How to succeed in your career without becoming a people manager

Published on: Jul 11, 2019

For some, people management just isn’t their cup of tea. From training and development to managing employee relations, managing others isn’t the career path they want to take.

Maybe you would rather spend your time developing an area of knowledge that you are truly passionate about. Whatever the reason, your career progression options are not limited. There are non-people management routes to career success, and here’s how you can pursue them:

1. Become a specialist in your field

The first step to pursuing the non-people management route, is to become a guru or expert in your area. Take advantage of every learning opportunity available, be it by reading blogs and books, finding a mentor, or asking your boss if you can go on a professional course.

Increasing your knowledge needs to become a habit, rather than a one-off task that you tick off your list and forget all about. No doubt your area of expertise will change and evolve, and if you want to stay relevant and in the loop, you must commit to always being inquisitive, on the ball and keen to learn more.

2. Establish yourself as the expert in your organisation

Look for opportunities to market your expertise both inside your existing organisation and across your wider industry or network. At the very least, you should be adding enhancements in your expertise to your CV and professional profiles as you go along. But how else can you build a strong reputation?

  • Use social media to self-promote: Connect to the right people both inside and outside your organisation and start building your online reputation. Share relevant content and get involved in industry forum discussions. Starting a blog is a great way to share your expert insights and demonstrate your knowledge in a particular area. Regular blogging is also a good means of building a targeted following
  • Seek out speaking opportunities: Don’t hide behind a keyboard, get out there and share your knowledge face-to-face. Look out for opportunities to speak or present at upcoming conferences, team meetings or at industry events
  • Offer to train others: Whether it’s new starters or other departments in the business, this is one sure-fire way to showcase your knowledge and build your reputation within your current organisation
  • Share your ideas: Be proactive in generating and sharing your ideas, not just surrounding your immediate role, but also for the wider business. This will show that, like a true expert, you can think outside the box and understand the bigger picture

If you can establish yourself as an expert in your field in the minds of key decision makers both within your internal and external network, this will equip you for the next steps along your non-people management path.

3. Communicate your aspirations

Once you are confident and credible in your expert status, it’s time to think about how to take your career to the next level. Perhaps a meeting to discuss your career path is on the horizon, or you are due an appraisal with your boss. If not, take the lead and set up a meeting.

Approach this meeting with your boss in a constructive way, making sure you convey the over-arching message that you want to stay within this company and progress your career, but without managing people.

In advance of the meeting, I would advise you plan ahead, preparing some examples of how you have taken it upon yourself to increase your skills set, plus the positive impact this has had on the business. Remember to include measurable results. I would also advise that you try to think of some possible internal non-people management career paths to suggest to your boss, for instance becoming closely involved in a project which could benefit from your specialist skills. Preparing some options is particularly important if people management is generally the most common route for career progression within the company.

Your boss should be supportive and open to your proposals, offering up their own suggestions in terms how your role could develop without you needing to manage people. However, if, for whatever reason, the only clear path to progression within your company involves people management, it could be time to start looking elsewhere, which brings me onto my next point.

4. Think outside the box

If you are unable to progress your career by following a non-people management route in your current company, you could consider the below options. These will all offer career progression in one way or another, whether it’s an increase in responsibility, income, professional development or all three:

  • Join another organisation: Speak to a recruiter to discuss the career opportunities available at other organisations. Many companies will offer non-people management progression paths, such as being a project manager, with the scope to take on incremental responsibilities as you go along
  • Become an independent contractor: Becoming a contractor will offer you progression in the sense that you would be more focused on the skills you were hired to deploy, and more conscientious in applying these skills as best you can for the sake of your future contracts
  • Work as a consultant: In a similar vein, as a consultant you would be subcontracted by a company to provide specialist knowledge. This would incentivise you to develop your skills even further to keep up with your competitors, and for the sake of repeat business. Again, this option is progression in terms of both responsibility and expertise
  • Train others: If you are really good at what you do, people will hire you to come and train their employees. Teaching others will help you to clarify and build upon your knowledge, keeping it fresh and relevant
  • Become an influencer: If you are an expert, people will listen to your insights. They will buy your books, read your blogs, download your podcasts, and pay to see you speak at events. This is the ultimate indicator of knowledge progression but it will take time. Still, every influencer started out like you

So you aren’t “people manager material”. This doesn’t mean your career progression is limited. In many organisations the career path of an aspiring people manager is easier to plan and envisage, so you may need to think outside the box. However, if you can focus on developing a set of skills and carve your niche that way, you will establish yourself as an expert in your area and open your world up to a range of promising non-people management progression paths.