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Not Everyone Wants to be a Manager - And That's Okay


Being offered a promotion to management is often seen as a sign of success and career progression. However, not every role is the right fit for every individual. For some, opportunities outside of management allow for greater fulfillment and use of their skills and talents. If you find yourself in a position where your boss has offered you a promotion to manager that you don't want to take, it's still possible to make the decision that's right for your career without damaging your reputation or future opportunities.


Today we will explore how to thoughtfully and professionally turn down a managerial promotion when that isn't the direction you want your career to go.


Politely Thank Your Boss and Request Time to Consider

If you've been offered a promotion that you aren't interested in, the first step is to express gratitude for the opportunity while also requesting time to consider it. Thank your boss for their confidence in promoting you and recognition of your work. Explain that you need time to carefully think through how this role aligns with your long term career goals. Asking for a week or two to thoughtfully consider the offer allows you time to have follow up conversations and potentially provide alternative options without making an outright rejection in the initial meeting. This polite approach helps maintain a good working relationship while you determine the best path forward.


Make the Case for Staying in Your Current Role

Use the time your boss has given you to thoughtfully create a business case for why remaining in your current individual contributor role would be mutually beneficial.


Some potential points to include:

  • Emphasize the impact and value you bring to projects and initiatives in your current department. Quantify outcomes and accomplishments when possible to demonstrate your worth.

  • Explain why continuing in your existing function allows you to stay focused on strengthening areas of expertise and using skills that directly support strategic goals and initiatives.

  • Suggest how your specialized skills and contributions in their current role could lessen the management workload of your boss or other leaders on key projects.

  • Propose potential development projects, process improvements, or special assignments you could spearhead without a full management transition that add value.

  • Highlight benefits like retaining institutional knowledge, subject matter expertise, and existing working relationships critical to ongoing work.

The goal is to paint a picture of how your particular talents can still progress the business from your current individual role, addressing any concerns that not advancing to management may stall your development or the department's success. Approach it as a win-win where both you and the company benefit from maintaining the status quo.


Recommend Quality Replacement Candidates

Rather than just declining the promotion outright, offering viable replacement suggestions can be another win-win approach. Your boss will appreciate the help in filling a key position, and it demonstrates your commitment to the team's success beyond your own ambitions. Some options include:

  • Recommending high potential colleagues you've mentored or managed in the past who would be a strong cultural fit and bring needed skills to the role.

  • Volunteering to take on the management duties yourself in an interim capacity until a new permanent hire is onboarded if your boss isn't ready to eliminate the opening altogether.

  • Suggesting lateral moves, job rotations, or promotions of existing employees with applicable experience rather than external searches if budget allows.

  • Providing insight into which direct reports have expressed interest in expanding their responsibilities and would welcome career growth opportunities like this one.

By helping solve the problem of staffing the open position, your manager leaves the discussion feeling their needs are still met even if you can't fill the role yourself permanently. It's a win-win diplomatic solution.


Express Interest in Future Growth Remains

In your discussion, reassure your boss that while management may not be the right path for you now, you do want to continue advancing your career over time. Not ruling out the possibility of a managerial promotion down the road leaves the door open for future opportunities. Stress your commitment to taking on new projects, developing new skills, and increasing your responsibilities in a way that's optimal for both personal development and business needs. Thank them again for the consideration and for ongoing support of your career aspirations, whether within or outside of management. Maintaining an open dialogue about growth ensures your career progression remains a priority for both you and your leadership.


Conclusion

Respectfully declining a promotion you aren't suited for takes tact, but it is possible to make the decision that aligns with your goals and priorities without compromising your reputation or career progress. With preparation, thoughtful business cases for alternative options, suggestions for positive resolutions, and open communication, rejecting a management role can reinforce your value, development, and working relationship. Not everyone aspires to lead teams, and employers benefit most when individuals occupy roles matching their authentic strengths and motivations. An honest discussion demonstrating mutual understanding leaves the door open for future career opportunities as both your skills and organizational needs evolve over time. Approaching these types of discussions professionally allows individuals agency over their paths while supporting business success.

 

Jonathan H. Westover, PhD is Chief Academic & Learning Officer (HCI Academy); Chair/Professor, Organizational Leadership (UVU); OD Consultant (Human Capital Innovations). Read Jonathan Westover's executive profile here.



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