As a manager, you’re frequently in a position to flex your technical muscles, but constantly touting your expertise can be detrimental to your department’s sense of harmony. You want your developers to have confidence in their abilities, even if you may need to remind them from time to time that you’re more than just a paper pusher. Knowing when to strut your stuff, and when not to, is the key.
Remember who is the boss
You're the boss, and that means you have to keep your goals in mind. Your purpose is to manage your team. This doesn't mean you must always be right, or that your way is the only way. You must allow your team to be creative and solve problems. If you constantly dictate the approach to solutions, you'll quickly lose the respect of your top developers, no matter how many years in the field you have. Always enforcing your way of thinking will ensure that your expertise is under constant scrutiny. Remember that your job is to give direction, not necessarily to pave the way.
Appearances aren't everything
I’ve worked for and with managers who seem to feel the need to constantly tout their technical skills to their employees. There is no easier way to lose respect than to constantly proclaim your own greatness. If you’re worried that your developers don’t think you’ll understand the issues they face, prove them wrong by getting involved. Take a hands-on approach to the everyday workload, and show your team what you’re made of.
You should also recognize that it isn’t always appropriate to be the top dog in the technology pecking order—chances are you actually pay someone else to do that. Technical ability is important for managing developers; however, you have other skills your team doesn’t, or you wouldn’t be managing them.
Just because you’re able to write code doesn’t mean you should. Stay off the defensive by not worrying about appearances, and focus instead on staying on top of new concepts. Once you’ve moved into management, you must let go of your developer ego, or you’ll end up coming across as overbearing.
Occasionally your technical ability will come into question, perhaps in the form of rumors or a rumbling in the ranks. In these cases, you can create opportunities to show off your technical prowess. For example, in a meeting, purposely omit a technical detail. When someone points out your mistake, you can impress everyone with your in-depth knowledge of the topic. This is a sly but non-confrontational way to boost others’ opinions of your skills.
There’s another thing you can try when your opinion is challenged. Take the approach that you’re curious about why the opposing viewpoint would work. Over the course of the discussion, use your stance as a point of comparison. This can serve as a productive exercise while demonstrating your level of knowledge. Who knows, you may be proven wrong. If so, you’ll have a graceful way to back down without losing face.
Don't get suckered in
It’s important to avoid a battle of wits with your employees. The very last thing you want to do is create a confrontational environment that could cause a rift in your department. Try the following to avoid undesirable situations:
- Turn a pointed challenge into a healthy discussion by having patience and an open mind for alternate solutions. Allow others to explain themselves, and then calmly share your viewpoint with them.
- Encourage constructive criticism at staff planning meetings to allow people to voice their views.
- Make effective decisions. Your confidence serves to boost others’ opinions of your abilities.
- Be sure to ask for input frequently, but don’t rely on your staff for all the answers. Total dependency is a sign of weakness and may be misconstrued as a lack of capability.
Pick your battles
When you became a manager, you took yourself out of the running for the Alpha developer spot. Your responsibilities include encouraging your team to excel, nurturing their talents, and being able to relate to the issues they face. This precludes struggling to impress your employees with your technical savvy. Confidence in your abilities and competence are a must to successfully lead a team, though. On occasion, it’s okay to strut your stuff, as long as you do it with dignity and restraint.
Leader of the pack
Have you ever had to demonstrate your skills to someone on your team? How did you approach the problem? Were your efforts successful? Share your experiences with the community by joining the discussion below, or you can send our editors an e-mail.