Employers forced to promote 'technical experts' despite poor leadership qualities

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Employers are facing increased pressure to promote "expert employees" even though they display poor leadership qualities, according to a report published today.

The report Leading technical people, published by employee engagement and leadership development firm BlessingWhite and seen exclusively by HR magazine, revealed the retention of such experts is a particular business challenge in industries where expertise is rare and in high demand, such as petrochemical engineering and specialist law practices.

The report also found the ability of an organisation to attract technical talent in the first place is based on a reputation for being a place where technical people can thrive.

'Best of a bad option'

However, the report revealed the majority of these technical experts "stumble" when taking on managerial roles or leadership positions.

Fraser Marlow, head of marketing and research at BlessingWhite, said: "Organisations are increasingly dependent on the passion, creativity, energy and engagement of the workforce, and in particularly on expert employees in fields such as finance, engineering, design and technology.

"However, making them [technical experts] leaders is the best of a bad option," said Marlow.

Poor leadership

The report found technical experts often have poor people management skills, and feel disempowered when given leadership responsibilities.

But despite this companies have no choice but to increase their reliance on technical leaders, the report said.

It found leaders who are technical experts often show problematic management techniques, such as micromanagement.

Poor leadership in technical teams often results in disengagement, turnover and loss of talent, lower contribution and productivity and a greater resistance to change, the report continued.

It added that HR and L&D leaders should tailor leadership development strategies to address the pitfalls faced by technical leaders.

Marlow said: "It's easier to train someone to gain good leadership qualities than it is to train them to be a petrochemical engineer."

The report was based on responses collected during February - April 2013 from 946 managers and leaders of technical people, as a well as 336 technical experts.

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