Specialists are often promoted because they have recognised knowledge and skills in their field. They know their job very well, and the next “obvious” career step for them is to become a manager. Once they have been promoted to a managerial role, the hype soon dies. We have seen that they now spend very little time doing what they used to do so well: they are now dealing with “people problems”, office politics, coordinating projects and people.

They will probably admit that this transition is utterly exhausting. They are no longer just focusing on their own skills and successes, but on the skills and successes of others.

Being a specialist means a person has great expertise in a specific field. Once a manager, however, this expertise is less relevant. One needs to lead the team and trust that the team has the expertise. The fact is that one should refrain from trying to be an expert when reaching management level. This has obvious implications for one’s identity in the organisation. One stops being a high achieving superstar and has to start all over, at the beginning. This is likely to feel more like a demotion than a promotion.

There exists a management myth that everybody wants to be and should be a manager. This is simply untrue.

We are not implying that all specialists will ultimately be poor leaders; we are saying that not all specialists want to be or should be managers. If employees are doing what they do not enjoy, it is likely to impact negatively on the bottom line.

Being a specialist requires a different skill set than being a manager. Of course it is possible to develop skills, but would you “promote” the best soccer player in a team to the team coach? Probably not.

A flaw in the majority of organisational cultures is that it is assumed that the pinnacle of career progression is to be a manager. Managerial roles are associated with prestige.

Why do not all organisations have non-managerial paths for progression?

Organisations should have a dual track career progression. Those who lack leadership competencies, or who do not want to be a manager, should be able to progress on the non-management track, reserved for people that continue to grow their skills and ultimately become true subject matter experts, developing a name for themselves in their profession. If organisations focused on what each employee wants, they could save billions spent on turnover and training.

The stigma associated with not being a manager after a certain tenure with an organisation should be eradicated. It makes us set people up for failure.


Hein, R. (2015). Why you need to build career paths for non-managers. Retrieved from https://www.cio.com/article/2853430/careers-staffing/why-you-need-to-build-career-paths-for-nonmanagers.html

Mitchell, K. (2016). The management myth: Not everyone wants to be a manager. Retrieved from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/management-myth-everyone-wants-manager-kerry-mitchell-phd/

Scout, H. (2017). Management shouldn’t be the only viable career path. Retrieved from https://www.inc.com/help-scout/management-shouldn-t-be-the-only-viable-career-path.html

Vales, M. (2017). We built a “career map” to help non-managers find ways to advance. Retrieved from https://work.qz.com/1123220/career-mapping-how-to-legitimize-non-managerial-career-paths/

Vilet, J. (2014). Dual career ladders. Retrieved from http://www.compensationcafe.com/2014/11/dual-career-ladders.html

Wallace, W.T., & Creelman, D. (2015). Leading people when they know more than you do. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2015/06/leading-people-when-they-know-more-than-you-do

Yakowicz, W. (2017). Why the best leaders aren’t experts. Retrieved from https://www.inc.com/will-yakowicz/how-to-lead-when-youre-the-dumbest-team-member.html

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