Recently, a top executive at an infamous global high-tech firm said, “The problem in Silicon Valley is we promote excellent engineers and expect them to be spectacular managers.” He contended that without solid people and management skills, excellent engineers are set up to fail as managers. He went on to say that the qualities of a highly qualified engineer don’t necessarily translate to good people management.

Managing people requires “über-communication”; listening, coaching, relationship-building, engaging, and all methods of communication which support and leverage the capabilities of other people. Engineers are used to working on specific projects – often autonomously – and have the special ability to bury themselves in tasks to reach completion. Although the end result is high-quality, the process often has very little interaction with the outside world. It is a different set of criteria and skills than managing; mostly relying on left-brain function, analytical thinking and technical capabilities.

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that excellent engineers can’t be spectacular managers, but it does mean that companies need to ensure they have the following in place before promoting engineers to managerial positions:

1) An understanding of the challenges and the different sets of criteria for each role and

2) A program in place to allow managers to gain the knowledge and skills they need to do the job well

Additionally, here are 5 things to consider when you want to promote excellent individual engineers into managerial positions:

1)     Make sure a manager role is what they want. It doesn’t have to necessarily be the logical progression and some may not even want that kind of role, make sure expectations have been communicated clearly.

2)     Remember IQ doesn’t equal EQ. Just because someone is intelligent and brilliant, doesn’t mean they have good social or people skills. Emotional intelligence is a critical component to being a successful people manager.

3)     We don’t hire untrained engineers, why would we hire untrained managers? It is astounding how many companies don’t provide managerial training or may offer it reactively when things get tough or the organization goes through a change process.

4)     Keep them out of the weeds. Engineers like to “tinker”. They have a tendency focus on details rather than big picture. Try to encourage them to delegate and show how they can still be seen as an expert advice-giver, rather than the one who tinkers.

5)     Assess & train cross-cultural skills. Communication is one thing, communicating across cultures adds another level of complexity. Make sure managers understand what it means to work across cultures, particularly when working virtually, globally.

For more information about developing your management programs and manager coaching, contact Lamson Consulting at



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