Apple is not a company where general managers oversee managers; rather, it is a company where experts lead experts. The assumption is that it’s easier to train an expert to manage well than to train a manager to be an expert.
In a 1984 interview [Jobs] said, “We went through that stage in Apple where we went out and thought, Oh, we’re gonna be a big company, let’s hire professional management. We went out and hired a bunch of professional management. It didn’t work at all….They knew how to manage, but they didn’t know how to do anything. If you’re a great person, why do you want to work for somebody you can’t learn anything from? And you know what’s interesting? You know who the best managers are? They are the great individual contributors who never, ever want to be a manager but decide they have to be…because no one else is going to…do as good a job.”
“I am successful if I’m saying the right “No”s to my manager. If the ICs that report to my manager end up feeling like “I told you so” or “We knew this was a bad idea” and that wasn’t surfaced for a discussion, that’s on me.”
“I confidently trade on my manager’s authority in ways my teammates may struggle with. Because of my time and my deeper involvement in the technical details being discussed, it is my responsibility to step in and deescalate if a technical conversation is starting to circle the drain.”
I really like this explanation of the variety of things that a staff engineer can do (and does).