How Do I Convince My Boss I'm Ready to Manage Others?

Last Updated Jun 23, 2010 6:15 AM EDT

Dear Evil HR Lady, I am a computer programmer by trade, but I could be best considered a problem solver. For my day to day activities, I consistently get excellent reviews. People actively seek me out for projects (as opposed to other developers) because I get them done, and do it well. However, what I see as my best ability is the hardest to quantify - I make everyone around me better. I'm not the best programmer, I'm not the best business analyst, I am not the best at writing, and definitely not the best speaker, yet they all come to me when they have problems or need to flesh out ideas. I make projects go smoother because I help everyone on the project. Similar projects have taken as much as ten times longer, but if you put them side by side, the only obvious difference would be that I am on one. Otherwise, it just seems that everyone performed much better on that project for no apparent reason. I have no magic wand, I just help people out in a hundred little ways to keep things moving. It might be something as small as meeting with that difficult executive or tuning a slow query. I think these skills would make me an excellent manager, but I have no idea how to highlight them. I'm not very good at shameless self-promotion and any efforts to that end have been quite ham-fisted. Less obvious ways have not worked either. How can I get an opportunity to demonstrate what I can do when I am actually in charge? I agree with you. These are the skills needed to be a good manager. Companies often make the mistake of thinking the best programmer will be the best manager of programmers. This is rarely the case, as programming and managing are different skills.

The problem is, as you know, that it's super obvious that the best programmer is the best. Your "soft" skills are less quantifiable. You do need to toot your own horn. Let's figure out a way to do that.

  • Quantify the non-quantifiable. You say the only obvious difference between a successful project and and one that drags out forever is that you are on the successful project. Well, time to completion is a quantifiable measure. "Decreased project completion time by 75%." "Reduced error rate by 22%." But, wait! you say, you didn't reduce the errors, the others did. Hogwash. Take some credit where credit is due.
  • Speak the truth. Yes, this will involve some bragging, but let's do it anyway. "I'll talk to Jim about this. You know he can be difficult, but I have a good track record with him." I just learned a new term from my BNET colleague Sean Silverthorne: HIPPO--Highest Paid Person's Opinion. Boy is it ever a skill to be able to handle that VP who wanders in and wants a ridiculous change. So, be honest with your management that you are good at handling it when a HIPPO appears to ruin the project. (Be careful not to identify them as HIPPOs. I imagine most HIPPOs are oblivious to the swath of destruction they sometimes cause.)
  • Tell your boss you want a promotion. Most managers don't lay awake at night trying to figure out how to best promote their people. Remember that nobody cares about your career like you do. You need to speak up and say, "Look at the good I bring to the company. I proved my leadership skills on projects x, y, and z. I am ready to move into a management role. What do I need to do to do that?"
  • Apply for open management positions. Some people reading this are shaking their heads saying, "Duh." But, I've seen numerous people sitting on their hands, figuring that the boss already knows you, so if she's posted the position it means that she doesn't want you in the job. Perhaps, but unlikely. Apply for goodness sakes. Internally and externally.
  • Volunteer. "I need someone to run this meeting," says your boss. That's your clue to volunteer. Someone to take notes, write up a proposal, talk with someone about this. You volunteer. It's about increasing your visibility.
  • Take a coworker to lunch and ask for help. Food always makes people more willing to help. This person is someone who sees you in action. Share your career plans and ask how you can express what you do. Ask for his opinion on what your skills are and where you are lacking. Since it sounds like most of your success has been when working with peers, your coworkers may have better insight on this than your boss does.
  • Update your resume. Doing this task will actually help you to process your thoughts and accomplishments. Plus, it's always good to have an updated resume, especially since you are going to be applying for these management positions.
Hopefully these suggestions will help you get into that management path.

Photo by Sara. Nel, Flickr cc 2.0