The attributes of a good manager

From Technical Expert to Manager: How will you bridge the gap?

It’s no surprise that the transition from technical expert to manager is a struggle. Leaders in technical organizations tell stories of exceptional engineers who never make it as a manager. Perhaps you have your own story, as do I. That the transition is difficult is no surprise. What is a surprise is the magnitude of the gap between the skillsets of a highly-skilled technical professional and the attributes of a good manager. We underestimate the gap…every, single time. Here’s how I know. 

I’ve now asked many groups of technical experts to describe the natural attributes of technical professionals. Figure 1 provides an example of typical responses: Organized, detailed, analytical, logical, data-driven, problem solvers.   

Figure 1. Attributes of Technical Professionals

Then I ask the attributes of a good manager or leader. Figure 2 includes typical responses: Empathy, compassionate, good listener, caring, supportive, understanding.

attributes of a good manager
Figure 2: Attributes of a good manager

Now, consider the differences. Go ahead…really examine the differences and consider the true magnitude of the gap between attributes of a technical professional and the attributes of a good manager. How would you characterize the difference between the lists? Example responses are project versus people, technical versus interpersonal, or hard versus soft skills. The difference in skills is BIG and fundamental. I call it The Gap. Over the last two years, I asked LeadershipITE participants to interview managers they respect and ask that manager to describe his or her superpower. NOT ONE mentioned a technical skill. ALL the superpowers were relational skills. 

And yet, technical professionals are trained, rewarded, and measured on their analytical, problem-solving abilities but their training (in school and OJT) never (okay, rarely) introduces them to the essential need for these other skills. Then we’re surprised that he or she isn’t immediately successful in a management role. 

Which attributes of a good manager matter the most?

How, then, do we bridge The Gap? To help with that answer, I asked groups of technical professionals to describe the skills they believe are most important to bridge The Gap. And, I interviewed 18 leaders of technical organizations on the same question (you’ll hear more from them in future newsletters). 

The answers were remarkably consistent. Figure 3 is typical with communication, self-awareness and developing relationships top the list. 

With this input I created a system for bridging The Gap so that smart technical staff have a developmental pathway to management and leadership. Here’s the story…

Typically, there is a talented technical employee and, one day, we decide to promote her to a manager, team leader or project leader position. We expect her (overnight) to leap across The Gap and have the skills to motivate, delegate, manage difficult personnel issues and more. But, my research (and personal experience mired in The Gap) shows that strong management skills are only possible when the individual has a strong foundation in three key skills. 

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Awareness of others
  3. Interpersonal communication 

It is the combination of these foundational skills that an individual learns to motivate staff, delegate effectively and successfully navigate sticky staff problems. Without these three foundational skills, a new manager tries to intellectualize her way through a relationship problem. It doesn’t work – at least not well. That’s why the Blue Fjord Leadership System (Figure 4.) starts with in-depth training to establish these three foundational skills. We then build management skills ON TOP of the foundational skills. That’s what develops an insightful and astute manager who inspire productive staff who stick around. (To learn more about the Blue Fjord Leadership System, go to . )

Figure 4. Blue Fjord Leadership System

In the weeks to come, we will write about each of the skills in the Blue Fjord Leadership System and we’ll share excerpts from the leadership interviews. You’ll get to hear firsthand from a variety of respected leaders. We’ll do our best to share snippets of information so that you enhance your own management skills. If you are truly committed to your professional growth, watch for the release of our 60-Day Leadership Challenge. 

In 60 days, this on-line program trains you on the foundational skills. Then, you build on those skills to hone skills in delegation, motivation, and decision-making. You complete the program by defining your leadership philosophy. This program is designed to be a concise (and intense) way to grow the most important skills you need as a manager. Participation will be limited. Email to be added to the wait list. 

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