You don’t have to become a manager to grow your career

February 23, 2020, 5:22 PM UTC

Whether you become an editor overseeing writers, a head chef directing others around the restaurant kitchen, or a senior engineer dictating project roles to your team, it seems as if growing your career implies moving into a managerial role in any industry.

But what if you have no interest in becoming a manager? Not everyone possesses the skills required to be one or wants to be in charge of other employees—and that’s OK. “Some people relish the thought of leading a team, but for many, the added responsibilities and pressure that comes with a management position just isn’t for them,” says Wendy Webster, finance and HR manager at Ramblers Walking Holidays. “And that isn’t a sign of weakness or a lack of ambition.”

While management may be a more commonly pursued route, it’s far from the only option. “There are certain roles that offer an employee the ability to challenge themselves, learn more, and earn more money while still remaining in the same position,” continues Webster.

When a person is job-hunting, she suggests, they should look at the job description and ask themselves what the possible opportunities for progression would be in that role; the keyword is ‘in’ that role, not ‘above’ it.” With that in mind, take control of what your professional path will look like with these tips for growing your career without becoming a manager. 

1. Expand your job responsibilities 

Instead of moving to a new position within your company which involves managing others, expand your job laterally. You can take a side project outside your current position, maybe a volunteering role. You may find that the work being done is unexpectedly fulfilling or rewarding, teaching you valuable and new skills.

Find your foundation: Is there a work-related project you’ve always wanted to pursue or another department you’d like to work with? Go ahead: talk to your boss about opportunities to expand your activities and discuss if your compensation can increase to reflect the wider scope of your work. 

2. Dedicate time to learn new skills 

Consider your side interests or the things you need to become a bigger asset at work. “Identify what skills will be most valuable to your company and begin to systematically acquire them, either through formal training or through self-study,” says Roy Cohen, author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide. Courses or certifications also help, since they vouch for your commitment to grow professionally. By taking this initiative you’re expanding your abilities and value as an employee—and fulfilling your own interests as an individual.

3. Use your know-how to do consulting 

Whether it’s due to increased studies or skills you already had, consulting is an amazing way to grow your career. “This means that you don’t need to be responsible for the work of others, but you’re still able to impart your knowledge and expertise,” says Nate Masterson, HR manager for Maple Holistics. Consulting could be done within your current company—with necessary clearance from HR, of course—or a side hustle that gives you a sense of accomplishment. Not only can you bring in some extra cash, but consulting gives you credibility in your field of expertise.

4. Become an expert in your area and capitalize on it

Speaking of, becoming an expert allows you to have an increased presence in your industry and take on more responsibility—no subordinates necessary. If you become the best at what you do, you turn into a source of reference for your teammates. You’ll be appreciated, looked-up to, considered an authority figure, and might even become a keynote speaker for internal or external forums.

If you’re passionate about what you do, and want to dive into it, then this is a clear path for growth without becoming a manager.

5. Join or participate in industry associations

Is there an organization for your type of work? If so, consider joining it. “When you demonstrate a commitment to promoting excellence in your industry, you benefit by gaining access to colleagues at other companies and you expand your professional network,” says Cohen. “You also learn about how other companies besides your own approach the same challenges, and this knowledge has the potential to offer you a competitive advantage.” Getting involved in these associations is an amazing way to connect with others in your industry and to learn about potential opportunities. 

6. Be upfront with your company 

If you let your company assume that you want to advance into a managerial role, then that’s the type of position they’ll keep you in mind for. Instead, being transparent about your desire to grow without managing allows them to find the right position for you inside the company — and someone who does want to become a manager.

“Many companies would rather keep a competent team member and create a role for them as opposed to lose them,” says Atta Tarki, founder and CEO of ECA, an executive search firm, and author of the upcoming book Evidence-Based Recruiting: How to Build a Company of Star Performers Through Systematic and Repeatable Hiring Practices. While it may be intimidating, discussing this with your employer creates the best opportunity for both of you to win. 

6. Move laterally to a company where you can grow more

Sometimes the only option left for growth at a company will be entering a managerial role. If this is the case, it may be time to seek out another company with more opportunities aligned to your goals. A new company can expose you to other areas of the industry. Maybe another company is simply more prestigious, known for their innovative ideas, or are considered to be great places to work for. A move to a small one would give you the opportunity to have your hands in a variety of projects, while a big company may have more connections. At the end of the day, it’s really about determining what the best move for you is while growing your career in your own way.

More must-read stories from Fortune:

—8 good reasons to turn down a promotion

—4 ways to get your resume noticed by companies like Google
—Putting politics aside to close the skills gap
—How to approach difficult conversations when your coworkers drive you nuts
—WATCH: Can you be a leader and an introvert?

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