Can You Advance as a Non-Manager?

Career Blog

Empire building is a popular way to scale the corporate ladder, but it’s not the only means of advancement. Independent contributors can demonstrate their importance to an organization in a variety of ways such as specialized subject matter expertise, customer relationships, or large-scale project management. The key is knowing your strengths and leveraging those in pursuit of your career ambitions.

Pick Your Path

Managers succeed by going broad and influencing the efforts of others be it a local team or entire department or business unit. Independent contributors on the other hand succeed by going deep and becoming an indispensable expert in their chosen field.

In well run organizations career growth is commensurate with one’s contribution regardless of the path selected. Managers can advance by increasing their spere of influence. And independent contributors can excel by enhancing their skills. As a non-manager, be it a rainmaker, expert, or innovator, the best path is often the natural one. So instead of hyper-focusing on people management, find your niche and then demonstrate its value-add to the organization. 

Force Fit Managers

Some will undoubtedly ignore this advice and angle for a supervisor slot – even if they are loath to manager others. Unfortunately, what may initially appear as a short cut can actually hamper progress.

Management, especially at the first few levels, can be a tactical, messy affair. Sure, there are leaders at all levels, but there’s also administration and issue management. If you prefer concepts over connections and dread the kind of paperwork that comes from mapping a vacation schedule, you might set yourself up for either the deflation of failure or the hardship of success.  

Remember, management is rarely a one-off rotation. It’s a pie eating contest where the prize for winning is more pie. If you don’t have the appetite for it, your reward will be the heartburn that comes from succeeding in the wrong direction.   

A Great Responsibility

Management is a complex and vital responsibility that requires far more than individual efforts to ensure success. To be effective, managers must leverage both art and science to shepherd the careers and enhance the contributions of their reports.

You can’t take that lightly nor should you pursue a managerial path simply to expedite your career ambitions. Management is a great way to scale the corporate ladder, but it’s not the only path to success. If you heart is not in it consider other avenues. Unlike many independent contributor roles, any mistakes made as a leader will affect more than just yourself. 

Need a career coach? Contact me via

Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn

Photo by Jonathan Borba

Share This Article


Leave a Comment


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest