Tips for managing technical people – Who’s the Expert?

20 September 2015, by

The following is an excerpt from my new book, “Galvanizing the Geeks – Tips for Managing Technical People”. You can buy the full book on my website, here.Galvanizing the geeks

As a busy manager, you want your technical team to deliver the work you need so that you can hit your targets. You don’t need to know how they do it, or the finer points of their problems. Or do you?

I don’t need to explain why being a cog in a giant machine over which you have no control is demotivating. The opposite of this is having a manager who is interested in what you are doing and why you are doing it.

You’ll never be able to build up the level of expertise that your team has, but you can use that to your advantage. There is nothing more flattering than being asked to explain what you do by someone who respects how useful it is and acknowledges that they couldn’t do it themselves. And of course, building up your knowledge can only increase your ability to make decisions and communicate them upwards.

If you’re not from a technical background, taking an interest at more than a superficial level will open up a new world to you. If your senior developer is off, you may be able to point junior developers at the right resources. You can have a constructive discussion around issues that arise, rather than an argumentative one. You can do this, not because you know better, but because you’ve learnt enough to know how to listen to people who do know better.

The other key way to gain respect from your technical team is to make it clear how you can be useful to them. The best way to help is by using your own expertise: management. If you respect and value their space of execution, and show them how it would be useful for them to align it with yours, you’ll have an unbreakable bond.

As a developer, I was close to the bottom of the pack. As a result, I started developing along different lines in the support team, where I got more credit for being nice to people. This led into management – and suddenly, the techies whose ability to construct elegant, performant functions had dwarfed my own were suddenly reporting to me.

It was a little bit of a shock to everyone concerned. Like most new managers, I was keen and enthusiastic. I didn’t stop to think how this might look to people who were already doing the job better than I could.

I soon realised that only by making the effort to make myself useful would I come to be regarded as such. So I started to focus on how I could actually be helpful. I took away troublesome admin tasks. I helped open up new opportunities that the developers were trying to move into. I asked the question ‘How can I be of help?’ And I didn’t stop until I got an answer.


Categories: Technical


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