The main aim of this study was to explore how a servant leadership style can assist technical expert managers to become more effective leaders. Secondary objectives of the research included exploring the leadership challenges that technical expert managers experience, the factors that make it harder or easier for a technical expert to be a servant leader and investigating to what extent servant leadership can be relevant. A qualitative design was followed. The sample comprised eight subordinates to technical expert managers and eight technical expert managers, and data were collected through semi-structured interviews.
Leadership challenges identified for technical expert managers included challenges in the interpersonal domain and limited time capacity. The findings of leadership challenges related to the interpersonal domain included difficulty relating to subordinates, egocentric thinking and limited influence higher up in the hierarchy. There was also evidence of the paradox of power that may inhibit advice-taking by technical expert managers. Servant leadership may encourage
delegation to empower subordinates and assist in mitigating the leadership challenges identified for technical expert managers in the interpersonal domain because servant leaders tend to operate from a stronger relationship domain.
Some factors may make it easier for technical experts as managers to assume a servant leadership style. Firstly, emerging technical experts look for a technical expert as a leader for guidance and mentorship. The legacy motive for many technical experts aligns with servant leadership in that it goes beyond just making a difference on a technical level to impacting people. Also, the example of servant leaders creates more servant leaders. Organisational culture and where an organisation is in its growth cycle may or may not support a servant leadership style. Finally, interpersonal and leadership skills improve with experience. The research concluded that an appropriate balance between transformational and servant leadership might be best for a technical expert. If organisations can improve leadership efficiency, the organisation won’t just be an enjoyable place to work but can also gain a competitive advantage.
Leadership awareness and development can start earlier in the technical expert’s education and career with an appropriate balance between theoretical and practice-based learning. Governing bodies of professions can make leadership a module alongside ethics in their professionalism courses. Technical experts as managers can further be supported by appropriate leadership
training, mentorship, coaching, and having a proper allocation of their key performance objectives between technical work and people management.