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Four ways to progress your career without having to manage people

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Whether it is due to disinterest in managing relationships, an aversion to endless meetings or that it simply isn’t an option available to you – people management may not be the way to progress your career.

However, it is not the case that managing others is a necessity to achieve success. There are many non-people management routes and here are our suggestions for how to pursue them:

1. Become an expert within your field

The first step to pursuing the non-people management route, is to become an undeniable expert in your field. Take advantage of every learning opportunity available, whether by staying up-to-date with all the latest trends or technologies, finding a mentor or attending a professional course.

However, seeking to grow your knowledge needs to become a habit, rather than a one-off task to tick-off and then forget about. Of course, your area of expertise – like all professional fields – will continue change and evolve, and if you want to stay relevant and in the loop, you must commit to being consistently inquisitive and keen to learn more.

For example, here at Hays we offer a route to become a principal consultant. This allows our top performers to progress their career without the focus on managing large teams. They become a true specialist and get to continue to progress their career and we get to keep top talent working with us.

2. On the back of your expertise, grow your reputation

Look for opportunities to market your expertise both inside your existing organisation and across your wider industry or network. Of course, you should be constantly adding to your CV and professional profiles as you go along. But there are other ways you can seek to actively enhance your professional reputation:

  • Promote yourself on social media: Connect with the right people and begin building your reputation online via social media, such as twitter and LinkedIn. Share relevant content and get involved in industry forum discussions – although be sure to always be accurate with your postings online. Starting a blog is another good way to share your expert insights and demonstrate your knowledge in a particular area and is a good way to build a targeted following.
     
  • Seek out speaking opportunities: I would advocate that for a strong professional presence online, you shouldn’t hide behind a keyboard. Get out there and share your knowledge face-to-face too! Look out for opportunities to speak or present at upcoming conferences, team meetings or at industry events.
     
  • Offer to train others: Whether it’s new starters or other departments in the business, this is one sure-fire way to showcase your knowledge and build your reputation within your current organisation, without directly managing others.
     
  • Share your ideas: Be proactive in generating and sharing your ideas, not just surrounding your immediate role, but also for the wider business. This will show others in your organisation that, like a true expert, you can think outside the box and understand the bigger picture.
     

If you can establish yourself as an expert in your field in the minds of key decision makers both within your internal and external network, this will equip you for the next steps along your non-people management path.

3. Have an open and honest conversation with your own manager

Once you are confident and credible in your expert status, it’s time to think about how to take your career to the next level. Perhaps a meeting to discuss your career path is on the horizon, or you are due an appraisal with your boss. If not, take the lead and set up a meeting.

Approach this meeting with your boss in a constructive way, making sure you convey the over-arching message that you want to stay within your company and progress your career, but without managing people.

In advance of the meeting, I would advise you plan ahead, preparing some examples of how you have taken it upon yourself to increase your skill set, plus the positive impact this has had on the business. Remember to include measurable results. I would also advise that you try to think of some possible internal non-people management career paths to suggest to your boss, for instance becoming closely involved in a project which could benefit from your specialist skills. Preparing some options is particularly important if people management is generally the most common route for career progression within your company.

Your boss should be supportive and open to your proposals, offering up their own suggestions in terms of how your role could develop without you needing to manage people. However, if, for whatever reason, the only clear path to progression within your company involves people management, it could be time to start looking elsewhere, which brings me onto my next point.

4: Consider other opportunities

If you are unable to progress your career by following a non-people management route in your current company, you could consider the below options. These will all offer career progression in one way or another, whether it’s an increase in responsibility, income, professional development or all three:

  • Join another organisation: Speak to a recruiter to discuss the career opportunities available at other organisations. Many companies will offer non-people management progression paths, such as being a project manager, with the scope to take on incremental responsibilities as you go along.
     
  • Become an independent contractor: Becoming a contractor will offer you progression in the sense that you would be more focused on the skills you were hired to deploy, and more conscientious in applying these skills as best you can for the sake of your future contracts.
     
  • Work as a consultant: In a similar vein, as a consultant you would be subcontracted by a company to provide specialist knowledge. This would incentivise you to develop your skills even further to keep up with your competitors, and for the sake of repeat business. Again, this option is progression in terms of both responsibility and expertise.
     
  • Train others: If you are really good at what you do, people will hire you to come and train their employees. Teaching others will help you to clarify and build upon your knowledge, keeping it fresh and relevant.
     
  • Become an influencer: If you are an expert, people will listen to your insights. They will buy your books, read your blogs, download your podcasts, and pay to see you speak at events. This is the ultimate indicator of knowledge progression, but it will take time. Still, every influencer started out like you.


Not being – or wanting to be – a people manager doesn’t have to mean your career progression is limited. Whilst in many organisations the career path of an aspiring people manager is easier to envisage, if you can focus on developing a set of skills and carve your niche that way, you will establish yourself as an expert in your area. This will open your world up to a range of promising non-people management progression paths.


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