Managing managers — what changes?

Nitin Dhar
Total Engineering Management
3 min readJan 30, 2024

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You’ve mastered the art of managing engineering teams, excelling in stand-ups, planning sessions, and 1:1s. You’ve built a harmonious working relationship with your PM and design colleagues. Now, the game changes: you’re stepping up to manage managers, a natural progression due to organizational growth or changes.

Transitioning to this new role? Let’s break it down. This series will explore what this shift means for you, starting with a high-level overview of the challenges and questions that come with managing managers.

Now, onto the core of your new role. You’re overseeing a Team Lead Manager (TLM) or Engineering Manager (EM), stepping into uncharted waters. This means indirect responsibility for a group of Individual Contributors (ICs), from juniors to staff engineers. Your focus shifts from direct output to broader outcomes across multiple teams. Marcus Frödin’s talk on output vs. outcomes is a great one to listen to.

But here’s the catch: There’s no one-size-fits-all playbook for this. You may even be in a hybrid structure where you’re directly managing a team while also guiding another manager. How do you juggle these responsibilities? How do you define your role within their team? Start by understanding your leadership’s expectations. You’re now accountable for outcomes from a portfolio of teams, a significant shift from your previous role.

Finding the right balance is crucial. You might need to refine existing output measurement methods. Engage in various team activities — from attending demos to reviewing pull requests, and from participating in planning to monitoring release notes. These will give you insights into the team’s progress. Direct feedback from the manager will also be key.

Your role isn’t about micromanagement. It’s about supporting the manager in driving results, watching for blind spots or gaps in project plans or team development. A proactive approach involves asking questions, fostering learning opportunities, and focusing on coaching rather than direct problem-solving.

When managing multiple managers, the complexity increases, particularly in coordinating with their partner PMs and designers. Clear, effective communication is vital to maintain alignment. Your role is to facilitate the EM/PM partnership, ensuring they focus on efficiency while you handle external roadblocks.

Lastly, let’s turn our focus to ‘leverage’ — a concept that, for a manager of managers, is both potent and complex. This is also a topic I’m very interested in diving deeper into and will be the topic for my next post.

Also, coming up in the “Manager of managers” series:

  1. Mindset Shift: Indirect Management
  2. Developing Managers: Mentoring and Growth
  3. Advanced Communication: Effective Information Relay
  4. Conflict Resolution: Managing Conflicts
  5. Performance Measurement: Setting Expectations and Evaluating Results
  6. Navigating Organizational Politics: Effective Leadership
  7. Personal Development: Continual Growth as a Leader

Stay tuned as we dive deeper into each of these aspects of managing managers in the upcoming posts!

The learning continues in…

If you have any thoughts or experiences to add, let me know! Respond to this post or let me know on LinkedIn. I’m happy to talk about anything software engineering related.

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Nitin Dhar
Total Engineering Management

Senior Engineering Manager, Valuations @ Carta. Building an EM Pocket Guide. Girl dad + Indie hacker. Thoughts are my own.