Should I Become a Manager?

Career Advice

Management can be very rewarding, but it is not for everyone.  Is a management role in your future?  Should it be?  What if you are in a technical position and have an opportunity to move into management?  Should you pursue it, and what are the factors that you should consider?  This article will provide data points and things to consider before you make a decision.

The positives of being a manager

If you are organized, articulate, can see the big picture, relate well with others, and inspire others to perform, then management may be an excellent choice for you.  However, if you are going to manage technical people and activities, it would be best to first develop hands-on knowledge of the work you will be managing.  Your own technical background can provide a framework of understanding that will be a crucial factor in your ability to relate and communicate with your staff.

After years of putting up with poor decisions that directly impact your work life and that of your teammates, you get to make those decisions.  You may find that the decisions were made at even higher levels and you have just become the messenger, but what about the decisions you can make?  This is now your chance to do things the right way.  To treat your staff like the professionals you expect them to be.  You set the expectations, you clear the obstacles to exceptional performance, ensure the proper communication and coordination with adjacent departments and customers.  You get to ensure that credit goes to where it is due, that poor performance is corrected, good performance is reported and rewarded, and that goals are set and achieved.

Compensation is a factor.  More responsibility typically means better compensation.  This is most often in pay, but may also include things like bonuses and stock.

The negatives of being a manager

The primary negative is that you can easily spend so much time in your management role that you can lose your technical edge over time.  Technology advances and before you know it, your excellent VMS skills, Cobol or Ada experience, or understanding of Windows XP is no longer relevant.  Technology continues to move forward.  Sometimes slowly, but is always moving forward.  If you don’t move with it, you’re left behind.

If you are a perfectionist, a move to management can result in a lot of frustration.  As a technical resource, when you know your stuff, you know that without any doubt, whatever comes up, you will be able to resolve, restore or overcome.  No doubt at all.  However, as a manager, there will be times that circumstances overcome your ability to affect positive outcomes.  There will be customer funding issues.  Other people will fail you.  In general, how well you do may end up depending on how well your people perform, not how well you perform.

A good manager is never off the clock.  My teams know they can contact me at any time for any reason.  Plus, you are typically never caught up.  You are always tracking multiple activities and know where each is “in the process” and what you need to move them along to the next step in that process and towards completion.  As you finish one, two or three more are added, and it rarely stops.

There are fewer positions the closer you get to the top of an organization.  This translates to potential stress, particularly if you no longer have technical skills to fall back on.

Can I Try It and See How I Like It?

Great idea!  Become a team lead and see how you like being in a management role.  An advantage of this type of a position is that there is often a little extra pay, you can make sure that things get done to your standards, and you get to keep your hands in the day-to-day technical aspects of the job.  This keeps you growing technically while learning management skills.  If you are unsure about becoming a manager, do this if you can.  It may just provide you with the additional insight you need.

The Reality of Management

Jim has not done his time card and they are past due.  Emily did not show up to work.  The customer says that FY18 will require a 30% cut in funding.  The RFP just dropped.  Security is calling on line 3.  The CEO wants a program status report.  The new VP wants to replace existing managers with his buddies.  The customer has decided not to exercise option year 5. The prime says we have to cut our rates.  These things happen all day long and they are your responsibility. 

Welcome to being a manager. Fortunately, management is not all crisis and problems.  There is some good with the bad.

This award is in recognition of your dedication to teamwork and customer success.  Your actions were instrumental in turning around a low-performing organization and making it the go-to point for Operations.  Your ideas for operations improvement have been adopted by the customer organization.  Your idea for outage coordination is going forward.  Your contributions to the proposal effort have been recognized and this award is to show our appreciation.  The customer has agreed and all of your staff are getting promotions to new labor categories (yes, this did happen!) Of all of the ideas for site improvement, your two ideas have been accepted and will be advanced for funding.  Rob, your promotion came through and here is your raise, well deserved.

Management is not easy.  It can be discouraging, but also be rewarding.  It offers the chance to achieve goals for the customer, for your people and for the company.  It is a chance to be the type of manager that you wished you had back when you were in the trenches.  It is your opportunity to make a difference.

Todd Keys is a Program Manager at Cantada, Inc. He has been in the intelligence Community for 30 years, as a member of the military (USAF), and as a contractor for top 100, top 10, and small business federal defense contractors. He has held multiple roles, CONUS and OCONUS, ranging from technician to executive, providing site O&M, system administration, engineering, supervision, contract management, and Capture/BD for the DoD and multiple intelligence agencies.

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