I have often said that as a manager, you aren’t responsible for having an answer to every question or making every decision. That doesn’t mean your expertise and experience don’t matter. They do, especially when you are mentoring others earlier in their careers.
If you are hiking on an easy trail, having someone a few feet ahead of you is probably substantial to guide you up. I remember hiking near LA; a group coming the other way warned us of a rattlesnake ahead. They didn’t need to be experts on the trail to be helpful.
However, that won’t be nearly good enough if you are trying to climb Mount Everest. In those cases, you will want someone who has summited multiple times.
You see a lot of folks on LinkedIn claiming expertise, often, they say they are coaches or just “experts” in the latest fad. I have often heard people claim you don’t need to be an expert, you need to know more than those you teach.
Sometimes, the challenges are straightforward and can help (like those hikers on the trail). But other times, you need expertise, and following someone who knows only a little bit more may mean you slip off a cliff together.
Does this mean I should be an expert as a manager?
When you manage large teams, being an expert in everything your team works on is impossible. But it would be best if you had an area of expertise related to the domain. As Russell Ackoff said, “The lower the rank of managers, the more they know about fewer things. The higher the rank of managers, the less they know about many things.”
As the team manager, you need a more generalized view with experience seeing things from a broader perspective. This most often happens through mentorship and apprenticeship. (Apprenticeship is very often overlooked in today’s business world.)
One of the problems of MBA programs and “scientific management” is that without knowledge or expertise in any area, you can effectively manage it as long as you manage to the numbers or by what is measurable. If everyone who works for you has a high level of expertise, this may be possible; if that is the case, you are unnecessary.
Does this mean managers need to have all the answers?
No, with a more generalized view, you won’t have all the details, and you can’t have all the answers. What you can have is the experience to help those who are making the decisions understand the larger context.