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I started out with a manager leading a couple engineering teams. Last week, I was handed performance review results and I got a good score.

Today, my manager called me in to discuss about my role. He said he wanted me to focus on the top priority project (it's the most important project to the company) and instead of leading an engineering team - I would be a sort of technical product manager. My products and engineers will be reassigned to new teams. I told him that I could handle the same work load and even took more responsibilities. However, he thinks that it's best for the company and for me to focus on one project.

I have been working in settings where I lead the teams who build things and am very hands-on from design, pipeline, and process. I was upset with this new assignment and to me it sounds like a demotion - less responsibilities and no direct reports.

Is it just me over-thinking that this is a demotion? I will have a meeting with him tomorrow to have a final decision about this, should I go with the flow and accept the new roles? or should I insist that I can take more responsibilities and express my upset?

Added The business impact of this new assignment is huge. I will oversee engineering efforts across multiple teams. However, these engineers will report to their managers and this is just different from my experience.

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    At a glance, it seems that you're moving from a manager-of-engineers to a manager-of-managers role. Is that right? – STT LCU Mar 3 at 15:27
  • @STT LCU Doesn't seem like it from the question description, because Hamed doesn't have any direct reports in the new role. Manager of managers would have direct reports that are managers. – jcmack Mar 3 at 17:07
  • Have you gone from being a manager to a product based direct contributer? Is there an equivalent to your old role (or manager for an engineering team or two) for this high value project? – Nathan Cooper Mar 4 at 1:05
  • You have the opportunity to lead a highly visible effort. It sounds like your span of control -- the number of people taking instructions from you either directly or indirectly -- will increase. This is not a demotion. It's a promotion: you're getting lots more responsibility. Congratulations and best wishes! – O. Jones Mar 4 at 1:52
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Is it a demotion when I get a new role with fewer direct reports?

Lets say your company has a CEO. The sales manager oversees 20 sales people and the production manager oversees 30 factory workers. Both report to the CEO.

Who do you think is higher in the hierarchy, the CEO with their 2 direct reports, or the production manager with their 30?

So it's clear, number of direct reports says little.

With all other factors absent, unknown or company specific, I think pay is a good indicator whether you are promoted or demoted. Do you make more in the new position? Companies rarely demote employees to more pay. If you get more money, it seems to be a promotion.

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  • "Lets say your company has a CEO. The sales manager oversees 20 sales people and the production manager oversees 30 factory workers. Both report to the CEO. Who do you think is higher in the hierarchy, the CEO with their 2 direct reports, or the production manager with their 30?" Almost word for word the example I was going to give. Have an upvote – Kevin Mar 3 at 15:36
  • You reply to the question in the title of the thread and it's a good general reply. However, your reply doesn't seem to be applicable for OP. As far as I understand the thread, they won't have any reports now. Instead, they will have a role similar to Project Manager's in a matrix organization. – BigMadAndy Mar 3 at 16:27
  • @BigMadAndy And since we don't know how their organisation looks like, we cannot really give advice based on that. That's what my last paragraph says. – nvoigt Mar 3 at 16:34
  • @nvoigt I think the spirit of the Q really meant "direct and indirect reports", "how many people are 'below' you on the org chart". rather than just direct reports (like in your CEO example). I appreciate the asker did specifically say "direct reports" but... – seventyeightist Mar 3 at 18:45
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To bring in another angle: are you missing the business impact of the assignment you're being handed? It might be very focused (thus implying less responsibilities), it might have very specialized work area (in terms of technology and domain expertise, so small team), but at the end of the day - this might be a big deal for the company, either by direct delivery, or to prove the capability that the organization can deliver work having certain requirements.

When you're going to meet you boss tomorrow, ask for the big picture. Don't count the count of the direct reports - rather look for the impact of the work and responsibilities assigned to you. Ask for the end goal, as for the delivery impact, ask for the business use-cases for this particular work assignment. Based on these, you can make your mid whether you want to accept this or not.

My personal suggestion: Always look for new challenges. Every opportunity comes with a new challenge, maybe you're not just seeing them yet. Believe me, the count of direct reports are very poor measure of the leadership quality and skills. Also, IRL, it really does not matter how much responsibility you can manage, rather it's more important how much value you can deliver. At times, delivery requires focus, laser-like focus and looks like that is what is being offered to you. They seem to have a fair amount of faith in you and thereby they're providing you with the opportunity to oversee and manage the (quoting your words) "top priority project (it's the most important project to the company)". This appears to be anything but a demotion - to me.

However, even if after the discussion, you yourself is not convinced about the work assignment, do not accept is just to "go with the flow". If you're not committed and focused with the assigned work, it's very likely that the deadlines will be missed and the delivery will be affected. Explain your points to your boss, and request for another assignment which you'll feel comfortable handling. Otherwise, there's always the highway.

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Whether something should be considered a demotion or not depends on a combination of your title, salary, and career goals.

I don't think I need to spell the details of the first two out - and, based on the OP, they don't seem pertinent here.

In terms of personal ambition; if your career goals are achieving a position where you have a higher number of direct reports, then I guess you could view this as a demotion. However, as @nvoigt pointed out, this is not a reliable measure of clout or influence.

If, however, your goal is to have a substantial impact on the organisation's strategy and achievements, you should ignore the number of people you will be managing and look at the project on it's merits. How impactful could it be for the organisations? How crucial is the role you are being asked to play? How much scope will you have to affect the direction the project takes and steer its outcome?

It's easy to equate a successful career with managing more and more people. In most cases that's a reasonably accurate approach - organisations don't typically entrust whole departments to fools. That's not to say there are not exceptions to that. Don't get hung up on how many people you will approve holidays for in your new role.

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