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I was promoted to manager because I always helped my team learn new things about our work and was always given the task to coordinate big projects for us. After a certain point, I was doing more coordinating and coaching than actually doing the work. I also think that many of my reports now master the work subject and process much better than me. I have become more of a representative of my team, communicating inside and outside the company, managing deadlines, checking work quality, responding to other departments etc. but am less and less involved with the actual technicalities.

Imagine becoming a manager of business analysts, but not doing any business analysis anymore, not learning the latest techniques... just coordinating what the others do, giving them directions, implementing whatever the senior management wants to do, and checking that everything is done by deadline.

That is what's happening to me and I am not sure this is the right thing to do, especially since I am starting to notice that I always need to ask/double check with my team on things I could have easily known had I spent more time on the subject. I sometimes also get angry employees complaining to me about why senior management assigned us to do something that (as I am supposed to know) is completely unreasonable.

I have also increasingly delegated to my team members tasks and projects that once led me to my promotion (including being more visible across the entire company), which sometimes makes me feel worried about whether they will be better than me and promoted above me...

Do you think that as a new manager I should keep learning the subject, improve my subject knowledge (e.g. analysis skills), and stay ahead of my reports? Or should I just focus on managing and improving the team?

Must I always be in the spotlight, or should I make my team members get into the spotlight?

In other words, I am not sure whether I need to compete against my team members, or help them become like me.

  • When I first got a lead/management position, it became painfully obvious that I was going to have to put in additional hours to keep up on the latest stuff in addition to my new duties. I've never met anyone who managed others or even who managed projects that didn't. If that person exists, I would love some insight. – Andrew Bartel Oct 17 '13 at 1:20
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Short version:

You're doing everything right - stop worrying.

Longer version:

Being a manager is a different role than being an end contributor. You definitely need to be knowledgeable and conversant in your field, but you shouldn't try to be the best on the team at doing the work.

You have staff that can devote 100% of their time to becoming and remaining really good at what they do. You have to use that time to do your primary job which is to manage and represent the team.

If you had the opportunity to hire a likable superstar? A good manager would do it in a heartbeat because it would improve the team.

Different roles in an organization require different skill sets and priorities. Changing roles can be confusing because what used to be important may be less so now, and what used to be unimportant may now be very important.

  • 2
    Good answer. I'd also add that the OP mentions coaching, and that's a key aspect of a manager: developing and encouraging the team members for maximal impact. Imagine you're the coach of a sports team and the picture becomes clearer. – Wayne Feb 25 '14 at 17:55
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In Paul Graham's essay "Great Hackers", it is argued that unless you have great taste in something, you cannot recognize great instances of it. In the essay, this is applied to the detection of highly skilled hackers/programmers. A manager who is not highly skilled will not be able -- no matter how many books she or he reads; no matter how many brain teaser puzzles she or he hands out in interviews -- to detect whether a given candidate is the genuine article. Unless you already have other people working for or with you who do have that 'great taste' that Graham is talking about, you're out of luck.

So in this sense, it very much does matter that a manager is highly skilled in the domain in which she or he manages. It does matter that you attend professional development events and continue to learn and retain sharp skills.

On the flip side, you should also consider what it means to be a good manager. It does mean that you need to maintain your skills and domain expertise. But it does not mean that you need to out-compete your current subordinates. Those are not one in the same. You can stay sharp while allowing subordinates to grow their skills further in directions that you just don't have the time to explore -- and that's fine.

In Peopleware, there is an excellent chapter called "The Bozo Definition of Management." The claim made there is that managers exist to serve others; crucially, managers exist to facilitate the happening of work. Managers are not there to "make" other people do their work, rather to make it so the other person can do their work.

Part of that requires your domain expertise. Few things are as demoralizing to a skilled domain expert as having to be beholden to the whim of a manager who does not understand that domain. But another part of it is backing off and letting your workers use the skills that led you to hire them in the first place.

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