Technical managers moving into management roles is a script that plays out every day in large tech companies. Managers with the best technical expertise and ability to reach performance goals consistently are the first consideration for senior management roles. It is clearly an expectation from managers that they are promoted to management; the management thinks it is great because it represents continuity and that deep understanding of technologies, products and systems. Until it hits everyone.

The new management candidate gets increasingly frustrated because they spend little time using their technical skills and instead on “people problems”, navigating office politics, and coordinating. Such a transition hits hard because there is no clear fit of existing skills to new professional demands and there is no quick way to acquire them.

In this article, we’ll explore how the HR/management of the company, the tech-manager can make the transition. This transition can occur from early to mid-career roles, and again from mid-career to management. Here’s what each of the participants in this situation should need to consider to get technical managers to move into management roles:

The HR/management checklist to promoting technical/ functional managers

Making this transition to mangement roles gets harder as the candidate gains years and experience — so the first thing to consider is transitions that come earlier in career say in the middle management level.  To begin with, how do you determine that functional/technical manager is a good candidate for a management role? To begin with they should have demonstrated these skills:

  1. Great communication and people skills: (S)He has strong great writing, oratorial and presentation skills as well as people skills.
  2. Willingness to suspend ego gratification: To concentrate on helping others succeed: Management is about ensuring success at an organisational level and is not about pursuing personal success or fulfilment as much as it is one’s colleagues and co-workers.
  3. Strong ‘hard skills’: They need to not only have great organisational, project management, and budgeting skills management requires being able to task-switch among them. It also requires overall inputs into detailed deliverables, and to manage people, time, technology and money — in getting things done.
  4. Strong strategic thinking bias: They need to have a deep understanding of how technology works to help businesses and organisations meet their goals and objectives. This requires an understanding of the risks and rewards that technology presents, and how to produce the best returns on customers’ investments and activities.
  5. Ability to manage communications in both directions: Success depends on understanding the needs of those above and below them in the organisational chart. Stakeholders are on both sides with management the incumbent has to communicate to both sets carrying expectations, instructions but most of corporate goals and actions to produce the most positive outcomes possible.

Technical/ functional managers’ checklist for a management position

If you are a technical or functional manager moving into a management position you need to prepare yourself these two fundamental shifts:

  1. The first is your mindset has to change — your technical knowledge is only limited help in your new management role as you now have to focus on the skills and successes that involves multiple functions and teams.
  2. The second is that your identity in the company will change — being a superstar in your functional role will not save you from starting at the beginning again, and you need to be prepared for this “identity demotion.”

Here are some steps you can take to make your transition into a management role smooth:

  1. Solving strategic problems: You need to translate problem-solving into a management context. Problems will require multiple functions within the company and other industry players etc to solve. Reading on cutting-edge business thinking can allow you to think and engage on a broader front.
  2. Build a cross-functional understanding: Technical managers frequently have a narrow worldview. Unless you understand and leverage the marketers, sales, operations, and others, you will struggle to move beyond your role as a technical manager.
  3. Find a mentor: Look for someone in your organisation who has succeeded in a management role coming from a functional role. A mentor can help you avoid some of the mistakes that they made and help get across to the right people within the organisation critical for your success.
  4. Stay away from technical work: Resist the temptation to get involved with technical projects that aren’t your responsibility.
  5. Meet with your reports and their teams: Meeting them allows you to find out what interests and motivates them, and they have the professional environment necessary to be successful in their role. It also allows you to find out what your team expects from you.
  6. Be a good communicator: You need to learn how to write, learning how to speak and learn how to behave as ‘management’. Emails need to be crafted with care and sensitivity. Communication needs to demonstrate your intelligence, knowledge and thoughtfulness.
  7. Dress up: Your colleagues, the industry and ecosystem you inhabit expects it. Always dress for the position.

Technical and functional managers from IT, finance, sales, or marketing are promoted to management because they know their job well. The problem is that they have little management experience and most organisations offer very little management assistance. 

In a management role, instead of focusing on macro influences, strategic issues, and “people aspect” of their new role, they continue to stay in their comfort zone — their own projects and technical skills.

It is important for the organisation to focus on how to make the transition smooth so the organisation benefits from the deep functional understanding that the incumbent brings as well as fresh ideas and thinking.

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