I think it kind of depends.
I’m kind of a professional “manager”. I’m a manager with an MBA and PMP (Project Management Professional) certification in a management consulting firm. A lot of times, I don’t know jack-shit about the industry my client is in. What I have noticed is that as you get to the higher levels, there does tend to be a line of thought that “management” is it’s own particular thing that can exist independent of industry or technology. That is to say, being the CEO of a tech company should not be fundamentally different from being the CEO of an automotive company or box factory.
I don’t think this theory is correct. I believe there are roughly two types of management. “Operational” management and “transformative” management.
Operational management is basically watching over a herd of drones and they perform their daily tasks. For the operational manager, what the drones are doing is largely irrelevant. They can be fast food workers, factory technicians, salesmen, accountants, whatever. The role of the operational manager is basically to make sure the workers are where they are supposed to be on time and that they performing the correct tasks according to the established business processes. The operational manager largely manages to his weekly/monthly/QTR/annual metrics and reports.
Transformative management requires the ability to create something out of nothing and build, lead and inspire teams to do something they have never done before. Examples are building a startup, launching a new product line, restructuring a company or defining a new strategic direction. It is different from operational management in the same way that inventing an airplane is different from flying one.
There is an management theory called Putt’s Law, which is actually very similar to the Dilbert Principle. Basically both theories describe an “inverse hierarchy of competency” with respect to highly technical fields. What tends to happen is that the most intelligent, innovative and competent technical employees and engineers tend to stay closest to the technology, while those who aren’t tend to get pushed into sales or management. The theory being is that you want your smart people doing the critical work that has to get done while your dummies can do the easy tasks like get donuts and bother the engineers about deadlines.
I see this play out with a lot of PMP certified project managers, “Agile coaches” and the executives who hire them who think “project management” is a generic skillset but don’t really know anything about an industry. The can fill out schedules, meeting minutes, gantt charts and work breakdown structures easily enough. But they don’t understand the nuances and dependencies that are required to complete the project on time.
I’ve said this many times “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM” both as a vendor competing against IBM and as a consultant helping a client RFP a vendor, of which IBM was one of the candidates.
Generally this rule is true. If IBM screws up, the manager can always say “it’s IBM, how could I have known they would screw up?” and his job would largely be safe. But if the same manager picked a small, relatively unknown vendor to perform the same work and they screwed up, he would have a much harder time justifying why he picked them over IBM.