The Transition: Employee to Managerial Role

Are exceptional employees bound for managerial success? Not necessarily. While being deemed a “good employee” may increase the likelihood of promotion to a management position, being a good manager requires a distinct set of personal traits, skills and values.

In general, managerial roles require a unique skill set, often emphasizing “soft” skills. Being an employee is more about having a certain subject matter expertise (which usually becomes less and less important as one climbs up the organizational ladder.)

Becoming a first-line manager is relatively simple. In this role, the subject matter expertise remains dominant while the pure management component of the role is small. This is because the scope of work at this level of management (e.g. team leader, foreperson, shift manager) is close to “player-coach.”

However, this dynamic shifts progressively with subsequent promotions. Unfortunately, too many “individual contributors” are promoted to managerial positions just because they are “good employees.” More often than not we lose a good employee and get a lousy manager as a result.

Perhaps looking at this problem from another angle will help to understand its root cause. On one hand, it’s important to note that managers, regardless of their level, are still employees (even considering examples like Jesus Christ, who had a supervisor, albeit far removed). On the other hand, the shift to a managerial role necessitates a change in subject matter expertise and level of training. Management itself constitutes a distinct subject matter. However, a typical 30-year-old manager will likely have about ten years of subject-matter (e.g. engineering)  experience – and close to zero management training, while the management-to-engineering ratio of this new role will be around 50:50.

Furthermore, transitioning from an individual contributor role to a managerial role can be challenging, as it requires a shift in mindset and assuming new responsibilities. Someone who was previously focused on their own tasks and objectives may need to shift their focus to facilitating their team members’ success and collaborating to achieve broader organizational goals.

Returning to the initial question, while being a good employee can certainly be an advantage for someone who is promoted to a managerial role, it may be a wrong move. Effective management requires a different set of skills and abilities.

(Originally answered on Quora)