Career Growth Without Becoming a Manager
If you are good at your job, you will inevitably reach the day when you have a choice to make: to be or not to be a manager. While managing other people might be the most traditional or most obvious next step in your career, it's not everyone's cup of tea—and that is OK. Choosing not to become a manager does not shut the door to future career advancement, nor does it show a lack of ambition.
The reality is, once you start managing other people, you will no longer get to do the actual hands-on work—at least not as much. Your days will suddenly be filled with refereeing interdepartmental conflicts, navigating HR issues, and coaching others to do a good job at what you used to do. If you rather enhance your skill set, here are some non-managerial career growth opportunities to explore.
Expand your role at your current company
A promotion does not have to involve supervisory authority. You may be able to take on a "senior" role in which you act as a leader without managerial headaches. Approach your manager about expanding your role as a team or project lead who trains and mentors new employees and directs projects but not necessarily people. (Careful, though; this is a blurry line and can equally as tricky as being a supervisor. "Managing with authority" requires its own set of people skills. You are wholly reliant on relationships, not reporting structure, to get the job done.)
Make a lateral move to a bigger organization
If you still like your work but feel restricted by a lack of growth potential at your current employer, it might be time to look for a change of scenery. Moving to a bigger company in a similar role will allow you to tackle new challenges, experience new business processes, and enjoy the benefits of greater company resources but without management hassles.
Go out on your own as a freelancer or consultant
You do not want to be someone else's boss, but have you considered being your own boss? As a freelancer or consultant, you can stretch yourself professionally by taking on the projects you want and developing a diverse work portfolio. You can work when you want, where you want, and for who you want. (Be cautious, though; as a consultant, you might be trading one set of administrative headaches for another. You will have to not only find your own clients but also handle all of your invoicing, taxes, etc.)
Establish yourself as an expert in your field
Another avenue for growth is to position yourself as a thought leader in your industry. Join a professional association in your field, and volunteer to speak on panels, write articles for publications, etc. You can also start a blog about your industry or publish articles and social media posts. With carefully chosen hashtags and some networking know-how, you can become an influencer.
Seek out additional education
Even if you are highly competent in your field, you likely still have room for growth. Perhaps there's a professional certification you can pursue or a new skill set to acquire—say, learning a new piece of software, picking up a foreign language so you can help clients in another country, or becoming proficient in a new programming language. Your company might even offer education benefits allowing you to pursue a master's degree or additional certifications.
Pursue a position at a startup
Working at a startup company can be grueling—you are making it up as you go along—but for those who want growth without HR responsibilities, they can be a good option. The reporting structure at a startup tends to be fairly flat, and by necessity you will have to wear a lot of hats. The risk can be high, and the hours can be long, but when a startup is successful, the rewards can be great.
In the end, the best type of professional growth is an opportunity that makes you feel challenged and fulfilled. Managing other people isn't your only option, so do not feel like you have to go down that road unless you want to.