How Do I Manage Someone Who Is More Knowledgeable Than Me?


We had an interesting question this week on our management course that opened up a good discussion on leadership.

The question came from a new manager who had been promoted from among his peers and was now managing people who were much more knowledgeable and experienced than he was. His question was how should he manage such people.

My reply was…”Don’t!”

By that, I meant don’t try to manage them. Managing someone who has more ability, experience or knowledge than you do has its pitfalls and its benefits. By managing them, you stifle their creativity and innovation. I asked the manager why he felt it necessary to actually manage the knowledgeable ex-peer. That opened up a new topic as to how much autonomy and responsibility the person should have, and if he should be managed at all.

The group suggested that he should lead the other person, allowing him to show leadership qualities himself. Trying to ‘manage’ wouldn’t work.

Instead, the leader should:

  • Discuss what roles and responsibilities the person should have and agree on how those should be carried out
  • Agree any targets that should be set for the subordinate
  • Give them the freedom and authority to achieve those targets themselves, with the manager holding the resource purse strings and the accountability
  • Set parameters for the ex-peer to work to, but allow them to control it
  • Concentrate on results rather than methods
  • Use the experience of the ex-peer to drive things forward, supporting their decisions and allowing them to create further opportunities
  • Encourage them to share their experiences and learn from them
  • Ensure you, as a manager, take full responsibility for their results, and help them achieve higher goals if possible

What you’re trying to do is create the environment for the ex-peer to still contribute to the success of the department without feeling that he has been overlooked or that his experience is of no value. On the contrary, it is of great value and should be seen to be that way by all team members.

So, don’t try and manage this kind of employee…keep their motivation and creativity going by showing excellence in leadership.

Want to develop your management skills further? Check out our open management training courses.

Thanks again


Mark Williams

Head of Training

MTD Training   | Image courtesy by Renjith Krishnan of FreeDigitalPhotos.Net

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Updated on: 30 January, 2012

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