Engineer to Leader
"Imagine engineers and technical managers who are as effective with people as they are with technology."

STCerri International E-zine/Newsletter

March 2, 2009


It's Easy To Become A Technical Manager!

Two or three weeks ago I received this comment to one of my blog postings that read, in part, as follows:

"My question is how do I get back to a position of manager vs IC? (Individual Contributor)

When new managers came into play - change happened and because I had the safety of a paycheck I became and now am an IC.
However I am unhappy and I would like a suggestion on how I can get back to a manager position (title not important) but leading people is. Because I let the paycheck manage my career I am now working for an organization that is all I and no WE.
Your assistance and coaching is appreciated."


I truly understand everything J is asking and experiencing.  So I'm going to answer his question(s).

Steven Cerri

P.S.  Feel free to pass this Ezine on to a friend.

Note:  If you have missed my previous Ezines/newsletters you can find them archived at: 
Archived Ezines/Newsletters
"It's Easy To Become A Technical Managers--Honest It Is!"

Over the last several weeks I've been writing in my Ezines and blogs that young people are restless and they often want the world much sooner than many would think they deserve.

Often when I coach young engineers I give them advice as well as some sense of how much patience they ought to exercise.

What I often don't say quite this way, is:  Becoming a technical manger is probably one of the easiest things to do.

Now notice I didn't say becoming a successful technical manger is one of the easiest things to do.  I said becoming one is.

You are rare indeed!
Finding an engineer who can successfully manage and lead people is very difficult.  It's a very difficult combination to find in one person.  And therefore, most organizations are so eager to find someone who can, that they are constantly trying to entice engineers to make the transition.

Unfortunately, most organizations don't understand what is needed for the successful transition, so they just grab someone who is a decent engineer and who "seems" to have some aptitude for management and presto, he or she is a manager, or sort of.

I recently was published in Mechanical Engineering, the flagship magazine of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME).  The article was titled "The 5 Myths" and lists the five myths that many organizations use to justify the selection of engineers to be managers.

Often the selection and transition process fails because the myths are just that, myths and they are false.

Companies and organizations are constantly trying to fit engineers into the management role before they are ready, and this often leads to problems.

All of this leads to the situation in which we often find ourselves, and that is, good technical managers are difficult to find.

So what does this have to do with J?
So why am I spending all this time before answering J's question?

Well, if you have all followed my reasoning so far, you ought to all be coming to one major conclusion... if an engineer shows even a reasonable set of behavioral qualities that would qualify him or her as a potential manager, most organizations would either offer them the transition opportunity or at least have a conversation about the possibility of future management positions.  And since J has been a manager in the past, I suspect he has some sense of what it takes to be a manager.

So one of three things is happening in J's situation, and here they are.

1.  J indicated that a new management team came in.  Often, when this happens, the take-over team brings in their old buddies.  The new leader often brings in his or her staff, people with whom they have previously comfortably worked and the team that was in place before the change is either let go or moved to the "back forty".  This may be what has happened to J.  And because J wanted to keep his pay check, he tolerated moving back to an IC and now he feels stuck.  And if this is indeed the case, he is stuck.  He'll have to make a change of some kind, whenever he feels it's appropriate.  (I'm being careful here because I can't give J advice since I really don't know his situation in detail.)

2.  Or, assuming that the new management team is a "straight" bunch of people, and would give opportunity to anyone regardless of "history" with the J's old company or the takeover company, then the issue of J's lack of advancement is J's behavior.  This may mean that, in the eyes of the new management team, J is not the manager he thinks he is, and he may want to consider getting more training.  Because if the takeover team is looking for leaders, and they recognized J as a manager (and situation #1 above was not in play) then the management team would snap up any engineer who behaved as a manager or leader.  And this is often the case in a takeover.  J was a successful manager in his past company but what his old company may have expected from managers may be very different from what his new management team expects.

3.  Or, J's company just doesn't have any management opportunities... this doesn't sound like the case from his tone in his comment.

What does it take?
Several years ago, a study was conducted in which technical managers, CTOs, CIOs, CEOs, COOs, vice presidents, and directors of technical companies were asked what traits they wanted in their engineers so they would be the stars and considered for advancement either as senior engineers or as technical managers.

There were nine major traits (and I teach these nine traits in one of my seminars).  The nine traits can be divided into three groups of three traits each. 

The first group of three traits focuses on personal behavior and performance as they relate to you, the individual.

The second group of three traits focuses on personal behavior and performance as they relate to you "in relation to your team".

The third group of three traits focuses on personal behavior and performance as they related to you "in relation to the overall company".

I can guarantee you that if an engineer displays all or even the majority of these nine traits they will be pulled into management whether they volunteer or not.

Here are some examples
When I was a young engineer, three or four years out of college, Rockwell International selected me for their management/MBA program.  I turned it down because I wanted to get a science masters degree first.

Later, Rockwell selected me again for the same program and I turned it down again; I left to start a company with four other engineers.  (I ultimately got my MBA ten years later.)

While I was turning down these opportunities for management training, I was chief systems engineer on a satellite program after being out of college for six years.

And there were other young people who were selected for other management and leadership positions as well.  We all seemed to display the same set of behaviors.

We tended to be inclusive, not exclusive, and we all seemed to have interpersonal skills that made us comfortable dealing with people and ideas that didn't always fit easily together.

It was our behaviors that drove our selection for management not our requests.

Here is the key!
If you want to be a technical manager, start displaying the behaviors that give your management a clear indication, not that you'd like to be a manager, but that you already are behaving like one.

This means that you will be able to display at least some of these traits:

1.  You can integrate the ideas of others with yours, and you won't defend your idea as the best.

2.  You are most interested in being effective rather than being right.

3.  You can communicate and influence across a wide variety of people in a wide variety of situations.  In a phrase, you must be able to "influence without authority".

4.  You can think "systemically", beyond the borders of your own task.

5.  You know how to tell a compelling "story" when it comes to selling your ideas and the ideas of others to management.

6.  You don't see management as the "enemy".

... and there are others.

And finally...
The bottom line messages are these:

1.  It is certainly important to communicate with your management that you want to advance into management.  They must know what you want.  But it's not the most important component of your advancement strategy.

2.  Most important is your behavior.  It's important for you to be able to display the traits that indicate that you are management material.  The more traits you display the quicker you will advance.

I hope this has been of help J.

Be well,

"Imagine engineers and technical managers who are as effective with people as they are with technology?"

Steven trains, coaches, and facilitates engineers and technical managers to BE the answer to this question.  Steven is unique because he has made this transition himself.  Get Steven's latest thoughts at:

I'm sure you'll find the information in this Ezine/Newsletter and other products useful to the advancement of your engineering and/or management career.  Send questions, comments, and suggestions to:

Copyrightę2009 STCerri International and Steven Cerri.  You are free to pass this information on to others and to reproduce it.  If you reproduce sections in whole or part please give attribution to Steven Cerri.  Thank you.

Be well,

Steven Cerri
STCerri International

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Most of us believe that the behaviors that made us successful as engineers will make us successful at the next level of our careers.  Unfortunately, the skills that got you where you are today won't get you where you want to be tomorrow.
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10 Pitfalls to Advancing Up the Technology Management Ladder


Being Right versus Being Effective

Motivating People By Reference

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"Engineering or Management", published in NSPE (National Society of Professional Engineers) Magazine, 2008.

"Going Soft", published in ASME (Mechanical Engineering) Magazine, 2004