I don’t want to move up into a leadership role

A reader writes:

I’m in my mid-thirties, and have a fairly successful technical career — I have a good reputation for dependable work, common sense, and seeing connections that people miss. Every year, in my performance evaluations, I’m asked how I want to move ahead: my manager sees potential in me, and keeps encouraging me to move up a ladder into leadership positions.

I really don’t want a leadership position. I am happy with what I’m doing now, and the leadership roles all seem to come with an enormous amount of stress. I make enough to take care of myself and my kids, and I give value to the company where I am right now. I don’t want to buy into the more-more-more and sacrifice my happiness, my comfort, and time with my family for a bigger paycheck and more responsibilities.

Is there a way to say this to my manager? Every year, I say something like, “I’m really just looking to broaden and deepen my technical skillset,” but he keeps pressing me to take on different (higher-stress) roles.

It sounds like you need to be more direct: “I really appreciate your confidence in me and your push for me to move up, but I’ve given this a lot of thought, and I’m really happy with what I’m doing currently. I don’t want to move into management; I have huge respect for people who do, but it’s just not me. I love my current work and want to focus on getting better and better at it. Is that something that you can see working well here?”

You’re asking that last part because the reality is that some places really do get nervous if you don’t move up (or out) after a certain amount of time, and you want to get a clearer picture of how your company sees that.

There are two things that could potentially make your manager nervous here, and it’ll help to understand both so that you can proactively head them off.

The first is the question of whether you’re going to want to stay in the same role but continue to get salary increases. There’s usually a ceiling for how much it makes sense to pay someone in a given role, even if they’ve been in it for years.

The second is whether you want to keep learning and improving within your current role. Having someone stick around for years and just stagnate — not learn new things or seek out improvements to how they do their job — isn’t an appealing prospect. So you want to make sure that it’s clear that you do want to keep learning and growing — just without moving up.

As long as you’re able to address both of these fronts, most good employers (and that caveat is deliberate) will welcome someone who is content where they are and who wants to keep growing in place. Just be clear and transparent about it.

{ 93 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. badger_doc

    In some companies there are two tracks for moving up: 1) Management Track or 2) Subject Matter Expert Track (more like a research fellow type of role). See if your company has a different track that does not necessarily lead to managing people/processes. Subject matter experts are hard to find and are in high demand depending on the industry. Good luck!

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      1. M. S.

        My company does. We have Managers (of People) and Technical Managers who are the same pay grade without the stress of actually managing people.

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      2. Not Here or There

        This is a pretty common practice for companies that have a lot of technical roles, such as manufactures/ research companies.

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        1. Jake

          Same for engineering firms.

          You don’t want that socially inept rock star that just designed your latest project by him or herself to stagnate just because they don’t have the skillset to be a manager.

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    1. Jady

      +1 Here

      Even if there isn’t a role that currently exists, try to talk about it. Sometimes they’ll just create a role if you are valuable enough. You can be a mentor/trainer to newer employees, make decisions about the technologies the company uses, manage servers – tech related things that apply. Somebody has to do all of that stuff, and good god you don’t want non-tech people deciding what technologies to use.

      Moving up doesn’t (shouldn’t?) necessarily mean people reporting to you. If it’s in your preferred area, a move up shouldn’t necessarily mean large amounts of increased stress.

      I would say you shouldn’t suggest that you don’t want to move at all. I would just stress that you don’t want to move in that specific direction.

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      1. Meg Murry

        Yes – along the same lines, are you interested in going into the project managing side of things? I was at a smaller company where they wanted to move me into management roles, but I really really didn’t want to be involved with people management (hiring, firing, vacation schedules, performance reviews, dealing with attendance and personality conflicts – this seemed to take up 80% of my boss’s time) but I liked the project management aspects of it. The company heard what I had to say, and created a new role to promote me in to, so that another person and I were effectively parallel managers – me dealing with the project related aspects, and her dealing with the people related aspects. There was some overlap, obviously, and the two of us had to meet together a lot to make sure we weren’t contradicting each other (for instance, her granting everyone vacation the week before a big deadline I had coming up for the project). It actually worked really well for both of us.

        Even if OP doesn’t want to do that, I’d say she should still look to grow her skills. Being pro-active about this would be a really good idea – for instance, looking for a training or webinar series in her field to increase her skills in Chocolate Tempering, or Handle Molding, for instance. And even if she doesn’t want to go into management, if the company wants to send her to trainings on things like “Crucial Conversations” or “Getting Stakeholder Buy-In” or trainings on the financial and budgeting side of things, this would still be good information to have and good skills to develop to be able to help your manager with, even if OP wouldn’t be using them as a manager herself. So don’t run screaming from “management training” courses, even if you don’t want to be a manager – the content is often still applicable to individual contributors.

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        1. C Average

          What an awesome solution! I’d never thought about it before, but I’ve seen many capable people struggle to balance the people-managing side of management with the project-managing side of management. They’re really different skill sets and don’t tend to naturally occur in the same type of person. Having two managers tackle the two areas in tandem seems like a really great approach.

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          1. AdminAnon

            That’s exactly what happened to my dad in his current position. They were recruiting him to head a new department, which he was really excited about, but he has managed people before and hates everything about it. He’s extremely introverted and hates any sort of conflict and/or drama, but he is brilliant at what he does. He just prefers to keep his head down and churn out the work. So now he is the Chief Engineer. His counterpart runs the day-to-day business and interpersonal side of the department while my dad is the head of the project management side of things. It has worked out really well for them both so far.

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    2. Graciosa

      Some companies I’ve worked for refer to the latter as the Technical Ladder.

      I think it’s a great idea. There are some people who get to be really, really good at something and that should be recognized and rewarded for the value they bring.

      I also find it frustrating when companies don’t seem to really think through what qualities are needed to be successful in different roles.

      For example, they promote the best (extroverted, people person) salesman of the group to head the sales department where he can stop focusing on forming great client relationships and manage hiring / firing, the department budget, and numerous internal-only meetings. They can do just as much damage promoting the best (introverted, likes to hide somewhere and code in the dark) computer tech to the same responsibilities for completely opposite reasons.

      There is nothing wrong with keeping a high-performing employee happily performing in role, rather than promoting them to a Peter-principle role where they can be unhappily overwhelmed and less productive.

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      1. Mockingjay

        “There is nothing wrong with keeping a high-performing employee happily performing in role.”

        YES, YES, YES!

        This was me, at Ex-Job. I was promoted to supervisor. The things that made me good in my technical role did not translate to the soft skills required to manage a diverse group of employees. No training either, just handed off to team; the manager who promoted me left the company shortly thereafter. I was miserable and my team was miserable. (Had I known about AAM then, I might have fared slightly better.) I will never accept a managerial role again. I am not cut out for it.

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      2. AdAgencyChick

        “There is nothing wrong with keeping a high-performing employee happily performing in role, rather than promoting them to a Peter-principle role where they can be unhappily overwhelmed and less productive.”

        I COMPLETELY agree, and yet it’s so common for people to think there *is* something wrong!

        …or, even if there isn’t, I’m running into the problem of “experienced and awesome in this role” is becoming less desirable to potential employers than “less experienced, won’t necessarily be an instant fit, but less expensive.” Sigh.

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    3. Beancounter in Texas

      I worked for a Fortune 500 company for a couple of years and at least two people had been in the same job for 15+ years. They were happy in that position and I assume they continued to receive raises, albeit the raises may have sometimes been just enough to keep up with inflation. The LW may find the same consistency in a larger company – keep on mastering the technical skills and improving efficiency and not have to fight the other salmon trying to swim upstream.

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    4. Connie-Lynne

      Yes, my company has several different career ladders, including both technical and management. Other companies in my field call this sort of thing “Principal Engineer” or similar.

      LW, you might suggest getting something like that started to your manager.

      At the place my dad used to work, they did it on a one-off basis — if you didn’t want to go into management as a senior person, you applied to become a “Senior Scientist,” with a specific area of specialization. You were still expected to be a leader, but it was more leading by example and mentoring juniors, less dealing with upper management and/or specific project management. For my dad, this was definitely the way to go, he enjoys working with other people but is not cut out for management.

      Your company is going to be worried about retaining you, if they can’t grow you anywhere but management. Suggesting and/or starting something like this is a way for you to progress in your career while reassuring them that you’re still interested in working there.

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    5. Julia

      I’m in retail and used to work for a large national speciality retailer where moving up and to another city was the norm. I had no interest in moving, so I talked with my store manager and regional manager and they expanded my role in the store…mentoring new managers, taking on some of my store manager’s responsibilities, etc., it worked well for all of us.

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    6. MashaKasha

      +1 this is certainly the case in my field (IT). You can become a manager, or you can move into an architect-type role that, while also includes some level of team leadership, providing directions to the team etc. is not a management position. A lot of people opt for the second track, because they don’t care for the office politics that, in many companies, comes with being a manager; but mostly because they like what they’re doing, and realize they will be required to stop doing it if they become a manager.

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    7. SanguineAspect

      A company I used to work at several years ago did this; it allowed our really high-performing tech folks who didn’t want to be managers a progressive career path. It also allowed our high-performing tech folks who wanted to take leadership roles move into that a separate progressive career path. It was really successful! They did it in response to high-performers feeling pressured into taking leadership roles (that, ultimately, they weren’t really suited for or happy in).

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    8. Clever Name

      This. My (small) company just formalized development tracks, and I was very glad to see that a technical track is included. I had told my manger in a 1 to 1 that I wasn’t interested in even doing project management and I hoped that there was room in the company for a technical track. Luckily, there is.

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    9. INTP

      My first thought was also to look into developing a more specialized skillset. Ideally the company supports this, formally or informally, and the manager would support OP showing her ambition by identifying specialized skills to develop expertise in. But if the company doesn’t really allow for that, it’s also common for people to become very highly paid consultants in a particular area of expertise, especially in technical fields. You lose some of the benefits of stable employment but gain some freedom (you can take a 3 month vacation between contracts if you wish.)

      Reply
  2. Stone Satellite

    A related question: Why is it that so many times the ladder seems to consist of several rungs of chocolate teapot making and then managing chocolate teapot makers? Doing X and managing people who do X just seem like mostly orthogonal skill sets to me but it’s so, so common for the ladder to look that way; why is that?

    Reply
    1. Beancounter in Texas

      I suspect it’s because managers need to answer their team member’s subject questions and the fact that a person with good hard skills doesn’t necessarily have good soft skills seems not to matter or register as important. I would love to see a team in which the manager is excellent as managing the team and a team member is the subject expert to answer all the technical questions.

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    2. Laurel Gray

      Great question. I strongly believe this is how some bad managers are born. I don’t know how years of experience doing X turns into having people skills and organizational behavior knowledge to know how to manage people.

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      1. LBK

        I would argue that this is actually how most bad managers are born, particularly because if they don’t have the skills to manage but they’re used to being a rockstar as an individual performer, the transition to no longer being the best around at your job is very jarring and can manifest in bad ways (laziness, indifference, anger that gets taken out on employees, etc.).

        Almost every bad manager I can think of personally was a strong performer in their prior role and got moved to managing that role.

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        1. Graciosa

          This can end up inadvertently creating a sort-of technical ladder unofficially.

          We had one manager who was extraordinarily good at the work, and very abrasive to deal with as a manager. She also didn’t want to work for the person who was going to head our department.

          The result was a job posted at one level higher (so technically a promotion) but with no direct reports and a different reporting relationship. The requirements in the posting were so specific that everyone who read it immediately said, “Oh, there’s no point in applying – that’s Victoria’s job.”

          Victoria was promoted / sidelined and given an incredibly difficult technical project to work – she loved it, and it took literally years – and her former managerial role was posted and filled with a less abrasive replacement.

          But officially, we do not have a technical ladder. ;-)

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          1. Pennalynn Lott

            Ha. I had a sales manager who had something similar happen to her. She had never worked in sales, and her only management experience had been managing warehouse workers in a fulfillment center. In short, she had no idea what she was doing so she watched the clock and tried to micromanage things like where to sit within your cubicle and what kinds of small decorations you chose to have in your cube. (Seriously). It took a year, but upper management moved her into a “data management” position where she wrangled numbers, not people, and spent her time creating reports. She still got to feel like she was micromanaging us (by pulling reports about our work behaviors), but at least we didn’t have to deal with her on a day-to-day basis.

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        2. Stone Satellite

          I used to report to that manager. :( She was technically strong, moved up to being a people manager, and still thought her role was to be involved in every technical discussion that took place even though we had a separate technical manager for the team who was very knowledgable and appropriately involved. It was awful. We basically had every meeting twice: one where the technical team met to decide something and another where we recounted the *entire* thing to the people manager. Inviting her to technical meetings didn’t help, either; after anyone said anything she would recap it for us, often longer than the original statement. She was a nice person and I liked her when we worked as peers, but she should not have become a people manager.

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      2. Snowglobe

        I agree that the skillsets are different, but this can at least partly be mitigated if companies would take the management role seriously and train new managers. The company I work for requires ALL new managers to go through a full week training, covering things like how to set goals for your team, how to coach people, how to work through disciplinary processes, labor laws, etc. It boggles my mind when I read about people being promoted to management with absolutely no training.

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        1. jag

          I’ll add that in contemporary organizations, while not everyone has a management role, most mid-level staff should have skills in teamwork and collaboration, not just the technical aspects of the job. It’s not like there is technical stuff and everything else, and one can be most effective with only the former.

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          1. BananaPants

            Yes, I’m an individual contributor who has zero desire to manage anyone but myself. In reality, I work on teams all the time, am responsible for mentoring interns and new hires, and work with suppliers and others within the organization on a constant basis. Just because I don’t officially manage anyone doesn’t mean that those other skills aren’t important.

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    3. Cheesecake

      Well, usually manager is a strategic leading role vs doing role. Manager does not necessary need to know how to do job of 3 people below him step by step, but he knows why this is done, what should be done in the future and who should do it now. That is in ideal world of course.

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      1. LBK

        I do think that depending on the technicality of the work, the manager needs to be able to understand it well enough to know how to make decisions about it. There’s nothing more frustrating than a manager making a procedural or system change without understanding the actual impact to the people following/using that every day. At the very least, any changes on that level need to be run by a team lead or senior team member who knows the daily work better.

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        1. Helka

          This!

          We recently dealt with a manager in my department who came into his role without any kind of understanding of the work we were doing; it was incredibly frustrating for us because it meant that we couldn’t go to him with questions on judgment calls or decision-making (which is 90% of our work) and get a good answer from him. We’d have to handhold him first through all the concerns involved, and a lot of times he didn’t really take the concerns we expressed as seriously as we did — and when we’re handling large quantities of money, that’s a pretty nerve-wracking position to be in. To have him shrug and say “Look, don’t worry so much about making mistakes” when a mistake in our field means the company just lost $10,000… It didn’t exactly lead to a lot of confidence.

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        2. Allison

          Agreed! In firstjob, I found myself working for a manager who had done my type of work before, but for a client in a completely different industry, and the nature of my work was a little different than what he seemed used to. This led to a lot of unrealistic expectations on his part, and anxiety on my part when I couldn’t succeed. I tried to manage his expectations a little and explain why I wouldn’t be able to finish X by the end of the day, but I couldn’t reach him.

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        3. jag

          I’m a manager of one person, and have skills to do about 60% of what she can do. I can give good, non-technical comments on 90% of her work.

          My manager can do about 25% of what I do, and give good non-technical comments on 80% of my work.

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        4. Cheesecake

          I didn’t say manager can get away knowing 30% and bullshitting his way thru 70%. But she doesn’t need to know all nitty-gritty details. I had a manager who instead of managing tough team and even tougher stakeholders wanted to spend 3 forst months learning how to do all processes in steps (it was simply impossible; some steps were done outside of org). Needless to say she was gone after these 3 months.

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        5. Ask a Manager Post author

          Whenever this comes up, I always want to point out that it depends heavily on the level of manager. If it’s a line manager, yes, they need to know how to do the jobs of the people under them, generally. If it’s a COO, they don’t.

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          1. LBK

            Oh yes, definitely true – although I’d be surprised if a COO were making changes at that level of detail anyway unless it were the result of a company initiative or legal requirement that was going to happen regardless of the impact to day-to-day work.

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    4. Graciosa

      They are absolutely different skills sets, although it is how I got my start as a manager. Being able to answer questions is one useful skill among many, many, many skills required to be a good manager.

      For me, the more interesting challenge was the first time I had to manage a team performing work I did not know how to do better than anyone else on the team (or actually, even as well!). This really highlights the importance of a different set of skills.

      Fortunately, this didn’t happen until I was an experienced manager. Also, my managerial style already tended to be very consultative (I frequently ask the team how we should do things) which helped ease the transition.

      Still, that was a significant change that really demonstrated the difference between technical and managerial skill sets.

      Reply
      1. Graciosa

        LOL –

        You’re right. I need to start recommending AAM as a vocabulary builder (rather than just the great advice)!

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      2. Meg Murry

        Yesterday’s new word for me from this site was “vituperative”! I need to work on how to work these new words into my vocabulary – I love learning them, but I’m terrible at actually using new words.

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    5. Dynamic Beige

      I think that there may be 2 ways this happens, this is just a guess on my part.

      1. As AAM said, there is a cap on how much you can pay someone in a specific role, no matter how long they stay. You see this all the time on TV, the stars of the shows are suddenly producers or executive producers in addition to being stars of the show. There has got to be some stuff that they do in addition to their roles, but not getting extra money or challenges means they’re going to walk. They have more leeway to propose things they would like to do to keep themselves happy and people/agents to advocate for them. Not to mention contracts. If you want more money, and you’ve gotten to the highest level the company wants to or can afford to pay you at, you have two choices, change positions or change companies. Unless your company wants to create a new level/title for you, you’re kind of stuck. I can see how creating a new level can have its own problems with expectations of the other employees who might also want to move up into being that or wanting their own special title that goes along with their skills. Or what happens if you leave? Does another person get promoted into that? Poorly thought out, it could be a can of worms.

      2. It can be a way to take someone who may not be the best performer — since they already have experience with the team, know what the job entails as they are currently doing it, easier than going through a whole hiring process — and just move them up. Two of my managers fell into this category, and if I hadn’t have left when I did, I would have had a third as they were about to restructure to move some of the more senior people into being managers and the one who was the manager would have moved out of managing people directly and more of just the department. That manager had been put into their position because the company wanted them to stay and the department was getting too large and needed a manager. The others who were about to become managers — I think they were told that if they wanted more salary or more responsibility this was the way they would have to go as other more industry relevant positions were not in mix (i.e. Art Director or Creative Director). It was also a time when the company was expanding and this was probably seen as the most expedient step.

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  3. John R

    Some companies do have a technical track, but sadly I’ve found that, in most companies, you have to go into management to move up. I find this unfortunate. Just because someone is very skilled in a technical role doesn’t mean they will make a good manager. Often, techies *LIKE* to work at their computers and do coding, development, analysis, etc. Putting these people into roles where they have to build consensus, communicate clearly, etc. is not always a good fit.

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    1. Cheesecake

      True. They also assume once you are experienced enough you will strategise more and know how to split the work between others. But some people are just doers and not strategists. Also, managing people is darn tough, i’d rather learn C++

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      1. Judy

        In companies with a technical track, the technical leads are certainly doing the strategizing, and usually the splitting of the work, even if they’re not the one assigning it to others. They’re not doing the HR and budget things.

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        1. OP

          This is kind of my issue! There are three ways people move up here: they manage staff, or they manage projects, or they become technical leads. All three of these involve responsibility for a growing crowd of people, and a portion of their job becomes in some way figuring out what people will do and following up to make sure they’re doing it correctly. Each performance meeting with my people-manager, he tries to work out which track I belong on and pokes me to squirm reluctantly up it.

          I don’t disagree that I could do it. It would just make me miserable. All of the roles require a degree of after-hours responsiveness I don’t want to do, and the latter two require a lot more travel, and they all have a lot more assessing and judging people than I want as part of my daily life. I probably do just need to be firmer about it, like Alison says.

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          1. AnotherAlison

            Not to put words in your mouth, but it sounds like you want to stay right where you are. . .we’re not even talking technical track, because it doesn’t sound like you want to be a technical lead.

            I think you can get away with it short term, but longer term, I think you will run into problems with your managers. If you do get better and better at your technical role, they do want to you to have more responsibility in that. . .training others, going on sales trips to show you off to clients, running a technical group.

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          2. Meg Murry

            I agree with other commenters that the phrase “right now” is a good one for you to use. So saying things like “I really like X, Y and Z and I want to keep focusing on those things right now” leaves you an out if you decide you do want to move up in 5 years.

            I think one thing you need to acknowledge is that it sounds like your company has a lot of after hours and travel work, and that’s not something you want to do. Even though you are happy with where you are, in some companies the entry level jobs are meant to be stepping stones to the higher level more responsibility jobs, and they don’t want people stagnating there. At other places, there is no path to advancement – what you do now is what you will be doing 5 years from now, and it sounds like you may need to consider making a lateral move if you want that.

            One other thing to avoid having to do more traveling or after hours work is to try to become the expert on a piece of equipment that stays in the office. So if you become “OP, the XYZ machine expert” you are likely to be giving tasks involving the XYZ machine, which would be staying in your office, and not work you could do from home in the evenings.

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            1. OP

              I agree with most of what you’re saying, but I do want to note that I don’t view myself as being in an entry-level role right now. I’ve been in the industry for nearly 15 years, and I’m doing sophisticated technical work. A lot of people retire from the role I’m in right now. I just got there faster, and am at the point where, as AnotherAlison said, I’m really happiest where I am. I want to get BETTER at what I’m doing, but to me, that means learning more programming languages, understanding them more deeply, learning the intricacies of our systems and ever-more-challenging design patterns, not shifting to having different responsibilities which involve more being the point of contact in crisis situations.

              I want to be the person who people go to when they have a question about why their system is building differently on two different computers or they’re trying to figure out why they’re getting the wrong behavior or their processes are taking longer than they should, not the person who has to follow up on whether people are going to meet deadlines and how we’re going to adjust if there are issues. To be completely honest, that level of responsibility is what I think will be stressful for me, and I’d rather avoid it.

              And I’m fine with the idea that this means I’m not going to get pay increases, or even that my pay may decrease somewhat against inflation. I’ve been in situations of tech leading and project management before, and each time, my health has suffered from the stress. I just don’t want people to hear “I’m happy where I am,” and read it as, “I’ve checked out.”

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              1. Hillary

                I think the first sentence of your second paragraph (stopping at should) is a great way to articulate what you want. It expresses a clear goal and path for further development, and I hope your company will support you on it.

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                1. Connie-Lynne

                  I agree with Hilary. Express that to your manager, and ask if there’s a set of goals that you two can work on to make that happen.

                  It’s key to note here that there are ways to lead that don’t involve managing people. You can show by example, you can mentor, you can help “architect solutions” or however that buzzword is phrased at your company. All that is leadership — leadership is about behavior not who you manage.

    2. LBK

      The problem is that not all jobs really scale that way. If you can already program well enough to do what needs to get done, what further expansion can you do with your technical skills that actually benefits the company? There’s only so far you can go on a technical track, and it’s rarely as far as you can go if you move up the hierarchy instead (especially when it comes to pay and perks).

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      1. AnotherAlison

        This. Being that I’m in an engineering company, there are plenty of technical people, but there’s only room for a few “technical track” people at the top of the ladder. There are only a handful of people here making their living by being master of some esoteric knowledge domain. The people who stay on the TT are more likely to be stuck at mid-level and their pay is not going to reach the levels of the guru or the project manager/department manager. (And I understand that the OP is satisfied with their current pay, but sometimes I think current pay reflects a belief about the future of an employee. Could be you were being paid as a top performer and your future raises will work you into the okay performer group, even though your performance is still good, you are no longer being groomed.)

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  4. C Average

    One thing that could be a concern for a really capable person staying in the same role for a really long time is the possibility of eventually being managed by someone with way less experience than you have.

    I’ve seen this happen at my company. A couple of my colleagues who have occupied the same role for many years because they’re not interested in management wound up being managed by people many years their junior in terms of both age and experience. In some cases, these relatively new managers didn’t have a very good understanding of the “I don’t want to move up, thanks” mindset and didn’t fully appreciate what these long-timers brought to the table in terms of knowledge and expertise. As a result, the long-timers had difficulty maintaining respect for their managers and developed a bit of an attitude.

    Obviously this doesn’t happen in every such case, but it’s something to be wary of if you either are the long-timer or are managing the long-timer.

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    1. brightstar

      I manage a long timer who has no interest in moving up. I’ve found consulting them on decisions before they’re made seems to have worked. They have the experience and organizational knowledge I lack and it’s invaluable.

      Managing is hard and not for everyone. That fact should be respected instead of the assumption it means less motivated.

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      1. JM in England

        Totally agree with the last sentence there. In some interviews where I’ve told them that I’m not interested in being a manager, they too seemed to interpret it as lacking ambition.

        Besides, if everyone was a manager, who would they manage? :-)

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        1. moodygirl86

          This. We can’t all be bosses! We’ll always need people to do the entry level roles. Personally, I do have ambitions, which are currently related to my hobbies. I go to work in call centres and offices to pay my rent, eat and save up until I can afford to swap that job for the things I love.

          My mum suggested to me once that I should become a manager when moaning about a boss who was treating me badly. I really dislike the idea that you should have to be in a position of authority to be treated like a human being; it’s bullshit, especially when not all of us are cut out for that responsibility.

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          1. JM in England

            I use a military analogy for this in interviews and say that I see myself as a better soldier than a general.

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  5. Allison

    I feel your pain, in my industry a lot of people define “moving up” as becoming more external-facing, so I’m always clear and upfront with managers and hiring managers that no, I’m happy with what I’ve been doing and don’t intend to move into an external facing role, although I usually tell them what responsibilities I am willing to take on in an attempt not to seem lazy or unmotivated.

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  6. Meg P

    I might also add a caveat that makes the message more friendly to the manager – “for now”. I’m not sure if you honestly know that you want to stay in a technical role forever, and hearing that it might be something you’re interested further out doesn’t close that door for you forever. I was lucky enough in my technical career that my bosses kept pestering me to take on a managerial role, and when I was finally in a situation where I really needed to be the manager to make the changes I wanted, it was not a big deal.

    I also took a baby step toward management before taking on a whole team – I was senior technically and was assigned two architects as direct reports to try it out while still keeping my main role technical. I don’t want to diminish the importance of technical companies letting staff be senior or SMEs, but there are other options that you could explore if you want to – and if they value you enough to encourage you to be a manager you may have other options.

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  7. Snowglobe

    Regarding #2 of Allison’s advice, I think it’s important to define exactly what “learning and improving” might look like. Hopefully that doesn’t just mean going through training so you keep doing what you’re doing now, only better. Eventually that training will produce diminishing returns. You should think about ways you can contribute more without going into management, such as mentoring/training newer employees, project management, acting as a resource to other departments, etc.

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  8. DrPepper Addict

    I really think it’s awesome that OP realizes the trade off in moving up the ladder and doesn’t want to sacrifice his time with his family. It’s just not for everybody and it’s great he sees that.

    I wonder if there would be a way for him, with his broadening technical skills, to move into a position that’s not management but requires higher skillset that he has now? Perhaps that could be a compromise, if there was a non-management job with similar hours but a more technical role that could work.

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  9. A Jane

    There’s a book called “Team Geek” which discusses the two growth tracks — management and technical. My memory is hazy, but it did describe how development worked.

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  10. Beck

    I think it’s great that you acknowledge you do not want to be a manager. I was pushed into a management role (8 direct reports), about a year ago at my job and have since learned that I do not like managing people! It’s stressful and I spend 80% of my day sometimes managing instead of getting work done; and for someone that takes pride in the quality of their work, and would prefer to be left alone during the day, it’s a hard transition to make.

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  11. Artemesia

    It is too bad there are not more promotions available to high level technical people who want to stay that way. Schools have the same problem so that terrific teachers have to become principals to advance — I remember my terrific chem teacher who became the Vice Principal charged primarily with chasing down smokers; what a waste of talent.

    But it is also worth reflecting on the decision to stay put from time to time. When one of my kids faced this juncture her brother noted ‘your decision is not ‘are you good enough to manage’ but ‘do you want to be bossed around by the person they will hire if you don’t agree to the promotion?’ She took that to heart having seen that most of her previous managers were not all that and took the promotion and is doing great. So maybe the OP doesn’t want to move up now — but she should take a look at this from time to time and see if it continues to be in her best interests.

    Reply
    1. Scott M

      I’ve heard that reasoning before, and I never really understood it. Of course I’m willing to be ‘bossed around’ by the person they hire, Because I’m assuming the person they hire will be a competent manager, which Iwould not be.

      Reply
  12. The Toxic Avenger

    Hi, OP – you could be me. :) I am a senior-level technical project manager with many years of experience. I love doing what I do. Two years ago, I was asked to move to another company to manage project managers. I had some reservations, but I decided to go for it. It was a mistake. I thought I was a decent enough manager: I communicated expectations clearly, dealt with performance issues quickly so they didn’t linger, and let people go when they didn’t hit the mark. However, the job made me miserable. I hated the politics, and I got so stressed out by difficult performance conversations – I needed a couple of days just to mentally prepare for them so I didn’t “wuss out.” On top of all that, the leadership was terrible. I jumped ship after a year and went back to doing what I love to do: leading teams to solve complex technical problems, and unifying people to build really cool stuff. Do what you like to do, and the rest will follow if you keep your eyes open, and your ear to the ground. :-)

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    1. JM in England

      One of the main reasons for me not choosing the management track is the politics involved. All I want to do each day is come in and do the work I was hired to do to the best of my (current) ability. Having to be responsible for others will take me away from that…………..

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  13. Cheesecake

    Another thing we actually discussed today in the office: when you don’t want to move you block pipeline because they can’t move anyone into your position. And sometimes this particular position is the key to someone else’s development. So yes, OP, be very precise it is not this particular role you want to have forever, but you don’t want what you have exactly described above

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    1. Scott M

      Sure, that works if you are in the leadership pipeline already. But if you are 1 of 5 lower-level employees, you wont be in anyone’s way.

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      1. LBK

        Not necessarily – there are plenty of single-person senior individual contributor roles that would be considered a step towards management but don’t require any in the role.

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    2. soitgoes

      that’s a good point, and I wonder if it isn’t the issue at play when a lot of talented young-ish people talk about leaving good-enough/not-great positions for greener pastures; we often hear about employees being frustrated because the older generation of employees isn’t going anywhere and is therefore keeping anyone else from advancing.

      Obviously OP needs to do what is right for him, but if his current position was always meant to be management-track, he might have to think about whether he’s willing to leave his current company or have his position restructured a bit. Whoever’s next on the list to be manager might need to start taking on the more interesting/engaging/challenging aspects of OP’s workload, and in that instance, wouldn’t the OP rather keep doing that work but have unappealing managerial duties tacked on?

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  14. K.

    Because I am a nerd, I have always thought of this as the Captain (Admiral) Kirk problem. I do not want to get promoted beyond my area of expertise. I am very good at what I do; I would not be very good at being two levels up from what I do. I would prefer to keep honing my craft, instead. (To continue with Star Trek analogies, I pretty much want to be the Riker.)

    In fact last year I had this conversation at my review:

    Boss: “So what do you see yourself doing over the next few years?”
    Me: “Honestly? Right now I think I’m a really good [X]. And with a few more years of practice, I think I could become a truly, genuinely excellent [X].”
    Boss: “I agree.”

    But I am also fortunate to be in a field (think “creatives”) where continuing to build my portfolio and hone my craft for the next 50 years, without becoming the Big Boss, is a perfectly acceptable and perhaps even desirable path.

    Large organizations I’ve worked in before have really struggled with keeping open a non-manager path for their top talent, but they have recognized the importance of it. Especially as businesses are by nature hierarchical, and you need MANY FEWER directors and VPs than you do “individual contributors,” and it is vital to keep the latter engaged and to keep the strong ones working for you.

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    1. OP

      I really, really like this script! As a response to a 5-year-plan question, the solid growth from good to excellent (or excellent to “one-of-the-company’s-top”) is a really good sort of target to lay out, I think.

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    2. Saucy Minx

      Exactly! It is hardly logical to suppose that everyone can (or wants to) move upward via becoming a manager, nor is it sensible to require that path of those who contribute to the bottom line in other ways.

      Perhaps the points to make when being reviewed would be to demonstrate the value you offer to the company due to time saved, money saved, or XX% improvement in a process.

      Reply
  15. Retail Lifer

    I’m as high up as I want to go in my current role. I already manage people, which I like just fine, but the next step is a WHOLE LOT MORE STRESS and some travel and some extra annoyances and I’m not interested. I can pay my bills just fine doing what I’m doing and working close to 40 hours each week. Not even worth the big salary bump. My immediate supervisor is fine with that, but her boss doesn’t get it. He doesn’t get that a huge house in a fancy neighborhood with an expensive car isn’t everyone’s dream – some of us are OK with a modest lifestyle but great work/life balance.

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    1. OP

      Solidarity.

      That’s pretty much exactly me. I’d have to get paid 40-50K more a year than I’m getting now to be able to compensate for the perks of what I have in my role — I genuinely love what I’m doing; I have regular moments of joy and self-fulfillment through my job; I can put my kids on the bus in the morning and pick them up from daycare in time to cook them dinner; I can take time for dentist appointments and teacher conferences without feeling guilty.

      I’d lose all of that if I went up much higher. I have another 25+ years in the workplace; why mess up a good thing? What’s the extra money going to get me that’s worth so much?

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      1. JM in England

        Totally concur. I’ve always seen a management role as a lot more stress for relatively little more money in terms of the added responsibilities…………

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  16. Jerry Vandesic

    I want to make the point that leadership is not the same as management. While it is expected that managers exhibit leadership, you can exhibit leadership even if no one reports to you. You can be a leader if you share your knowledge, share your opinion, help out others, and more. I fully expect that senior people who work for me act as leaders, regardless of any management responsibilities.

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  17. Lisa

    I would be very cautious. I had a manager keep asking me if I would like moving to another State to take a role there and I kept refusing. Ultimately it came down to that, I left and they hired someone in my position, in that State (CA).

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  18. AntherHRPro

    OP: It is great to hear someone who has thought through this issue. So many people just want to advance because that is what you are supposed to do and the best way to make more money. If you are happy at your current level, I encourage you to be transparent with your manager. It is great that he/she sees potential in you and that you are well thought of. You need your bosses help in ensuring that your skills and abilities continue to be honed in your current / similar roles so that you will keep that same level of capability over time. I agree with others that you may not want to close the door completely as you do not know what the future holds.

    Tell you boss that you find your current job very rewarding at that at this time you are not interested in advancing into a management position. That your aspiration is to be the very best that you can be and want to continue to focus on building your X, Y and Z skills. If your manager presses you on why you do not want to move into a manager role, let him/her know what you specifically enjoy about your current job and that the element of managing others is not something that you currently have an interest in taking on.

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    1. AntherHRPro

      You may also want to consider that your manager may not initially understand your perspective. I have found that some managers, believe that the same things that motivate them (in this case advancing into management) motivate others.

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  19. YourOwnPersonalCheeses

    I’ve often wondered ab0ut this. It’s reassuring to read here that it’s actually perfectly reasonable to not want to become a manager. I was worried about the “up or out” mentality, but maybe it’s not quite as prevalent as I assumed. Whew!

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  20. soitgoes

    I always have mixed feelings about this, since I don’t have any strong desire to move into a position of power and authority, but obviously I understand why companies promote from within and why they assume that everyone naturally would like to be part of a management team.

    Perhaps there is a way for OP to make himself more of a “team leader” instead of a full-on manager. In my own experience, as my company grows, I’ve seen a bit of a team develop around me (since I’m the one who was there first and did the trial-and-error work that resulted in our current procedures). I’m the one who delegates work and determines who’s performing well. However, I don’t necessarily feel that I’ve siphoned any authority away from the general manager, though that could just be due to the fact that my team works well together and doesn’t raise the need for any sort of managerial action. Obviously the OP knows more about his company’s structure than we do, but perhaps there is a way for him to meet his bosses in the middle?

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    1. soitgoes

      ETA: I realize this means that I probably technically am a manager. It only matters if I ever leave this company and need to update my resume…and I’m in a competitive field so it actually would help a lot to have “manager” on there. I’d advise OP to focus on picking and choosing his new tasks but being open to taking the new title. You never know when it’ll matter.

      Reply
  21. Worker Bee

    I’ve known a couple people whose positions were reclassified as “management” when they declined to assume management roles. I think it was done to eliminate the OT they were earning, which was substantial. Within six months both people crashed, burned, and left. So many managers there were working 60-80+ hours a week while being paid for 40.

    I’ve never been interested in managing either, though I have a BA in management. I had a chance to get the degree which was paid for by my employer at that time, but later I got into a line of work where I was able to make a decent wage and also work remotely. Turns out what was most important to me was to be left in peace to do my job, make a decent salary, and be away from office nonsense.

    Unfortunately the job went the way of outsourcing and offshoring, so when I lost my job I lost my livelihood. Now I’m looking at management/supervisory positions but I still don’t want them, “entry level” no longer means what it used to mean, and true entry level positions pay abysmally low. I’ve seen ads requiring an undergrad degree plus experience starting at 13/hr. Yikes.

    I am working again but still looking; the current job is not a good fit. It has been tough losing a line of work that suited me so well, and to be adrift at this point in my life. I’d like to think I can find another niche out there, but I have no idea how to go about finding it.

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  22. johaness

    This happens all times at IT field, good programmers, bad managers, in fact really bad ones. Most people on IT enjoy making code and build really good systems, not bargain with people and updating Excel or project sheets for somebody looks cool at some business meeting…
    If you study to be a programmer be a programmer not a ball suck from somebody else, this is what you study for! If your boss doesn’t understands its his problem not yours.

    Reply

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