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Why Engineers Do Not Want To Be Promoted To Managers

Do engineers welcome being promoted to traditional managers, or do they want to keep doing what they do best: engineering?

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Engineers hate promotion



One of the more polarizing segments of our weekly leadership articles is the part that “not all engineers are not enticed by job promotion”.

Different employees have varying views on being promoted to a traditional manager.

For some employees, including engineers, a promotion to management is a welcome recognition of an exemplary performance, hard work and diligence.

It often means a bigger pay, a “louder” say, and a wider scope of responsibilities. It is the key to that comfortable corner-office, away from the harsh conditions of the engineering sites. Many employees are driven to do their best at work by the desire to, one day, be promoted to a manager, who oversees manufacturing operations and supervises people.

There are employees, however, who detest being promoted to a traditional manager.

These are the ones that do not see themselves in supervisory positions that will require managing people more than creating and revolutionizing technologies. These are the ones that thrive on challenging environments in their coveralls, with grease on their hands.

Technically inclined employees, like engineers, pride themselves on the extent of their technical expertise and as such see being promoted to a traditional manager as a step away from the technical career that they envision from themselves.

Many of these employees, like engineers, wish to remain in technical positions, because they flourish amidst the challenges and dynamism of a technical role. They are driven by the transformational benefits of the products that they create and are motivated by the difference that they directly make in the lives of a great number of people.

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For example, an electrical engineer responsible for installing, maintaining and operating renewable energy power plants derives fulfillment from seeing the power plants that he installed supply power to manufacturing facilities. He finds the purpose of his being an electrical engineer in being able to play an instrumental role in providing electricity to factories that manufacture products that people patronize and use to improve their lives.

Yet some engineers subscribe to a different school of thought.

They see being promoted to a manager as a natural progression of their career and thus open themselves up to the possibility of adopting a new set of skills and working in a different environment. They recognize the void in their management skills and hence capitalize on learning opportunities to be able to deliver value to their organization as a manager. They embrace the necessary changes associated with their new role and learn to derive fulfillment, purpose if you may, from the efficient performance of their new tasks.

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Therefore, promoting a brilliant engineer to a manager is clearly not an easy choice for a company’s executives. When a company, say Aditya Birla or Larsen & Toubro, decides to promote a prolific engineer to a traditional manager, it is naturally giving up the productivity of that engineer in the hope that he becomes an effective people supervisor that can bring out the best from the other engineers.

When he succeeds in doing this, then the company enjoys the benefits of an exponentially increasing engineering productivity. If unfortunately he fails in his new role and loses his engagement and motivation, then the company runs the risk of not only having a terrible manager but also of losing a brilliant engineer it once had.

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As an engineer, would you like to be promoted to manager? Post your comments below.

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  1. Good article. Exactly the situation I find myself in as a mechanical engineer. I now manage people! My last career choice.

  2. I don’t agree at some points. It’s a case to case basis, depending on the job scope. Those who do not want to be promoted are those that are afraid of bigger responsibilities and critical decision making. Your initiative to initiate innovation does not end with higher position; it’s all about personal desire. Because, there are those in the lower hierarchy who failed to innovate. Remember, you don’t only manage people, you lead the pack.

    1. Help yourself, Jude. The higher you go in a large company the less you have to do with technology, with machines. It becomes more about 5 year plans, KPI’s, budgeting, reading and replying to meaningless emails and reports, disciplining subordinates, motivating people, being nice to superiors who you dislike a lot and other corporate nonsense. People are very complicated and, unless you are a good politician, you are not going to get far up the corporate ladder. The machines and the interesting work recede into the background as you attaend one boring meeting after another, attend another team-building exercise with people you would never really be friends with. Also you become responsible for the performance of your subordinates who are often trying hard to displace you in the race to the top of the manure heap.

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