life sounds like a chore and you’d rather be calling the shots and remain undaunted by the challenges that we’ve mentioned above, then by all means go for it, because the world is in need of capable managers!

But let’s say that you don’t want to be a manager after realising that it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be. What now?

How to climb the career ladder without becoming a manager

As we’ve highlighted above, being a manager is not the only way to succeed. An increasing number of companies are recognising the importance of retaining highly skilled workers. Often deemed as individual contributors, such individuals are given more freedom to execute projects after they’ve proven themselves with an extensive track record of success.

Unlike managers, individual contributors are not responsible for a group of people, and can avoid meetings where subjects such as budgets and employee relations are discussed. That’s not to say that individual contributors are lone wolves, as they may still be required to collaborate with their teammates or even across departments. But the point is, individual contributor positions are often more of a ‘level-up’ of entry-level positions. So if that sounds like something that is more up your alley, it’s important to look at the general structure of your current or prospective organisation to understand whether this career advancement pathway is available.

Otherwise, you can also make yourself more valuable within an organisation by making lateral moves into adjacent departments. That way, you’ll eventually build up a diverse skill set and the deep domain knowledge required to give you more bargaining chips to command a bigger compensation package. Remember, there's no need to remain stagnant or unfulfilled in your current role. Whether you choose to become a manager or individual contributor, always seize opportunities for growth and development and you’ll be well on your way to charting a fulfilling and rewarding career trajectory.

Safeguard your career’s future by staying updated

Want more practical advice and resources on how to take your career to the next level? Stay tuned for our upcoming events where we connect you with leading industry professionals and organisations by following TTAB on LinkedIn and Facebook, or meet us in person at the next TTAB Career Conversation.