Tech managers are often promoted from the ranks due to their technical savvy. But the transition to management is not always easy due to a few pitfalls.
Linda A. Hill is a Harvard Business School professor and author of the best-selling book Becoming a Manager: How New Managers Master the Challenges of Leadership. She offers some insights into the pitfalls technical people frequently face when they take on a management position.
Tech managers want black and white answers
Hill says that technical people tend to expect clear-cut answers to problems. What they find in their new management position is that problems and their answers are more ambiguous and conceptual. Answers to problems involve more than configuring a Cisco switch interface. The answers you will be seeking now will involve your direct reports, your boss, and your peers from other departments. You may have known what to do when Check Disks malfunctioned in Vista, but you won't always be so sure when making a decision that is securely lodged in the gray area. At first, you won't feel as "in control" as you once did.
Management requires human interaction
It sounds like a cliché, but tech folks are not always good at interacting with others. It becomes more difficult when you are required to interact with different "tiers" of people. You have to be able to interact with your boss. That includes being willing to disagree with a proposed initiative and expressing that disagreement well. You also need to sell your team on new initiatives once you've decided to go for them. Management, especially mid-management, requires you to shift gears often.
You have no credibility as a manager
Often, tech pros are promoted from within the ranks. You may have been the database whiz kid among your peers, but now you have to prove your credibility in your new role as manager. Don't rush it — if you go in with your guns blazing, flush with your new authority, you're going to dispel any good feelings your team had about you going in. Take it easy. Listen a lot from all sides.
You don't want to ask for help
Hill says she finds that, in the first year at least, rookie managers tend to avoid their bosses. She thinks it's because they don't want the boss to know how out of control you are or at least feel. But she says that effective managers know when to ask for help and how to ask for it effectively and constructively. Don't, she says, ask your manager to fix a problem. Ask him or her for advice on how you can fix a problem yourself.
New managers don't understand interdependencies
In their prior roles, tech pros often exist in a vacuum. They're not as dependent on others in the company, especially not people in other departments. And new managers are often so busy with immediate concerns that they forget they need to build relationships outside of their departments. But the more you know how other departments function and the better your relationships are with the leaders of those other departments, the more successful you're going to be.
How about you? We'd like to hear from some tech pros out there who made the transition to management.
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Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.