DEV Community

Cover image for From Developer to Leader? What Are the Key Skills & Experiences Needed for a Successful Transition? staff for The DEV Team

Posted on

From Developer to Leader? What Are the Key Skills & Experiences Needed for a Successful Transition?

Stepping into a leadership role requires a different set of skills and experiences to thrive. What key skills should you focus on developing, and what experiences can make your transition a success? If you're interested in transitioning -- or if you've successfully transitioned -- from a developer role to a leadership position, we want to hear about it.

Follow the DEVteam for more discussions and online camaraderie!

Top comments (9)

theaccordance profile image
Joe Mainwaring • Edited

Items that come to mind for those making the transition:


  • Managing Expectations: As a leader, chances are you'll still have someone that you report to, whether that's a more Sr. Manager/Director, an executive like a VP/CTO/CEO, or your investors. It's important to manage expectations upwards to keep the necessary parties informed and aware. Nobody wants to be surprised by skeletons in the closet or a project running late.
  • Setting Expectations: As a leader, you will no longer be measured by your individual contributions, rather the cumulative output of your team(s). It's important you provide your direct reports with the proper instruction and guidance for them to deliver on the objectives of the business or project.
  • Accountability: A team is only as strong as its weakest link. As a leader, you'll need to hold your team members accountable to the expectations you set. If you don't hold your team members accountable, then the team can easily devolve into anarchy costing your business time & money.
  • Detachment: As a leader, you'll sometimes have to deal with uncomfortable tasks, like terminating a employee. It's important to understand that some level of personal detachment may be required to execute these tasks as a working relationship may begin to feel like a friendship.
  • Coaching: Leadership isn't just about getting employees to do the work, you want to see them grow as an individual in parallel to the growth of the business. Ideally, you find ways to intertwine the two for growth paths for mutual benefit.
  • Feedback: Since none of us are mind readers, it's important to engage in feedback cycles with your employees to shephard process and behavior changes.
  • Ownership: The buck stops with you. Understand the scope of what you're taking responsibility for so you aren't blindsided.


  • Letting Go: As a leader, you'll need to let go of some/all things you did as an individual contributor to give capacity towards leadership tasks & responsibilities. In my current role (Sr. Management), I no longer contribute code towards our products. I still get some opportunities to write code annually, but those are small, tactical projects that benefit my team members or the company internally.
  • Hiring: As a leader, you'll have opportunities to pick your team, knowing how to spot the right talent for your style of leadership is important. There's more to a candidate than simply whether/not they can do the work, and it can make the difference between a valuable team member and one that drags the whole team down.
  • Underperforming employees: Whether it's a bad hire, or an employee who's engagement has slipped, it's important to go through the experience of dealing with an under performer. Knowing how to address those situations, and executing quickly is critical to minimize the impression the underperformer will leave on the team and your reputation.
  • Setbacks: Sometimes as leader, you're gonna be hit with bad news outside of your control. How you adapt to the situation will harden you as a leader.


rachelfazio profile image
Rachel Fazio

Incredibly detailed and helpful answer, love it!

jmfayard profile image
Jean-Michel (

This is fun because I asked this exact question to the developer tea podcast

... in 2015.
wow, time flies like an arrow

Jonathan Cutrell who is a great leader taught me among other things that good leaders are not people who know everything.

Great leaders are like Socrates who knows only one thing: that they knows nothing apart from asking great questions

Ask Great Questions: Leadership Skills Of Socrates

And even more importantly Jonathan Cutrell told me that you don't need and you shouldn't wait to have a leader position to lead.

It doesn't matter much that you call yourself "a writer", it matters only that you write books.

It doesn't matter that you have a leader position, don't wait for that to happen, if you feel like it, start leading today.

The episode and the transcript are available here

freddyhm profile image
Freddy Hidalgo-Monchez • Edited

I find this to be very true. I often end up being a strong advocate for my fellow developers who are less forward in retros, meetings, etc. I had a team lead say once that I reminded him of a quote about being a leader without being THE leader. I was surprised. I just want people to be heard and and level up. It was a very nice compliment.

Your actions speak louder than your title. That's something I believe 100%.

fyodorio profile image

Skills of patient listening, thorough reviewing (code, documentation, requirements), finding compromises, mentoring and motivating others, and... mindfulness 🧘🏻‍♀️

rainleander profile image
Rain Leander

This is a great question that many developers ponder as they advance in their careers. Transitioning from a developer role to a leadership position is a significant step and requires a fundamental shift in skill set. You should focus on developing several essential skills and strategic experiences that can make your transition successful.

Communication Skills: Effective communication becomes paramount when you're in a leadership role. You must relay information to your team, higher-ups, and sometimes clients or stakeholders. You should translate technical jargon into language that non-technical individuals can understand. Building upon your communication skills can help create an environment of transparency and trust. There's a beautiful talk by Simon Sinek, "Why good leaders make you feel safe", which underlines the importance of effective communication and trust-building.

Delegation: As a leader, it's not your job to solve every problem or write every line of code. Instead, your role is to delegate tasks effectively and trust in your team's skills. You can look into principles like "Situational Leadership" developed by Dr. Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard, which provides a great model for understanding when to delegate and when to offer guidance.

Conflict Resolution: As a team leader, you will often find yourself in a position where you must manage conflict, whether among team members or between the team and clients or stakeholders. Therefore, honing your conflict resolution skills is crucial. A Harvard Business Review article, "The Secrets of Great Teamwork", provides excellent insights into this topic.

Strategic Thinking: Another skill to cultivate is the capacity to see the larger picture and make decisions considering long-term implications. Leadership is not just about managing the day-to-day; it's about guiding your team toward the company's strategic goals. The book "Thinking in Systems: A Primer" by Donella Meadows is an excellent resource to help build this competency.

In terms of experience, actively seeking leadership opportunities can make your transition smoother. Volunteer to lead a small project or a group in your current role to gain experience managing people and projects. Mentor junior developers or peers to enhance your coaching and people skills.

Lastly, continuous learning is critical. Engage with various resources: books, podcasts, seminars, and online courses. For instance, you could check out Google's "re:Work", a compilation of practices, research, and ideas from Google and others, to better understand what makes a good manager.

Remember, leadership is a journey, not a destination. It's about growing yourself and the people around you. Good luck with your transition!

rachelfazio profile image
Rachel Fazio

I love these types of questions about leadership........ though I am a non-dev, I think my most valuable lesson in leadership positions was to model my leadership style over your most loved, listened to, and respected teachers as a kid. I think this helped me understand that gentle, slow, and fun learning/leading is much more effective than trying to focus really hard on achieving outcomes (obviously there is a balance to learn here!). It's all about gently guiding folks towards their best versions of themselves. I think a great leader is also one who inspires folks and keeps it calm. With toddlers and adults alike, we are more likely to believe everything is alright when the other folks around us show us affirmations, calmness, and capability in the face of a crisis!

balagmadhu profile image
Bala Madhusoodhanan

Wrote an article on Engineering Manifesto drawing inspiration from Star Wars universe

grunk profile image

In my opinion one of the key point to become a "good" leader/manager is to understand that you are here to help your team succeed and not the way around.