Why do some technical experts make surprisingly bad managers?
Best programmers do not always make the best software managers. And, this is true of all technical fields. I would go on further with this and say this is true of all fields. An awesome salesman would not always make a great sales manager. Often in organizations best amongst the team is promoted to the management position and they turn out to be surprisingly bad managers.
Why do they turn out to be bad managers?
The answer is simple. The skills required for a technical expert vastly differ from the skills required to a become good manager. Being good at one thing does not necessarily make someone good at the other.
So, why do they even assume the position of managers?
Because, in organizations with classical hierarchy, a manager usually has better pay than a non-manager. I get it. Non-managers are easy to find. Demand and supply.. blah and blah. But, it isn’t necessarily the case when it comes to engineers and technical people. So, most technical organizations have a dual career path.
Peter Principle further explains this
The Peter Principle is an observation that the tendency in most organizational hierarchies, such as that of a corporation, is for every employee to rise in the hierarchy through promotion until they reach a level of respective incompetence. In other words, a front-office secretary who is quite good at her job may thus be promoted to executive assistant to the CEO for which she is not trained or prepared for – meaning that she would be more productive for the company (and likely herself) if she had not been promoted.Investopedia
What’s a dual career path?
Dual career path offers two corresponding career advancement, one for accepting the position in management and the other for accepting the role of technical /specialist. Employees wishing to move to the managerial ladder transfer their focus from technical applications to the responsibilities of administration and leadership. Those that choose to progress on the professional or technical ladder continue to focus on innovation and address complex and significant technical tasks.
As I mentioned above, not everybody wants to become a manager. But, they will accept the promotion anyways because the position comes with increased pay and they will rise to incompetence and stagnate there.
The skills and abilities that make an outstanding manager differ from the skills and abilities that make an outstanding technical professional. An individual’s technical skills should not be disregarded at the expense of managerial skills. Lack of recognition of technical skills can affect the ability of companies to be innovative. As new and more complex technologies, methodologies, procedures, and systems are created faster than businesses can adapt, the role of the professional technical person has indeed become fundamental.
As an employee how does one avoid Peter principle?
Try not to get promoted to positions where you would stagnate or where you would rise to ‘a level of incompetence’, I guess.
I found some online stories about employees changing jobs to avoid it. Or, deliberately underperforming to avoid it.
I guess if more and more companies started adopting a dual career path then that would not be a problem.