Individual Contributor Role vs Manager Role

In this blog, I will bring out the differences between the role of individual contributor and a Manager. These differences should help you to understand what change occur when you transition to Manager role for the first time.

Srihari Udugani
7 min readOct 2, 2023
Photo by Pablo García Saldaña on Unsplash

Even today, many individual contributors wonder why Management is difficult? How life will change after taking on Managerial role? Will I be able to code? Will I enjoy being Manager? etc. etc.

There are so many blogs, YouTube videos that answers these questions. But still the questions are asked. So, I thought why not share my thoughts on these questions by bringing difference between these roles.

Who is an individual contributor? An individual contributor (IC) is an employee who is responsible for performing specific tasks or function in the organisation.

Who is a Manager? A Manager is an employee who is responsible for administering group of employees, referred as Team.

Let’s see how the roles and responsibilities differ.

#1 Team Management
This is an obvious difference. The individual contributor is always part of a team and gets assigned tasks.

Team management is the responsibility of the Manager. The allocation of members in the team to specific tasks, helping them to complete it on time and helping the members to grow in their career is the responsibility of a Manager.

In some cases Individual contributors confuse team management as Technical Mentorship — both of these are different roles. A manager may or may not do technical mentorship, but an individual contributor can always do technical mentorship to other team members, without having any direct reporting members.

#2 Accountability
An individual contributor is accountable for the assigned tasks and its outcome only.

But a Manager is accountable for all the team member tasks outcome and overall team performance.
In some cases, a Manager can be questioned even if one team member’s task outcome is not as expected.

#3 Coding
Individual contributor can choose to code as long as there is a task in hand to be completed. An individual contributor may decide not to code on daily basis but only take up complex design and architecture tasks.

On the other hand, a Manager must move away from coding and focus on management aspects. A manager can choose to be part of code reviews to align the team towards standards in coding. But a Manager will not be able to code.

For some this is a deal breaker, but if are in a position to accept this part and find satisfaction by providing technical mentorship to team members, then this will be fulfilling.

#4 Decision Making
An individual contributor does decision making, but the scope will be limited to the task assigned or module assigned or architecture. These decision are more in the form of recommendation or suggestion; which may or may not be considered for implementation.

A Manager does many types of decisions and that decision is final. The decisions could be allocation of team member to specific tasks, planning the tasks, deciding roadmap for the team, who should be trained on specific skills, who should be promoted, hiring needs, adopting new processes and tools, automation, the list goes on.

The decisions that a Manager must do involves considering many factors and identifying impacts and risks if the decision does not yield the right results. This weight that manager must carry is overwhelming and challenging to some.

#5 Meetings
An individual contributor attends relatively less meetings. The meetings may be more when the work is about to start to gather requirements and to arrive at an approach to complete the task. Once the necessary information and approvals are in place, the meetings will be only limited to progress updates and risks / delays.

And generally, the meetings context will not change as it is related to one topic or task in hand.

A manager will have flood of meetings. Majority of the work that a Manager do, sometimes, boils down to attending meetings and making decisions.

There will be weekly meetings with team, 1on1 meetings with the team, meetings with the higher-ups, meetings with peer managers, meetings with product managers, meetings for hiring, meetings with HR; the list goes on.

In every meeting, the context will be different due to varying participants, varying topics, varying business and team needs.

For few individuals, too much of switch in context can cause anxiousness. But in my opinion, this is the fun part of being in manager role as every day is new and dynamic.

#6 Communication
Similar to meetings, an individual contributor’s communication is limited to the task assigned.

But a manager has to communicate with several people who have different ways of understanding. Each of them will have different ways of asking questions. So adopting to varying channels of communication becomes important.

Similar to meetings, many get anxious when same thing have to be repeated several times for different people in the organisation.

To bring all stakeholders to same page is the responsibility of a Manager. In my opinion this is another exciting part of being a Manager as you get to influence others to think in your way.

#7 Learnings
An individual contributor will continue to learn about the technical aspect of various technologies. An individual contributor deep dives in a given technology to solve various problems. This will depend on the kind of work that gets assigned.

On the other hand, a Manager will have to learn more about management and how to become more efficient in management. Also, technical know-how is also needed for a Manager to provide the right direction and also identify new opportunities for the team.
A deep dive on technologies would not be needed. Minimum understanding should be present for providing directions and making decisions.

The important difference here is a Manager can continue to grow his learnings irrespective of the organisational decision related to technology and direction. But for individual contributor, some decision at organisation level could stop the exposure to newer technologies.

#8 Performance Evaluation
For an individual contributor, the performance evaluation is only based on that person’s achievements, completion rate, quality of the work, percentage of bugs from production etc.
In some cases, peer team members may provide feedback, based on which could have influence on the performance review.

A Manager’s performance evaluation will be at a different level. The performance will be evaluated based on team performance, organisation performance, project outcomes, team member’s feedback, higher management’s feedback, peer manager’s feedback etc.

A Manager will also be sometimes evaluated based on the number of initiatives taken and how it has helped the organisation.

#10 Being in control
An individual contributor has only control over what is assigned. In higher roles, the inputs from individual contributor will be considered. But an IC can only suggest and recommend; but can’t make a decision on when to implement certain aspects.
An individual contributor can only control how certain things should be implemented. So the opportunities will get limited to what organisation wants to do in the coming months and years and the direction in which the organisation wants to go.

A Manager has a variety of controls in hand. A Manager can decide not to take on a project, can decide who should work on what, can decide not take on new technology adoption, can decide the roadmap for the team, can decide who should be promoted, can decide who should get more hike, can decide the process to be followed and many more.

A Manager has higher degree of control on what should happen in the team and how it should happen.

Conclusion

Being an individual contributor,

  • has its merits of focusing on assigned work. This avoids majority of the pressure as the accountability is limited.
  • need for constant learning of newer technologies, catching up with the new advancement in technology, competing with younger generation.
  • need for changing between organisations, when learning opportunities dry up.

Being a Manager,

  • has it merits of controlling what goes on in the team. But there will be lot more pressure as you are accountable for many aspects of the team.
  • lot more challenges as you work with variety of people in your team and peers. So constantly improving on management skills would be needed.
  • can continue to learn new skills in management, irrespective of organisation strategies.

If you are someone who wants to be in more control, who wants to taken on strategical decision making, then transitioning to management role will be the right thing to do.

But you must transition to management role from individual contributor with mindset changes of accepting the points highlighted in this blog.

You can take courses about management which will help you to perform better in management role.

If you get into management with the right intent, then you will definitely enjoy it, otherwise the pressure and anxiousness will take in effect and you will start doubting the decision.

So, make the decision of moving to management with the right mindset.

Happy management!

Further Reading

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Srihari Udugani

Helping new managers to become successful to grow in their careers. Happy Management.