Most engineering managers will at some point in their career have senior engineers on their team. A common pattern for managers is to pay less attention to the senior engineers, because they typically need way less handholding. There is a huge potential for engineering managers to actively support the growth of their senior engineers.
First off, some of the basics. Every relationship between an employee and their manager is unique, and it is my job as the manager to make sure that I understand what this specific person needs, so that I can adapt my leadership style and make sure I provide value to them. I make sure to understand their goals, and I also share my feedback and observations with them.
Senior engineers have gained a lot of experience over the years, and some of them might not need or even want their manager to be too involved. They might have had amazing managers earlier in their career, or they had horrible managers, or - perhaps most likely - they’ve had a bit of both together with mostly ok-ish managers. They’ve had hundreds of 1:1s, numerous development talks, they’ve gotten a ton of feedback, you get it. So what can you provide?
I’ve found that these focus areas of your leadership often provide value for senior engineers.
- Decipher organizational complexity
- Nurture the multiplier effect
- Provide opportunities
Basically, help them understand and navigate the organizational landscape, which is quite different from the technical problem solving they’re likely more used to. Then facilitate the process of identifying their strengths and how they can become a multiplying force for good. Lastly, as a manager, you are likely in forums where they are not, and it’s your job to be their sponsor.