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Getting Ahead Without Becoming a Manager

Ask The Expert

By Barbara Mitchell

Q: It appears the only way to make more money in my organization is to become a manager, and I don't think I want to go that route. Are there other ways I can progress in my career?

A: I love that you know yourself well enough to have determined that managing others is not for you. I wish more people could be that honest with themselves and with their organizations, because too many people take the promotion to manager when it's offered even if they have no interest in or aptitude for management.

However, you raise a great point: Most organizations are structured so that moving up means taking on responsibility for more projects and people. Since you've decided management isn't for you, I'd suggest you have a frank discussion with your supervisor.

Think through where you could add value as an individual contributor, and be sure to let your manager know that you are willing to work on teams or support others in your work group.

Before your meeting, carefully plan how you'll lay out your position. Know your strengths, and be ready to share examples of where you've already added value to the organization. During the conversation, be sure to indicate your strong commitment to your organization and explain that you want to stay and contribute but also want to grow in your career (and, increase you salary). Suggest some options for your manager to consider—don't just drop your problem on your manager and expect her to solve it.

How can you come up with suggestions for advancing? Think through where you could add value as an individual contributor, and be sure to let your manager know that you are willing to work on teams or support others in your work group. Perhaps you think you'd be better at managing projects than people. Chances are that if you have prepared well and have some good examples of where you think you can add value without becoming a manager, your supervisor will at least listen.

However, during and after your discussion, you may need to adjust your expectations. Your manager may ask you to be patient while she ponders your request, and she may need to take it higher up in the organization. You need to know how long you're prepared to wait. And if your suggestions are not an option, you may need to move to another organization to re-energize your career. In that case, look for an employer that offers more opportunity for individual contributors.

Hopefully your organization will value the contributions you've made in your current role and work out the best solution to keep you, but if not, being open to other possibilities can be exciting.

Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR and The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook. Do you have a question you'd like her to answer in "Ask the Expert"? Send it to [email protected]

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