Taking management by storm: how to leap from technician to leader
Transitioning from a technical role to a leadership role is a common progression in an engineer’s career, but it is one of the biggest and most challenging leaps you can make in the workplace.
The chances are you have spent years mastering your specialisation, whether it is in automation, oil and gas, utilities or even mining. You’ve been recognised for your hard work, and now the expectation is that you step up and hand over your place to somebody else. It's no longer your job to do the ‘hands on’ work. Instead, it's your job to help technical engineers reach the company goal.
In this situation, simply changing your title to ‘Manager’ or ‘Director’ does not necessarily mean you are truly acting like a leader. Leadership requires a different set of behaviours and a different way of thinking, so it’s now your job to grow and evolve.
At my culture firm, Corporate Edge, we understand the struggles some of us have with this transition, which is why we have put together four key changes you need to make in order to transition from technician to a leader.
Change 1: Get comfortable spending more time with people, rather than on the tasks
One of the core differences between a leader and a technician is that leaders are required to focus more of their energy on people and strategy, as opposed to implementation and execution.
Many new managers find it difficult to move their focus from technical work, like the design, to people. This is particularly hard if you are introverted, as you have likely received more energy from your project rather than from your colleagues in the past.
Often the challenge people face as they step away from the factories, machinery and processes into an office space is the feeling that they aren’t getting anything done. The key here is to change how you view what is most important (good productive use of your time). Spending a day in one-on-ones with your technical team, empowering them to do their work for the week, is actually far more important (and productive) than you attempting to do all of that work yourself.
Change 2: Let go of the day-to-day tasks and learn to delegate
In order to step up, there will be practical tasks you were doing that you now need to stop doing. This is often hard to do as we have become famous for our ability to do them. The reality is, those tasks are no longer relevant to our position and we need to become famous for being a leader if we are to succeed in a leadership role.
One of the barriers that prevent new managers from focusing on the bigger picture is the feeling that they don’t 'have the time' to do so or they’re worried about losing control. Who will fill the void leftover if we stop focusing on day-to-day activity and start focusing on macro planning?
There is one very simple solution to this problem: delegation.
Underneath you, there might be multiple direct reports who are looking to grow and progress within the organisation. By handing over certain elements of your work to them, you free yourself up to focus on long-term work and help your technical team to thrive.
At first, you’ll need to accept the fact that the work they do might not be the same quality you are used to achieving. However, with the right training and feedback from you, in time, it might even be better. Seeing your technical team progress and improve is what being a manager is really all about.
Change 3: Rethink how you use your time
We make our habits, and then our habits make us. After years of working in the industry, it’s only natural that you become used to doing things a certain way.
Perhaps you are very experienced in installing new equipment for increased efficiency in manufacturing. As a technical engineer, working on a project was often quicker and easier when you did the tasks yourself rather than training someone else to do them.
However, using this approach as a manager is short-sighted. While it might help you move things along more quickly in the short term, in the long term the ‘I’ll just do it myself’ mentality will not serve you.
Whilst you may feel that you can do anything, you cannot do everything. When stepping into a leadership role you need to essentially retrain yourself on how you are spending your time. Rather than spending time installing equipment, troubleshooting for maintenance or micromanaging the design process, you should be spending it empowering others to do those tasks so you can focus on higher-level work.
Change 4: Focus on higher-level thinking
As leaders, we should be aiming to focus on higher-level thinking that will ultimately lead to higher-level work. Only this will truly have an impact on the organisation as a whole. This is a sign of true leadership, as it requires you to take yourself out of the day-to-day practical work and think on a larger scale. The first three key changes lead to this one. When you become a leader, you move from Technician to Visionary, from doing to thinking. This is a decision you consciously need to make. You will not succeed as a leader if you can’t transition to higher-level thinking. This is what will create your ability to provide higher-value work; the ability to make a difference at an organisational (or divisional) level.
Some questions that create higher-level thinking are:
What is it that we do best?
- How do we maximise our ability to do that?
- How do we create a culture that delivers that every day?
How do we get greater levels of innovation?
- What do we have in place that gets the team involved?
- What do we as leaders need to do differently to get the team to cooperate?
What development is needed in the organisation that will enable future growth?
- What capability growth is required?
- What capacity growth is required?
- Where do we need to invest our time and resources?
What do I need to do differently to add even more value?
- How am I currently spending my time?
- How should I be spending my time?
- What example am I role modelling to the team?
Change is all about switching up your thinking and mindset in relation to the transition of your role from technician to leader. Follow the above as a guide and we promise you, you’ll be well on your way.
If you are passionate and enthusiatic about learning, you will thrive in your career.
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