Great Technical Skills, Lousy Leader

You hear about this often, someone who was a rock star technically was promoted to the manager position. Now things are falling apart. People with great technical skills are the best candidates for internal promotions, right?

It seems like the easy answer is, yes. The caveat is that throwing the best technical people into more advanced positions often requires advanced training.

Great Technical Skills

A best-in-class engineer isn’t always prepared to be the Manager of Engineering. A mechanic who can fix nearly any car might not understand how to be successful as the Shop Manager, and of course, the best machine operator might not have the skills required to become the Manufacturing Supervisor.

None of this means that they can’t do the job. They are probably fantastic candidates, but they also might require some training to really be successful.

Most noteworthy might be the skill requirement differences between being a successful technical employee and being one who leads and manages other people.

Technical Employee Skills

  • Dependable
  • Knowledgeable
  • Accountable
  • Thorough
  • Accurate

Leadership Skills

  • Communicator
  • Critical thinker
  • Delegator
  • Change agent
  • Conflict management

Perhaps everyone would benefit from some of both, but often the greatest technical people aren’t as skilled at being a leader.

It is a natural flow for any business or organization to advance their greatest front line people. Of course, it makes sense to promote those who have proven themselves with engagement, commitment, and the knowledge of what the business is, and does.

Most of all, it makes sense to give them the opportunity to advance their skillset through training and development. Since they are an investment, prepare them for the challenges that they’ll face when they move from a technical position to a more advanced role.

Otherwise, you might consider that failing to prepare, is preparing to fail.

Big Surprise

What is most surprising about all of this? Nearly everyone understands this simple concept, but it seems commonly overlooked in practice.

Have you ever encountered someone who was superb technically but then failed as a leader?


Dennis E. Gilbert is a business consultant, speaker (CSP), and corporate trainer that specializes in helping businesses and individuals accelerate their leadership, their team, and their success. He is a four-time author and some of his work includes, Forgotten Respect, Navigating A Multigenerational Workforce and Pivot and Accelerate, The Next Move Is Yours! Reach him through his website at or by calling +1 646.546.5553.