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I am a new manager, promoted from within, and spend less and less time doing hands-on work with the technology my subordinates work on. Yet technology changes rapidly in my field.

(Imagine I am a web designer/animator. I was promoted to the manager of web designers/animators, and now I spend most of my time developing business, managing clients, budgets, employees, reviews, interviews, cross-company help, coordinating workflow, etc. but I am not actually designing or animating anything and have less exposure to how the technology is evolving, i.e. new software, new standards, etc)

I have a feeling that in the long run, this will effectively make my subordinates the real technical experts. So I am puzzled about what career growth options I have as a manager of such experts, and my underlying fear is that I might not be relevant anymore at some point - only another layer of junior/middle people management which can be easily removed.

I would like to ask what I can do to grow in my career and not become easily redundant at some point.

I hope my question is clear and relevant.

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I think your question is clear, but think about this: What makes you feel that you as a manager need to stay the expert in your field? Or the other way round: Does it make sense to promote somebody who's really good at something (other than managing people and processes) to a manager of that thing? –  CMW Dec 12 '13 at 10:05
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2 Answers

I have a feeling that in the long run, this will effectively make my subordinates the real technical experts.

You are correct. Your role as a manager is Management and no longer as Technical Expert.

So I am puzzled about what career growth options I have as a manager of such experts, and my underlying fear is that I might not be relevant anymore at some point - only another layer of junior/middle people management which can be easily removed.

The good part of being management is that you can manage all sorts of people, not just web designers/animators. You have a "wider" role now.

The bad part is that some companies in some contexts feel that they can get rid of a middle-management layer. Not always, but it happens. "Easily" might not be the right word, but it depends on the specifics of the situation. Note that it isn't very hard to get rid of a web designer/animator, either.

I would like to ask what I can do to grow in my career and not become easily redundant at some point.

Become the best Manager you can be. Your combination of management ability and technical ability must be valuable to your company. Make sure it stays that way.

Find a more-senior Manager and get some mentoring in what it takes to be a great Manager.

Ask and understand what your company needs out of its Managers, and more specifically out of you. Then work hard to provide that and more.

Keep your technical background sharp using non-hands-on methods like reading, experimenting on your own time, attending conferences, etc. But always remember, your primary role is management - you can hire people for the more technical work now.

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That's the problem with management really. Why so many technical people don't really want to do it. Then there's the problem that you will become detached from the technologies used and be less respected in a way by your technical team.

I see 4 ways of attempting it

  • Keep up to date with your technical team, drop in as an observer in (for example) scrums and retrospectives
  • Keep up with your field by reading the books/sites/blogs that your team recommend
  • Keep your technical skills fresh by doing home projects, you need to be actually interested to keep this up though
  • StackOverflow ;)

    In a way though it's no longer your job to be technical anyway, you are now managing people, not code/design. Be good at that and don't try to be too controlling of technologies you are now struggling to keep up with.

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