Effectively managing from within an IT department requires expertise in a number of areas. From understanding the work environment, to developing well-honed interpersonal skills, as an IT leader you must constantly be improving your craft. The ten topics listed and described below are among the most important in your journey from individual contributor, to IT manager, to CIO and beyond.
These first three areas are not skill-based, they’re knowledge-based. Your understanding of these topics gives you the knowledge to make informed decisions, the perspective to prioritize scarce resources, and the business acumen to be a respected and “business first and technology a close second” executive or leader. These topics are:
Learn the “Business of IT”
The “Business of IT” is your ability to perform, oversee and/or measure the activities performed by the IT function. This includes project management, daily/nightly production operations, vendor management, data management, client/user support and other IT-related tasks. Of course, it’s impossible to be an expert in all of these areas, but you should have an understanding of what they are, how they work, and how they all interconnect.
Understand your company’s business and industry
Leaders within IT can no longer just be the “head techies”, they must now be business executives who understand how to lead a technology-based organization. It’s this understanding that will let you think of technology in business terms, thus giving you the potential opportunity to help define your company’s business strategy, not just execute its technology components once the decisions are made.
Keep abreast of leading IT trends and technologies
It’s this knowledge that transforms you from being a Subject Matter Expert (SME) in your core technical vocation to a thought leader helping drive innovation, creativity and even potentially company-wide digital transformation.
Become proficient at general management tasks
This category stands alone. To be a strong IT leader, you must first be a competent IT manager with the ability to successfully perform the general managerial tasks performed by all managers in all parts of the company. These tasks include items like delegation, prioritization, scheduling, hiring, giving performance reviews, teambuilding, staff motivation, running meetings, budgeting and other related activities. If you are not seen as competent in these standard manager activities, you will most likely never be given the opportunities to expand your existing level of responsibility. Your ability to perform these types of tasks is the table stakes for professional leadership and upward mobility.
Your ability to effectively work with others helps you maximize project/work success, maximizes client/user satisfaction, helps you attain needed resources, and builds strong long-term internal, vendor, stakeholder and senior management relationships. These areas of needed expertise are:
By interpersonal communication, I’m referring to the combination of active listening, formulating quality questions, one-on-one conversations, public speaking, and other related items. As you move up the management ranks, you move from hands-on tactical, to organizational and strategic oriented. Therefore, the higher you go the more important interpersonal communication becomes.
IT by its nature is an internal, company change agent. Every new project that’s completed, process that’s modified or software package that implemented causes change in someone’s workflow and/or job responsibilities. Your ability as an IT leader to help those undergoing this change to do so in an orderly and effective manner increases client/user satisfaction & process/software adoption and enhances your professional reputation.
Innovation and creative thinking
Innovation in IT isn’t simply sitting back and thinking deep thoughts. It’s also forming those thoughts in a way that facilitates the successful creation, implementation, enhancement and/or improvement of a technical process, business process, software product, hardware product, or cultural factor that reduces costs, enhances productivity, increases company competitiveness, and/or provides other business value.
Innovation and creative thinking is also the catalyst behind digital transformation. Your ability to innovate positions you professionally to gain a seat at the company’s strategic thinking and decision-making table.
Conflict resolution and difficult conversations
According to Christopher Moore, conflict is caused by one of five key factors; data/information, interest over scarce resources, personal values and beliefs, interpersonal relationships and organizational structure. IT, because of its role within the company, can create issues related to all of these listed categories. As a result, an IT manager’s ability to prevent and/or mitigate conflict has a major effect on his/her ability to work with others and complete required tasks and assignments.
IT managers negotiate with vendors on price, delivery dates, service levels, and myriad other topics. They also negotiate with their business partners on everything from budget to software application features. As a result, negotiation skills are a key element of both IT organizational success and individual professional career development. As author Chester Karrass said: “You don’t get what you deserve. You get what you negotiate.”
I’ve saved influence for last because it’s a key ingredient in successfully performing all of the other people/soft skills previously listed. Influence, in this context, is your ability to “let other people have things your way” due to your strengths of character, personality, personal drive or ability to effectively employ influential techniques and concepts.
In closing, as you move from individual contributor to IT manager to CIO, your job becomes less transactional and task-oriented and more strategic and communication oriented. The sooner you enhance your business knowledge, strategic thinking and interpersonal communication skills, the sooner you will be positioned for future career advancement.
Check out the full list of Leadership and Development courses from New Horizons to build, strengthen and enhance your IT leadership skills.