Career Success

How to Tactfully Turn Down a Promotion to Management

By Natalie BarbaJuly 5, 2017

Transitioning from individual contributor to manager is a big career move. Focus shifts from concrete deliverables to people development, which requires an entirely new set of skills.

In many people’s minds, becoming a manager is a necessary step to advance their careers, but as Ron Bell states, “Everyone should aspire to continuous improvement; being a manager isn’t the only way to do that — or the only way to lead a fulfilling career.”

When asked how to turn down a managerial position that’s been offered, without making the impression that it’s for lack of ambition, here’s what the community had to say:

Make sure you understand the new role and responsibilities

As with any important decision, you should investigate as much as possible about the opportunity presented. At a high level, Darby O’Connor explains, “Leaders are responsible for the vision and the motivation, managers deliver accountability and ensure the organization is on track, and technicians do the handy work.”

Dominic Gadoury goes on to highlight, “Some of the great aspects of being a direct contributor are lost when you move into management, such as a sense of accomplishment with deliverables, and perhaps individual creativity. On the flip side, management is a great way to contribute in different ways, such as being an example, supporting the team, and driving higher-level objectives.”

Managerial positions, and the split between individual work and people management, vary depending on the organization and team. To thoroughly evaluate whether the position is a good fit for you, gather as many details about the new role as you possibly can.

Revisit your career plans

Sheila Miller recommends you use this as an opportunity to “think through what professional development and advancement looks like to you,” and whether that includes management or not. “Take a step and assess where you would like to go in the short- and long-term,” adds Davina Ling.

If you believe now is not the right time, Raghu Kappaganthula encourages you to “do one more round of introspection – why are you not willing to take up that role?” Challenge yourself to really understand the “why,” and make sure the answer isn’t simply because of fear. As Bruce Sizemore puts it, “The only thing you should fear about a new opportunity is not doing it.”

Picture yourself in the new role

If you haven’t already put much thought into managing, be sure to not shut down the idea before seriously considering it. Lorraine Gervais suggests you ask your manager “to find out why they feel you are qualified for the position. They may see qualities in you that you aren’t aware of, and maybe it’s time to push yourself in that direction.”

To help weigh your options, Richard Gadberry shares a framework he likes to use, The Decision Tree. To complete the exercise, draw two lines on a sheet of paper, one vertically and one horizontally, splitting the paper into four even quadrants. “In the top left square, write ‘What would be the best outcome if I took this position?’ In the top right square, ‘What would be the worst outcome if I took this job?’ On the bottom left, ‘What would the best outcome if I don’t take this job?’ On the bottom right, ‘What would be the worst outcome if I don’t take this job?’ ” Answer each question as thoroughly as you can. Seeing all possibilities and playing out their results will help you reach a better informed decision.

Have an open conversation with your manager

If after careful consideration, you don’t see how the new position aligns with your desired career path, it’s time to have that conversation with your manager. O’Connor suggests your begin by “thanking your manager for thinking of you among their choices. Explain that you see more growth ahead of you in your role and don’t wish to consider a managerial role at this time.” He adds, “you never know what will appeal to you 5 years from now,” so you should keep the door open for future opportunities.

If you’re concerned about how your decision will be perceived, “Communicate your concerns about the consequences of saying no to this opportunity, including your fears that passing up this opportunity will be perceived as a lack or desire for continued and future development,” shares James Westfall.

Don’t stop there. Ali Rastiello advises you “come prepared with ideas you have for advancing your career, without taking on a leadership role. Aside from kickstarting the conversation, it will show you’ve given the opportunity thorough consideration.”

When it comes down to it, be sure to speak up. “It is your career, after all, and you are ultimately the one in charge of it,” states Miller.

In summary, when deciding whether to take on a new role:

  • Learn as much about the new role as possible
  • Think about your career aspirations and whether the new role aligns with them
  • Discuss the opportunity openly with your manager
  • Make the decision that will make you most happy

Join the Everwise community as a mentor and check out the full discussion here.

Natalie Barba

Natalie Barba

Community Operations

About the Author

As Associate Community Manager at Everwise, Natalie focuses on engaging with a global community of professionals and connecting them with one another. She’s passionate about working with children and supporting others’ growth.

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