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Friday, July 13, 2012

Why People Managers Also Need to Focus on Technical Competencies and How Can They Keep Their Technical Competencies Fit and Fine?

Successful managers are good both at technical direction-setting and people management. One reason for this could be the fact that a manager who can handle both technical and people side well would have a balanced perspective.

People or Soft Skills

On one hand, people managers need competencies that are related to people management or the “soft skills” as they might be referred to as. Knowing how to deal with subordinates, peers and superiors is absolutely essential to get the work done.  People management or team management requires a very fine balancing act. All work is eventually performed by people and hence knowing how to manage people is an essential skill for a manager of people.

Technical or Hard Skills

On the other hand, however, managers also need competencies that are quite technical in nature or the “hard skills” as they might be referred to as. Knowing the "stuff" is indeed important so that the team has confidence on the manager as a problem solver or direction provider. In fact, this is that one single skill which is critical for managers so that they remain relevant as their career progresses.

Acquiring and Retaining Technical Skills

Learning the technical or the hard aspects is surely possible provided the manager consciously makes efforts in that direction. Here are some ways to enable this:
  • Performing regular technical review of the team's work (this essentially involves asking right questions to the team, interpreting the responses correctly and asking good follow-up questions)
  • Attending industry forums and conferences (this essentially involves getting to know the state of the art, emerging trends, newer concepts and methodologies and learning from experts)
  • Investing time into self-study (this essentially involves learning through books, journals and these days through Internet also)
  • Taking up speaking and writing opportunities (this essentially involves speaking at industry forums, writing papers and articles)
Why Technical Skills Need to be Focused On?

In general the people manager should have a broad-based understanding of all or most of the relevant technical skills. At the same time there should be a few relevant technical skills in which the people manager possesses strong vertical expertise (this is important to gain "technical" respect of the people being managed). This allows the people manager to know, to a certain extent of course, that the team is in the right direction at the right pace. This assumes high significance as the successes and the failures of the team are ultimately owned by the manager.

In addition, focusing only on people skills and ignoring technical skills completely is not a good career management strategy. Possessing certain technical skills means that it is easy to slide into a consultant, speaker, advisor or auditor roles at any point in one’s career, should the need arise (remember these are individual contributor roles and require technical competencies unlike typical managerial roles).

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