If you want to make a career, you don't necessarily have to hold a management position. A professional career can be just as fulfilling. How do you know which path suits you? And are there alternatives?
Remaining in one place for the entire professional life does not sound very tempting for most. But if you want to make a career, you don't always have to think upwards and at some point lead a team, a department or a business unit. A specialist career can also be an option.
What is the difference between the two? "Providing goals, organizing, deciding, controlling and developing and promoting people", is how Regina Bergdolt defines the tasks of a management position, based on the management consultant Fredmund Malik. For people who like it, leadership can be enormously satisfying, says the management consultant. "The central question is: Do I feel like leading? Do I do it with my heart?"
Tomas Bohinc sums it up similarly. The author and former team consultant sees "three essential aspects in a management career: strategic thinking, organization and soft skills such as communicating with others and resolving conflicts." A specialist career, on the other hand, is aimed at people who are passionate about a topic. "The professional career is a horizontal model. You gain broader knowledge, you get more recognition inside and outside the company."
But even if the specialist career focuses on expertise, social and communication skills are required here. "Think of construction project managers, IT experts, vehicle dealers. Experts don't just sit in the basement, they talk to people who need their expertise every day," says Bergdolt.
Bohinc also sees the need for soft skills in specialist careers. "Nevertheless, you don't have to be able to work in a team like a manager. Without soft skills, they will go under."
Whether leadership or expertise: both models have advantages and disadvantages. For Bohinc, the benefits for executives are obvious: power and influence in the company and in the executive committees. "You don't have that as a technical expert." According to the consultants, anyone who takes on a management position can also count on more money. The classic upward career path is still better paid than expertise.
However, it is important to remember that "leadership can be rewarding, but also exhausting," says Bergdolt. On the one hand, the variety of processes is challenging, on the other hand "it is important to keep in touch".
In addition, positions at the top of teams or departments are naturally very limited. According to Tomas Bohinc, more elbow use is required. The larger a company is, the more managerial positions are available. At the same time, executives are more at risk than specialists in the event of reorganization in the company. The company must not lose expertise, it is more possible to let executives go.
"Expertise can make you irreplaceable," confirms Bergdolt. However, the author ("successfully introducing specialist careers") advises observing your own subject area and constantly developing yourself with self-motivation.
The fact that there is no need for vacancies in the company for further development speaks in favor of specialist careers. According to Bohinc, typical areas for specialist careers are engineering, technology, business and banking. "There is enough money available there." Bergdolt also mentions the areas of consulting and human resources. Digitization job profiles such as data scientists are also classic specialist careers. According to Bergdolt, anyone who is interested in a specialist career should ask during the interview whether the employer offers it.
Bohinc believes it is premature to ask oneself before studying or choosing a career whether one is aiming for a managerial position or a specialist career: "The question arises in the first few years of work and less before the profession. It often depends more on the opportunities in the company than of one's own desire."
Organizational consultant Bergdolt recommends using offers from the university, orientation tools from the employment agency or the concept of career anchors, which goes back to the organizational psychologist Edgar Schein, for orientation. Career anchors describe basic patterns that express people's values and desires for shaping their professional career. They should help to better understand one's own values, motives and skills with a view to one's career. Anyone who has already started working life should place their career goals in appraisal interviews or personnel development interviews.
There is also good news for everyone who does not want to choose between leadership skills and technical expertise. According to Bohinc, the project management career is about halfway between a specialist and a managerial position. You can test your skills here for a limited time.