3 Ways to Grow Your Career When You Hate Managing People

Woman with headphones at work


Profile Picture
Founder, levelup90.com
July 23, 2024 at 5:15AM UTC

It seems like everyone wants to be a manager some day. Managers tend to command higher salaries, and they think a lot about sexy topics like leadership and motivating their reports. 

But a new report by the Addison Group shows that only one third of US workers actually want to be managers. There are many reasons for this. A CareerBuilder survey revealed that millennials prioritize job satisfaction and personal fulfillment over advancement. If this is true, it's not a surprise that younger employees aren't seeking out leadership positions, as a Roffey Park survey uncovered higher degree of stress in managers. 

If management positions come with increased stress and lower personal fulfillment, how does one grow their career without managing others? It turns out that more companies are widening their career opportunities to include high level individuals who contribute on their own rather than heading a team. Here are a few tips to help you grow your career while sidestepping the traditional management roles. 

1. Take on more projects where you have specialized skills.

One way to demonstrate your high value to your employer without leading a team is to take on more projects where you can use a specialized skill set that you’ve built up to solve specific problems.  To achieve influence and move up, it’s important to keep an eye on what the most important current objectives are at your company. When you can, take on a project where you can showcase your unique ability to solve problems with your personalized skills. 

2. Research companies that have career growth opportunities for individual contributors.

Companies are learning that cultivating career paths for individual contributors is vital to keeping talent and filling roles that require deep expertise. Salesforce invests significantly in thought leadership around next generation sales and  marketing trends. And Buffer has written extensively about their framework for cultivating individual contributors. 

When choosing a company, make sure to connect with employees who work there in your line of work. Ask them about their own career trajectories, and whether staying an individual contributor while advancing in your field would be a viable option. Look for examples of high-level individual contributors at the company, and consider whether you would be happy with their position, their day to day activities, and the impact and influence they command within the organization. If you can meet with them one-on-one, ask them about their biggest challenges in the individual contributor role. 

3. Learn to lead by influence.

Being an individual contributor means that you won’t have to deal with the minutiae of day-to-day management. However, a key skill to hone in preparation for high impact individual contributing is leading by influence. Knowing how to guide high-level initiatives for which you are not directly responsible will be important to your ability to position yourself as a highly-valued contributor. 

I’ve found many great resources for leadership by influence in materials developed for product managers. This is because product managers are responsible for developing products, but they are typically individual contributors who rely on their abilities to persuade engineering, marketing, and executive teams to see their point of view. Here’s a  fundamental framework to get started on picking up this important skill. 


Anica John is a serial entrepreneur and founder of www.levelup90.com, a professional development platform for women in technology.

Why women love us:

  • Daily articles on career topics
  • Jobs at companies dedicated to hiring more women
  • Advice and support from an authentic community
  • Events that help you level up in your career
  • Free membership, always