Avoiding The Peter Principle – why being highly skilled doesn’t mean you will be a great leader.

You see it time and time again. A great programmer, electrician, mechanic, operator is recognised for their expertise and is promoted to supervisor, team leader or foreman…. Then they fail.

The morale of their team drops. Stress and anxiety rise as they now spend 90% of their time dealing budgets and plans, people management, traversing the great divide from mate to manager and managing of information and communication up the chain

Fast track 12 months. Many of their team may have left, there may toxic culture issues, poor performance, and decreased engagement and motivation. The newly-promoted may have left or starting to feel the pressure from the above questioning results.

The Peter principle is a concept in management developed by Laurence J. Peter, which observes that people in a hierarchy tend to rise to their “level of incompetence.”

The Peter Principle may be felt more acutely in technical industries where natural progression takes skilled employees into managerial positions, even though the reasons for their competence may be technical prowess rather than generalised business/managerial skills.

Super-competent technical specialists are promoted and suddenly are thrust with a completely different job to the one they were so successful at and one that they may likely not be equipped to succeed at.

It doesn’t matter if it is a mechanic, accountant, salesperson or dentist. Being technically awesome does not translate to being leadership awesome.

A leader requires different skills and it is important for organisations and individuals to prepare their specialists for leadership – if that is even what they want often they don’t or won’t if it is made clear what the role of a leader is all about.

Wilmar Sugar Emerging Talent Program – Project Risk Jenga

Promoting up the chain without providing them with the leadership, business, communication, delegation and emotional intelligence skills they need is setting people up for failure. It is not fair and only serves to increase the occupational risks of stress, mental fatigue and increased turnover.

Miranda Hamilton, Managing Director Learning Partnerships

What makes a good leader?

The answer varies widely depending on who you ask. But there are traits most agree on, including personality components, behaviour, emotional intelligence, and acquired skills. These traits, skills, and behaviors can be classified as Personal, Professional and Technical Skill Sets

Good Leaders have high competencies in Self-awareness and self-management (Emotional Intelligence), problem-solving and critical thinking, communication, teamwork, planning and organisation, learning, technology skills, and initiative.

Developing Leaders and Leadership Skills

So what can aspiring leaders and indeed the team around them can do to support leaders successfully traverse the great divide?

First, It doesn’t happen overnight. Identify those that have the potential for leadership, or indeed prepare yourself for success. You will need a combination of practical on the job experience, guidance, coaching and mentoring and classroom training to build competence.


Wilmar Sugar Emerging Talent Program – Project Management Planning for workplace case studies
  1. Practical on the job training can come from assigning smaller projects or putting your hand up for a project that can develop technical skills such as project management and leading and managing effective teams.
  2. Short Courses such as Mate to Manager, Emotional Intelligence and Team Leader certifications or managing effective workplace relationships can introduce new and emerging specialists to leadership principles and strategies.
  3. Connecting with mentors at various levels supports development through learning valuable lessons without having to experience the failures. Most people are typically willing to provide their opinions and experience and are open to helping. Networking events also can extend reach outside the organisation providing opportunities to learn from the strengths of other organisations.

Upcoming Workshops

If you would like to develop leadership skills, have talent with leadership potential or a team leader who could benefit from developing greater leadership skills the following upcoming workshops may be of interest or you could ask us for information on our custom leadership and talent development programs.

Lead and Manage Effective Workplace Relationships One Day Workshop

BSBSS00063 Team Leader Skillset 4 day nationally recognised certification

Mate to Manager One Day Workshop

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