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I’m in a management role at a mid-sized company and hate it. My first three years at the company I held a “project manager” role, which I really enjoyed. Nearly two years ago I was promoted to the head of the project management department, managing 24 PMs. I'm miserable and want to go back to my prior role rather than being their boss. My reasons include:

  1. I simply don't like managing people. It doesn't come naturally to me since I'm an introvert. I find it stressful and draining. I dread going to work every day, whereas I really enjoyed the project management work.

  2. I'm pregnant with my first child and just moved across the country (for my husband's job) to a state where I know nobody. I have a lot on my plate and am incredibly stressed out as is. I don’t want the added management responsibility, whereas I could do the project manager role in my sleep...

FWIW, I broached the topic with my boss a few weeks ago, framing it as I want to have more time to be a mom. He said "I need you" and no one else could do the job (not true). He offered to get me more help, said I could work 8 hour days, whatever time zone is best for me yada yada. I wasn't expecting this response, so I didn't hold my ground.

Since then, I've only gotten more miserable. I want to bring it up to my boss again but am not sure the right approach or what "reasons" to give any guidance would be much appreciated!! For what it's worth, I'm willing to take a pay cut.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Kilisi
    Sep 24 at 10:32
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    Does your boss know you're pregnant? If yes, how are they planning to fill your current role while you're on maternity leave?
    – Llewellyn
    Sep 25 at 20:04

12 Answers 12

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Bring it up to your boss! (Again!)

Each of you of course have different concerns and angles – he has a team to run, and you're about to have a baby – but the two of you have got to communicate.

Seriously – print out this forum comment and set it down on the desk in front of your boss. (You have actually referred to several dimensions of the overall problem in this post, including "researcher vs. manager" possible ways out.)

Above all: "talk!" The two of you are not on different planets.

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    Talk, even if you both are actually on different planets. Sep 21 at 6:27
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    The earlier she brings this up, the more time the boss has to react and find another solution. And I got thje feeling that OP waited till they can barely hold together anymore, so waited to long. So I would add: Talk as soon as possible!
    – Benjamin
    Sep 21 at 6:32
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    And the most important thing: do not frame it as being for personal reasons (being a mom, spending time with family, etc.). The boss will try to eliminate this barrier because that's the obvious thing to do and this will not make your job any more enjoyable. You don't like the job and that's it. Sep 21 at 13:38
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    Right, if you don't depend on the job, plus your health and the health of your family is on the line. Why not just be blatant? He can have a great PM or lose a head of PM.
    – steros
    Sep 22 at 12:48
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Create a succession plan

It’s great your boss is willing to be so flexible. Try to use this flexibility to plan a solution that will meet both your needs.

Day-to-day management of 24 reports can be tough. But you are apparently good at it. It would be easier, and probably more enjoyable, to provide guidance (and occasional backup) to one or two folks who could assume those duties.

Your boss says nobody else can do what you do, but you disagree. You ought to be able to show how it can be possible for others. Identify who you would replace yourself with, and what support they would need from you.

Identify areas where the current situation isn’t as ideal as the boss might think, and show how your plan would improve those things.

If you can come up with a good plan that your boss thinks (1) will work, (2) won’t break the bank, and (3) will keep you as an employee, there’s a good shot they will jump at the chance.

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    This is the correct answer. I had a similar position for a couple years and wanted to get back to my actual field of expertise. I started grooming my successor, without telling anyone (including him) until I was sure he could handle it, then went through with it. I stepped down and under him for a while, then followed the career I wanted to sideways. Having someone to follow you, training that someone, is how you responsibly leave a position of responsibility.
    – Tom
    Sep 22 at 4:11
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I would do this quite simply:

"Hey boss, since our last meeting I have thought a lot on my immediate future. I have come to the conclusion that it makes most sense for me to go back to my project management role. I do not feel well fulfilling the role I have right now, even though it honors me that you think I'm the only person able to do it. Let's sit down and find a workable time plan to move me back to PM."

This can be an email if you prefer not to be put on the spot by whatever arguments he brings up.

Reformulate this as you see fit to make it clear that you mean it. If he wants to divert you, stick with the goal - you will be a PM in the company, or you will not be in the company at all. Depending on how flexible you are with being unemployed, you might as well polish up your CV and start sending out applications if you have any fear at all that you will be forced to change companies...

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If you don't want people to argue, stop giving reasons

One thing I've found is that the more reasons you give for a decision, the more leverage you give someone who doesn't agree with that decision to argue with you. So if you want to stand firm on that decision, you're going to need to draw a line in the sand, which means 1) deciding that you're not looking for approval or asking, you're telling; and 2) ceasing giving reasons--just state what your decision is.

In your case, this would be in the form of an ultimatum: "Boss my current job is unsustainable for me. I'd love to return to my old job. Is that an option? If not I'm going to have to move on." From what I've read (and I'm sure it's true), doing this is risky. You need to be ready to move on, ideally with a job offer in hand, because your boss may call your bluff, or they may work out a deal for you to stay just long enough to find a replacement for you (or if they're a manipulative, abusive jerk, they may string you along indefinitely to get you to stay without giving you anything in return). But it sounds like you're to the point where it really comes down to either leaving or going back to your old job. If that's really the case then you need to either just leave, or get an offer in hand from another company and then give your boss a polite but firm ultimatum to see if they can accommodate you, and if not you walk. Either way, you're not asking permission, you're stating your position.

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    This is true. I once told a manager that I couldn't fly to a client site on a Sunday, because I was attending my cousin's wedding that day. Then he asked "Is your cousin on your mother's side or your father's side?" When I said my mother's side, he seemed disappointed. Apparently he thinks it's acceptable to skip weddings on your father's side.
    – user20925
    Sep 22 at 6:17
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    The first sentence crystallises a feeling I have had for a while. Thanks!
    – RoG
    Sep 23 at 9:49
  • Happy to help! :)
    – bob
    Sep 23 at 12:53
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Some companies don't handle demotions well.

  • Bosses / HR / company don't agree on this.
  • New bosses handle old boss poorly, as they fear their experience and power over the team. How will you be able to criticize your successor?
  • Pay cuts and losing other benefits are difficult to take or other people assume so.

You should consider searching a different job in another company. It is easier to take the pay cut and role degradation for yourself and across companies.
You should also talk openly to your boss about this possibility. If he cannot lose you as manager, he might hate it even more to lose you completely.

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    Alternately, quit, spend some time as a stay-at-home mom, and then when you go back to work, find a new job as a lower role at a different company.
    – nick012000
    Sep 21 at 14:17
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    No, it's actually will your successor feel comfortable criticizing you...
    – Solar Mike
    Sep 21 at 14:41
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Others have already covered this very well - talk to your boss again. One thing that I haven't seen anyone mention is that in your last conversation your boss said they need you and don't have anyone else to do the role. Assuming that's the real reason, that gives you a lot of information about what their concerns are and you'll need to address them to shift back to project management.

If I had an employee who had stepped up to take on a new role approach me to move back to their old role I'd definitely want to make that work, but I almost certainly wouldn't be able to just pay them less money and announce their new title to the rest of the company. Presumably I've hired someone to do their old job, and don't have anyone to do what you're currently doing. If you can put together a plan to make the transition, if possible identify if there's someone internally who you feel would be able to take on your current role (and who you think would be willing), and give your boss confidence that he won't be left struggling to fill the gap by your departure that should go a long way towards addressing his reluctance.

Of course, some people will see it extra work they don't want to deal with, and if that's your boss you may need to drop subtle hints or not so subtle outright statements along the lines of "I'm not happy in my current role and if I'm not able to shift back to a role I'm happy in even with all this work I'm doing to support the transition then I'm going to go get a new job. You'll still need to replace me and I won't be around to help."

As a final point I'd avoid framing it as a demotion. That's definitely not going to help you. You might be going back to a role you did in the past but now you'll be doing it with two years more experience at the company and a bunch more knowledge, particularly about people and how to manage them. You're moving from people management to project management and that's a move between two different career ladders, not between rungs on the same ladder.

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I simply don't like managing people.

Neither do I. I'd rather be buried in the technical stuff.

I have a lot on my plate and am incredibly stressed out as is. I don’t want the added management responsibility, whereas I could do the project manager role in my sleep.

Then be a project manager.

I don't believe your boss promoted you because you're good at managing people. He promoted you because you're a good project manager, and he wants you to pass that on and make the others good as well. So focus on project management. Sit down with each of them in turn, at their level. Let them show you how they're managing their projects. Help them with it, show them the tricks, bring them up to speed. They'll appreciate someone who wants to help them, rather than observe them from afar.

Go to your boss and give him the personnel stuff. Or HR. Or ask him to bring in someone to work with you who can do that side of it. I suspect that he would be keen if it meant that you were freed to turn a department with one stellar person into a department with many.

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Are you a good fit for the old job ?

Simplified, your story goes like this: you did job A for some time, then got promoted and got job B. You are not satisfied on job B, so you want to get back to job A. Job A and job B are related, and you could do job A with your eyes closed and hand tied behind your back, right ? Well ... don't be so sure.

I will give you one extreme example : Imagine young fighter pilot with a rank of lieutenant. He is very good at his job, he likes flying. Years pass, he is constantly promoted. Now he is a colonel or maybe even general. He commands squadrons of fighter planes. But, his new job is mostly desk job, he does not fly anymore. So he says "screw the rank, screw increased pay, I want to be lieutenant again". And then he gets his old piloting job. Well, actually no. Because, you know, he is no longer so young, his eyesight is not what it used to be. His heart, his reflexes ... There are new kids on the block, new planes, and he no longer fits in his old job.

Now, of course, this is somewhat extreme example for your case. But there are things you need to consider. Perhaps there are no open roles for project manager in your company. Or if there are, you are simply no good fit for them. Psychologically speaking, you remember good old times when you had less obligations and more fun. You did not have a child, probably was not married, had more energy and time for the job (that is how you got promoted). Subconsciously, part of you wants to return to that happier time. But since that cannot be, it is likely that you would not be as good as you were, even if you got demoted.

Now, directly about your question. You always have an option to tell bluntly to your boss: "I don't want to be head of project management, I want to be project manager again, with reduced salary" . Boss could agree or not, and if not you could look for another job in different company. Eventually, you will land a job somewhere. Problem could arise if you figure out that even in an old job you won't be able to give your maximum like you used to do, because you now have a family. Therefore, before doing anything, do some soul searching, and ask yourself what kind of career you want, and what are you ready to sacrifice for it.

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Make him an offer he CAN refuse

I own my company and I have to handle contracts. I'm in the IT market and I manage technology well. However, just like you, I can't manage people. Sometimes I hit a nice contract and all of a sudden the contractee requests me to manage some of their employees. When this happens I make them an offer they usually refuse: I usually ask anywhere from 150% to 250% of the base contract price and there's no more negotiation beyond that.

Make it clear

You have reasons. Make them clear to your boss. Don't hesitate by working on terms you don't agree with.

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    Why would the OP make an offer like this when she can ask her boss for a demotion?
    – Boolean
    Sep 22 at 10:14
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The "sabbatical" or "specialist" tracks.

You can ask for an 'atypical' kind of 'promotion' instead - to a specialist. Frame to your boss that, in the interest of your career growth, you feel you need to 'branch out' to a specialist role. Maybe a side-angle on how being management without 'returning to practice' will make you weaker over time. (etc)

  1. Find something to specialize in relative to Project Management — like agile analytic modeling, or something.
  2. Give your boss confidence that your new role will let you continue to mentor and support the company success since you'll still be close at hand / involved.
  3. Tell your boss this is better for the company and all, compared with you needing to go to a different company in order to practice the area of specialty that you have decided you are going to do.

If your boss resists even this kind of request, consider framing all of the above as a 12-24 mo "sabbatical". It will at least give you time to decide how permanent you want it to be.

Don't ask for a 'demotion'. It doesn't help you get where you want to be.

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This happened in my career more than 30 years ago. I'm very technically clever, and in the first 7 years of jobs after leaving university, moving companies from time to time, built up a strong technical reputation.

Then I was headhunted by a previous boss to manage a large project. I was flattered and agreed to, but discovered I was not cut out for the responsibilities. I often likened myself to the English cricketer Ian Botham, who could hit a century, and take wickets as a bowler and slip fielder (so, very good, to non-cricketing readers), and when he was made captain of the national side as a promotion, his performance went down the toilet.

After 3 years of increasing hell, I spoke to my boss, and simply stated that "this project would not get finished with me in charge, and I was 'busting myself back to Private'". No ifs, no buts, no other jobs lined up, just this was stopping, and it was stopping now.

He replaced my role with two people, a technical specialist and a logistics specialist. The project still failed several years later.

I was allowed to recover with a couple of years of secondments, helping one or another department with specific problems. My mojo returned, and I got back on the technical track, where I would usually be earning more than my managers.

So win-win, for me and the particularly supportive company I was with. YMMV.

So, in the light of my experience, what should you do? Tell your boss what will be happening. Tell them that in some short time-frame, you will not be working in your present role, and they will have to resource the project from somewhere else. This is not a negotiation, it's a statement of fact, like it will get dark this evening, and they will have to deal with it. What happens after that is a function of you and your circumstances.

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    Hi Neil! Thanks for sharing your story, but it doesn't translate as a clear advice on how OP should deal with the issue she has at hand. Can you edit your answer with more practical information? Sep 22 at 7:40
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    From what I see his advice is crystal clear: "Don't negotiate. Inform you boss that you are leaving this position. That's it." If it is a good/bad advice that's another thing. I personally happen to like it, but you can't always use this strategy, you need to either be very confident or have a plan B in case things go south ... for you. Sep 29 at 9:18
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Does your boss know you're pregnant? If yes, how are they planning to fill the role while you're on maternity leave? So the whole argument of "there's nobody else who could do the job" is bogus. If no such person exists in the company right now (unlikely), they'll have to find someone anyway, at least for a few months.

If this really is your boss' main concern, is there anyone among the 24 PMs you're managing you think could be good at the role, possibly with a bit of coaching from you? They might find your suggestion easier to swallow if you can recommend a potential successor.

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