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No Upward Mobility Needed? Making the Case for Individual Contributors in the Workplace


Getting a promotion to a high level management position seems like it would be a dream come true for some folks trying to get ahead at work. After all, we’ve all been programmed to climb the corporate ladder to success, right? Yeah, not so much. Here’s why remaining in an individual contributor role may be your best option.


According to an intriguing blog post written by Rand Fishkin, the cofounder of SEOmoz, it’s not the management team (a.k.a. people wranglers) that make the biggest difference, it’s the individual contributors who collaboratively lead innovation and do the hard work in the business world. Even with all their power and influence, their posh offices and amenities, and their salaries – managers are only good at their roles because of the people they manage.

Management vs. IC Roles

Do You Know What You're Worth?

To make the case for sticking to a career as an individual contributor instead of working towards a management role, this requires some contemplation. Bob Bessette, software professional and founder of Cubicle Bliss and a contributor at Work Awesome, shared some insight on what’s attractive and not so attractive about both roles.

When it comes to management roles, the obvious perks include more money, more interaction with people, the ability to delegate mundane tasks, opportunities for career development and perception of being important in the workplace. However, the pressures of this role can become overwhelming, making it difficult to have a life outside the office. As a manager, you are generally less focused on your expertise and more focused on supporting the success of your team, so there may be less overall reward. It can be challenging to get respect from others when you are not the one doing the task work.

For individual contributors, there are also some clear pros and cons to be aware of. The perks include being able to focus on your own performance and development as an expert in your field. You are accountable solely on your work and growth. For those who like having more flexibility, being an IC can also provide you with the ability to work remotely in some cases. The potential negatives for staying in the IC role include taking a little longer to reach your financial earning goals, you don’t have the authority to make bigger decisions, your manager may not always task you with projects you are gifted in, and you may not always get the respect you deserve.

Individual Contributor Success

Yet, for many people, remaining an individual contributor makes the best sense for a career path. Not everyone wants to be in charge of others. A vast number of ICs also find that they experience more reward and even higher earnings, working less hours and being more effective overall.

Wherever you find yourself currently in your career, it’s recommended that you make the most of your individual contributor role and embrace the unique advantages that you have now. This could be the greatest time in your life, where you can become a go-to expert and find the ultimate success that fits for you.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you think it’s better to be an individual contributor or a manager? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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Tess C. Taylor
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