Is becoming a manager the best way to get ahead at work? Consider these four things before taking the leap.
It used to be that the traditional way to advance your career involved an eventual move into a management role. The more people and teams you managed, the more senior and well-paid you were likely to be. Success was measured by how quickly you advanced from individual contributor to people manager. Nowadays, however, career growth comes in many forms, and for some, that means advancing as an individual contributor.
In a workplace survey of nearly 1,500 individuals conducted by staffing services firm Addison Group, only 33 percent of respondents said they believed being a manager would advance their career. If that’s any indication of the increased popularity of achieving career advancement without becoming a manager, then it’s worthwhile to consider whether a management career path is a good fit for you; Perhaps you can achieve your career goals on an individual contributor track instead. Here are four considerations to help you determine which option is right for you.
What kind of work excites you
Few would argue that a management role comes with responsibility — both for your work and the contributions of the people you manage. Moving into a management role involves accepting accountability for the successes and failures of others. When team performance dips or other obstacles appear, most organizations will look to the leader of the team to implement a fix.
While some managers welcome the challenge of coaching their direct reports or recruiting new hires for their team, other individuals may see those tasks as a burdensome distraction from more important work. Before you decide if pursuing a manager career path is right for you, consider what mix of responsibilities is most exciting to you. Are you motivated by the prospect of goal-setting and delivering performance feedback, or do you get more satisfaction from being accountable for the achievement of your individual goals? Your preference may determine whether a career with a management track is in the cards for you.
How much you value formal training opportunities
Employee development is an important goal for most organizations, with some offering a diverse curriculum of training and other experiences to help strengthen employees’ technical and leadership skills. However, it’s possible that managers benefit from more training than individual contributors. One benchmark study found that 58 percent of companies spend more than $1,000 per year training senior leaders, but only 17 percent of companies spend that much on training for individual contributors. Perhaps this is the case because conventional wisdom says having good managers leads to exceptional company performance. It’s the main idea behind the Disney chain of excellence model — that strong leaders inspire excellent employee performance which in turn leads to stellar company results.
While every employee can benefit from training and development opportunities, some organizations may seek to train managers first (and invest more in their training) because they believe it will translate to overall growth in company performance. If you’re an individual contributor and want to be first in line for training, it may be time to explore a management career path.
Your long-term career goals
When you’re trying to decide if a management career path is right for you, you should also assess your long-term career aspirations. Do you want to be the senior-most technical expert in your field while remaining an individual contributor, or do you see yourself heading up a whole function as a member of the C-suite? Where you see yourself long-term will help to determine the career track that’s best for you.
If you see an executive leadership role in your future, you’ll likely need some experience managing others. For example, most members of the C-suite have achieved excellence as an individual contributor and as a leader of individuals and teams. On the other hand, a management role is not the only road to long-term career success. You may decide that being the chief engineer or architect is just as rewarding for you as being the engineering manager.
You can lead without managing
You can be a leader who manages people, but you don’t have to manage others to lead. In fact, some of the qualities of strong leaders — communication skills, leading by example, project management strengths — also help non-managers become great leaders.
If you enjoy bringing people together around a common goal and helping them achieve excellent performance, you don’t have to be the manager of a team to get it done. Leaders exist at all levels of an organization, which means that as an individual contributor you can still get promoted, have leadership development opportunities, and advance your career without becoming a manager.
Most of us start out as individual contributors. Remaining one doesn’t mean you can’t achieve your career aspirations. A management role might just provide the right mix of responsibilities and rewards you desire.
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