Tag Yourself: Are You a Technical Leader or a Team Manager?
Let’s explore the roles, their boundaries and how we can be flexible in moving between two jobs which are “same, same, but different”.
Whether you feel like you’re fixed in your career path or are still considering a change of direction, knowing the difference between the roles of technical leader and team manager can be important. This topic is particularly tricky to tackle because – you guessed it! – discussing similar job roles is a recipe for ambiguity, especially when opinions differ! Uff!
But, worry not! We’re here to help shed light on the matter, to help you understand where these roles overlap and where they differ.
We all know how important it is to have a clear set of expectations and responsibilities in any job role. Generally speaking, placing people in the right role, where their skills, experience and seniority are maximised is crucial. The cost of badly placing people or gaps in project and team management can be high, not only for businesses, but also for individuals.
Technical Leader: The Engineering Expert
When it comes to talking about technical leaders, they’re generally seen as the most senior people and/or the best in their technical field of expertise. They’re considered leaders because of the quality of their technical knowledge and experience.
Another thing that many seem to agree with is that the core of the technical leader’s focus is on project deliverables. This means that they’re responsible for the technical direction, design and implementation of each project phase – the definition of individual tasks and contributors is crucial for this to happen, of course.
However, apart from knowledge, a keen know-how and solid technical experience, these leaders must show real ability to communicate effectively with a wide range of professionals, from product managers, designers, engineers, marketeers and stakeholders, to anyone else involved.
Furthermore, when working in a team, it’s necessary for the technical leader to promote efficient debate among members to make decision-making easier, anticipate challenges, as well as coming up with solutions for them and guarantee the quality of its technical deliverables. And this is where we move to our next role – the people leader.
Team Manager: The People Leader
In team management roles, a technical background is desirable but usually the people leader doesn’t get involved in the day-to-day technical process. It’s ideal that they understand the processes and what they encompasses but it is accepted that detailed decisions should come from the technical leader instead; the people leader will, however, keep up-to-date with important information so that they can check on the project’s alignment with the overall planning and bigger picture.
It’s not uncommon for a manager to supervise employee-related administrative tasks, such as performance assessments, feedback or hiring and onboarding processes. The people leader will be informed by the technical leader about any recruitment needs, along with all the necessary job requirements.
In this role, managers will also typically have a transversal role across teams while a technical leader focuses inwards on their own direct team and the things that impact the project directly. The manager’s job focus is wider in that it oversees team cohesion and development needs across different employee profiles and working groups.
Now, when we get to the area of team commitment, development and mentoring, it gets a bit fuzzy, but many tend to feel more comfortable assuming that this is where the manager’s core skills lies.
While technical leaders provide feedback on division performance or a project’s technical aspects, managers tend to intervene beyond that and focus on mentoring at a personal development level. Topics such as career orientation and progression, performance appraisals and team challenges are often attended to by the manager who’s more attuned with the employees’ skillsets, interests and experience. Either way, both technical leaders and managers are responsible for anticipating and solving any obstacles that may arise.
After a deeper look at these two roles, the distinction between them becomes clearer.
Career-wise, it’s essential to ask ourselves why we want to take on each role, considering our long-term goals. What do you see as a next step for yourself? What drives you forward? What are your core skills and how do they fit to one or the other role? Hopefully, this article helped to bring some clarification to an often ambiguous and ongoing discussion about the two roles.
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