How to Make More Money If You Don't Want to Be a Manager

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Some people dream of assuming management roles. These natural leaders adore providing one-on-one feedback, have an affinity for seeing the big picture, like to steer a team’s work, and possess other managerial skills. But this is certainly not the case for everyone, and it can often seem like the only path to a higher salary requires taking on a management-level role. What’s a person who doesn’t want to manage a team supposed to do to reach that higher pay bracket? 

Dig into some of the characteristics of management-level jobs (and why some people prefer to avoid them) along with ways to build a flourishing career based on a non-managerial track. 

Why Some People Dislike Management 

First, let’s talk about what some people find off-putting about management. For many, it’s the removal from tangible work. As a manager, you’re in charge of the team’s work—but that means you probably aren't coding, writing, designing, or creating an output yourself. Instead, you’re managing the doers. 

Much gets done thanks to the work of managers, but you may not feel the same sense of accomplishment at the end of the day (or when a project gets completed).

Other people find the meetings, paperwork, and office politics that often accompany the role daunting, unpleasant, or energy-sapping. 

Managers need to share—and promote—company strategy, even if they don’t agree with it. Communication is a big part of this role (so it’s not ideal for anyone who struggles with this soft skill). That includes engaging in challenging conversations with staff when their work is subpar, or when a promotion is out of their reach, or to inform them of a layoff. 

All of these leadership and administrative responsibilities are a good fit for some workers—and a poor one for others. Fortunately, there are pathways to a flourishing career and a good salary without taking on a management-level job.

6 Ways to Succeed Without Following the Management Track 

1. Tell People 

Instead of being coy, be open about your desired career path. Start with the interview process: during your interview, ask about career growth at the company, as well as the path of the person who previously held the position you’re interviewing for. Answers will help reveal whether the company tends to move skilled workers to management, or offers promotions that aren’t tied to this type of work. You can also touch upon your preference if you’re asked, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” 

Alternatively, you can tell your manager directly once you’re employed, and open up a conversation about how to grow your career without moving into management. 

2. Look for Flat Hierarchies 

Some companies have a “move up or move out” kind of attitude; if workers aren’t being promoted to higher-level positions, the company concludes that the employee must not be a good fit. These companies, of course, are best avoided if you’re not interested in pursuing a management role. Try to identify these companies during your job search and opt instead to interview at companies with a flat hierarchy, where levels of middle management are removed. 

3. Consider Contracting 

Acting as a contractor might also be a way to avoid management, while still having a lot of responsibility and interesting challenges, along with a paycheck. Being a contractor can be unpredictable, however, and also means figuring out your own benefits. But you may find that this is the right path for you

4. Work at Startup or Small Company 

Often, startups and smaller companies have small teams and employees with big titles. The “chief financial officer” may also be the sole person on the financial team. 

5. Say No 

Here’s one way to avoid the management track: do not accept job offers that involve management, and decline promotion opportunities that are offered at your current position. 

Of course, you’ll want to be thoughtful and polite about how you turn down any opportunity—especially if they're at your current position. To that end: 

  • Express gratitude: It’s flattering when your company wants to promote you, so you should acknowledge that positive feedback.
  • Explain yourself: Be straightforward about why you would prefer not to have your career go in that direction. You may find that in response, the person who wants to promote you offers to alleviate some of those concerns by changing the job description or required tasks.

6. Request a Raise—Not a Promotion

You may find that the most important thing you can do at work is to show your value—and then ask for a raise instead of a promotion at your annual review.

To prove your value, track your big accomplishments. Make sure it’s visible how the work you do—completing projects on time, landing clients, executing key tasks, and so on—is essential to the company. That’ll make it easier for you to make the case that you’re providing real value where you are, and that it wouldn’t be beneficial for you to be moved to a managerial role.

While raises and promotions often go hand-in-hand, you may be able to show your organization the benefit of giving you a significant raise without a title change, or with a title change that does not involve management responsibilities (think: “senior”).

If a promotion is important to you—or required at your company in order for employees to get a raise—angle for a strategic role that involves big-picture thinking or working as a project lead or executing on a larger scale, but a role that is not involved in the other tasks of a managerial role. 

Not everyone is suited for a management job There are many reasons why employees opt out of managerial positions.

You don’t need to be a manager to make more money You can boost your earnings without taking on a management role.

Keep track of your accomplishments Track what you accomplish at work so you can share your achievements with your current and prospective employers.

Article Sources

  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Outlook Handbook. "Management Occupations," Accessed Oct. 16, 2019.

  2. QuartzatWork. "We Built a “Career Map” to Help Non-Managers Find Ways to Advance," Accessed Oct. 16, 2019.

  3. DDI.com. "What Senior Leaders Do: The Nine Roles of Strategic Leadership," Page 1. Accessed Oct. 1, 2019.