Thursday, July 11, 2013

Expert or Manager?

You can have high specific knowledge or high general knowledge but not both! This is where the stereotype of the “geek” comes from: lots of smarts in one area but not so much in the rest.

At work this translates into a worker who has strong focused skills in a narrow area OR a generalist who understand your entire business and has the ability to balance the competing demands but little expertise in any single area.

While it’s true that many (most?) senior managers were first experts in some narrow aspect of business the higher they go in management the less time they have available to maintaining their “specialist” credentials. While they are losing their place as a single subject matter expert they are gaining that broad view so necessary for a senior manager.

The problems are caused by either the manager’s failure to recognize his own shifting area of expertise ~ from a narrow specialty to the broad overview ~ or from his bosses failure to recognize the same thing! Beyond first level lead positions no one can effectively manage a team and still be responsible for personal production. A manager has to be free to concentrate on management while the specialist has to be free to produce whatever their specialty is.

The hardest transition for the new manager is to remember that they are not the subject matter expert any more and that they now have to trust someone else’s judgment about that highly technical decision.

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