Technical Management

Leading in Technical Environment

You may have discovered that managing in a technical world is a different game than what you expected. We techies like to speak our own language. To make it worse, we have a different view on fashion, humor, organization, arguing, and so on. Want to connect better to those around you, especially up? Read on.
Published in the Albuquerque Journal, October 2006

Managing in the Technical Arena

by Katie Snapp
Managing Partner
Kessinger Consulting and Executive Coaching, LLC

I regularly hear from individuals who are experiencing the pain of transitioning upwards, despite the fact that they may be confident and qualified. Because technical jobs are dominating the marketplace, moving up in the world means moving from a position of technical confidence, to one that must display leadership skills.  Not an easy transition, despite someone having all the technical know-how to be terrific at the previous job. Most technical people try to translate those strengths they had at a technical job by repeating them in a management job.  Not smart.

Perhaps the most difficult transition for the techie is letting go of all expertise that got him or her this far.  Seems contradictory. Do something well and get somewhere - whoops, now stop doing that same thing once you reach a certain level.  Now be different.  Managing requires a vastly different skill set than the technical job, and much adaptability.

The following tips will keep you sharp, professional, and help to relate better to the executive contingent:

Start Thinking "People"

The 21st Century workplace is about people. Ignoring this because your business is about technology gravely hinders productivity.  Communicating, understanding emotion, adapting to interpersonal styles, and effectively influencing are skills that require constant tuning and much practice.

Expand your Narrow World

Recognize that there is a business point-of-view that often drives decisions.  Yes, technical conscience should rule the product design, but often decisions are wrapped-up in politics and high-level issues.  Learn to look at the macro while understanding the micro.

Avoid Technical Jargon

Using the lingo can alienate you immediately.  What may have been a normal conversation in the techno-world is inappropriate at some higher levels.  Translate your language into simple, more universal language.  And avoid those TLA's. (Three Letter Acronyms)

Look the Part

... the non-geek part.  Dress for the position to which you aspire. Seek the advice of a fashion sales clerk.  Best yet, identify someone you can role model after in the industry and mimic the level of dress.  The casual approach may be comfortable, but others are more likely to envision you in the manager role if you physically look like you belong there.  Shallow, but true. 

Be Visible to the Exec's

Volunteer to be a team leader or take on the annual offsite.  People in the midst of the effective business activity become known as capable.  Networking will result.  Continue to reach out by looking for ways to be involved in problem-solving.  Share your expertise with other areas of the organization by performing demo's or writing articles in the newsletter.

Have a Growth Plan

Skill development and skill maintenance should be a priority of every leader.  Utilize your HR or training department or get a personal coach.  Many of your technical skills can be useful at higher levels, but only in certain applications.  For example, are you attracted to lists?  Do you speak in bullets?  These can be useful organizational tools at all levels.  At the same time, do you get stuck if you don't have structure?  Learn to be versatile.  Oh, and by the way, if it is uncomfortable for you, it is a sign of stretching. Pain leads to growth.

I like to see managers let go of their technical past.  We identify with our technical credentials.  We like to think that we are still sharp if we bring it into the discussion here and there.  A client of mine calls it "engineering tennis" because we duel our know-how.  But it comes at a cost.  Those leaders that spend time micromanaging often neglect putting effort into their strategic vision.  They look like the technical expert only with more authority. Consider what life is like at the next level up, and be prepared to change for it.

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