A good manager does not need to be a good specialist
It has been common in the industry that specialists with more excellent experience are promoted to managerial positions expecting to bring good fruits, but that’s not true. Considering project management, the successful transition from specialist to manager requires recognising the necessity to learn new skills and then work to develop them. That’s the moment in the career of most professionals; if they are to progress further, they must complete the evolution from specialist to manager. Some are successful and advance to executive positions, whereas others struggle in their new roles despite being competent specialists.
Although a few fortunate individuals intuitively pick up the ability to manage, the great majority of those who successfully make the transition do so by recognising that they must learn new skills.
The transition from technical specialist to project manager requires skills in managing staff, building productive connections with fellow managers, clients, and strategic partners to support the organisation acquire its strategic goals.
Motivation and leadership skills are necessary for practice staff management. A project manager’s ability to uplift project teams reaches from their capability to administer rewards and penalties. Project managers who manage poorly tend to be over-dependent on punishment to get results; this usually creates more problems than solves them. On the other hand, good leaders are not afraid of punishment or discipline, yet, they learn to use rewards to encourage team fellows. They do this by identifying individual requirements, redesigning jobs or setting challenging goals.
The absence of leadership skills has differing impacts in different situations. Poor project managers see leadership as nothing more than giving orders when handling people outside their profession. They usually get a submission but at the expense of a less powerful or confident team and often lose productivity. When they manage experts from their discipline (engineers in teams or lawyers in a group), they go to the other extreme and delegate to the point of renouncing or rejecting their responsibility. The most challenging part of the shift is the need for project managers to build productive relationships with their fellow managers, contractors and clients, many of whom are from different disciplines.
Specialists often work in isolation
They have notable independence and are generally left alone to focus on their task; consequently, they develop their terminology and degrade other project management functions such as risk management or communications management by labelling them just as ‘admin‘.
Life as a project manager could not be more different; each day brings interruptions and the continuing need to negotiate (or compete for resources) with other managers. Good project managers are prepared to accept that their technical expertise is only one of the many vital competencies to ensure business success. They quickly pick up the skills needed to communicate with their equivalents, contractors, and clients and contribute as equal team members.
By contrast, poor managers adopt a mindset of chauvinistic defensiveness and self-righteous intolerance of criticism by locking themselves in their office to get some real work done without being bothered by the ‘admin’. Consequently, they are excluded from critical discussions of the project’s liability, team, and careers.
Another element of the transition to the project manager is the requirement to make strategic decisions. Experts may be given autonomy regarding working on the project or dealing with a contractor. Still, they do not generally decide which projects they work on or clients they will have. On the other hand, project managers spend much of their time making (or contributing to) these critical decisions. Strategic decision-making requires an ability to step back and see the big picture. After a career focusing on their discipline, some professionals find this difficult to achieve. As a result, they tend to micro-manage their team, getting so lost in technical details that they completely lose sight of the big picture.
The good news for aspiring project managers is that leaders can learn all these skills. Once learned, leaders should regularly practice them until they are applied automatically. Technical experts or professionals who wish to become project managers must first develop strategic and people management skills and manage relationships and then seek every opportunity to demonstrate that they can apply them. Suppose a permanent project management position is not available. In that case, temporary jobs such as filling in for a project manager on leave may provide that opportunity.
From technical expert to the project manager is not a promotion but a career change.