Transitioning from Technical Professional to Manager

Industry Matters Newsletter

Professionals are often promoted to managerial roles due to their technical skills in the workplace. To be a manager, though, requires strong relational skills and interpersonal communication. In the course "Transitioning from Technical Professional to Manager," leadership coach Sara Canaday helps former technical professionals build on their existing expertise by developing the interpersonal skills necessary to become a great manager.

When moving from technical professional to manager, remember the core difference between the two is that for leaders, people are the priority. Since people are leaders’ priorities, leaders have a high level of emotional intelligence. This trait means that leaders have the ability to recognize, understand and manage their own emotions and those of others. They understand their own strengths and weaknesses and the effect on their decisions and behaviors. Leaders are open to and seek out diverse perspectives, they put people at ease, delicately balance confidence and humility, have a high stress tolerance, and are decisive but flexible. 

Canaday says the three things a person needs to develop emotional intelligence are to be more self-aware, to manage your reactions and to be intentional about your interactions. If you are more self-aware, you can leverage your own best qualities and showcase your individuality as a leader. Increased self-awareness allows you to adopt new practices within the parameters of your own personality. This can smooth the transition from a task-oriented professional to a leader by helping you create a powerful leadership style that feels natural.

You need to develop interpersonal skills to be a true leader, and this means that you have to commit to people and relationships. You are a people-developer now—not a task-doer. You play the role of coach—you encourage critical thinking, assist with problem-solving and offer continuous support and encouragement. As a manager, you must communicate effectively with your team members. Therefore, Canaday provides six specific recommendations for enhancing team communication. Start by giving your team members the information they need to perform efficiently. Simplify the complex by not using technical jargon and only telling them what information is necessary to them. Talk to the team with their perspectives in mind, consider everything about your delivery such as your tone and body language and make communication a two-way street.

Once you’ve built your interpersonal communication skills, you have to cultivate an environment for your team to succeed. Canaday suggests six ways to accomplish that—encourage and inspire your team members in a way that moves them towards productive action by communicating openly with them. As you did with yourself to find your leadership style, work to understand what motivates each individual team member. Proactively seek out divergent thinking to bring fresh perspectives to your team, and encourage risk-taking. Most importantly, lead by example.

Making the transition from technical professional to manager is a challenging and rewarding process that requires a different mindset and a development of different skills. You’ve got the technical skills, which led you to this role. Now, it’s time to keep developing and work on the interpersonal skills that make a professional a manager.