I’ve been fortunate to have managed IT organizations with thousands of employees in my twenty plus years of managing IT resources. One of the interesting things I’ve noticed consistently during that time is that many employees want to become “the manager”.
I absolutely love managing IT organizations and the people in them, but it’s not all glory and accolades. There is hard work, tremendous challenge, and sometimes frustration to do the job right, , , so before you sign up for a new management role, take a closer look at the job.
“Why do you want to become a manager?”
When interviewing or counseling an employee, I’m often confronted with his or her desire to become a manager. The first question I ask is, “Why?”
The response you get back can tell you a lot so listen closely to your employee’s answer. Here are a few examples I’ve heard over the years:
- “I want to be the boss.”
- “I want the authority and prestige of the position.”
- “I want to direct others on what they should do.”
- “I don’t know; it just seems like it’s right for my career.”
- “I want to build a big organization.”
- “I want to make the decisions.”
The people who gave these answers didn’t have a clue at the time as to what an IT manager’s job is really about. In fact, most employees don’t and too many get thrown into a management position with little or no real preparation to do the job effectively.
Many technicians see the role of the IT Manager as one who defines the technology direction of the company and determines what tools to use, i.e., makes all the decisions. Most don’t get the fact that the company’s needs and issues are what should drive an IT manager’s decisions, and a strong manager empowers his employees so they are capable of making day-to-day decisions, , , not becoming a central point for all decisions to be made himself.
Being good at what you do does not necessarily prepare you for a management position. Let me repeat this: Just because you are an outstanding programmer or systems administrator does not mean you will be a good, even an average manager.
The growth of technology in the last twenty years has created a big demand for more IT managers and many found themselves in the role without anything more to help them than what they knew in their former technical position. From someone who has been there, I can tell you that this is not the preparation you need.
Certainly, knowing how to program can benefit you in a programming manager role, but it can also limit you severely.
When you take the best programmer out of the programming pool and make him the manager, you lose your best productive resource and place a very green person in a management role who now directly influences many others.
In most cases, the result is a significant loss of productivity from the programming staff. It shouldn’t be a surprise when client satisfaction drops and the rest of the programming staff becomes disillusioned; it’s predictable and happens all the time.
The bar used far too often in finding a new IT manager is that the best resource in a technical expertise can manage the rest of the team effectively. That’s not only a false idea, it can be a dangerous one for the company, the IT organization, and employees touched by such a move.
The reality is that managing IT employees and technology resources effectively has very little to do with how technical you are and more to do with your ability to facilitate, persuade, plan, organize, motivate, and communicate. You don’t hear anything very technical in these terms.
Suddenly, what becomes more important is not what you can do yourself but what you can get accomplished through others.
Management is like any other skill and can be learned, but the key issue is that it is truly a set of different skills than what you have used as a technician. The fact that you have been successful as a technical resource does give you a head start because it helps you relate to others who have technical roles.
The key is that when you become a manager, you have to let others do the technical part so you can focus your time and energy on the management part. With technology changing so fast, it is very difficult to continue to be the technical expert and also expect to be an excellent manager.
Management is a full-time job, , , especially if you have an IT organization of any size.
There isn’t enough time in the day to do both really well so one or the other disciplines will ultimately take a back seat and suffer. If you take nothing else away from this article, take the message that when you decide to be an IT Manager, you have to focus your time and energy on issues that help you succeed as a manager.
If you like solving the problems, learning new technologies, and implementing new tools and technology, , , stay in your technical role. Managers simply don’t have time to become the expert in the new technologies and do their management job well.
Position yourself to become a manager
Don’t take this message as one to suggest you can’t become a manager if you truly want to be one. Do take it as a message to prepare and to understand what the job is really all about. It’s not about giving orders and telling others what to do as much as you might think. If that were the case, it would be a simple deal.
Step 1 Learn how to manage projects and establish a successful track record of managing projects that are delivered on time and within budget. Developing sound project management skills is the best preparatory step you can take as this role requires many of the skills you need in a manager position.
Step 2 Observe successful managers in managing and motivating employees. When you see something that’s effective, add it to your skills “tool kit”.
Step 3 Find a mentor who has a successful management track record and is willing to help you develop management skills and who will give you insight from his/her experience. Mentors are invaluable and can save you time, avoid wasted effort, and reduce frustration because they know the “shortcuts” that are effective as a manager just like you know the “shortcuts” in your technical role.
Step 4 Tell your manager you want to be a manager and that you want his help to prepare for the new challenge.
Step 5 Ask for more responsibility from your manager that helps him get his job done and that helps you develop a new management skill. Be sure you preface the request that you want it to help you develop a skill that will prepare you for a management role.
Step 6 Develop key IT Manager skills. There are many IT manager resources on my web site including books, tools, plus online and classroom training. In my book, IT Management-101: Fundamentals to Achieve More, I list eleven key skills that help IT managers succeed including:
- Assessing needs
- Creating vision
- Team building
- Prioritizing and focusing resources
- Client service
- Project management
- Managing change
- Leading and motivating
- Tracking and measuring performance
Download the free e-book and sample tools when you sign up for my monthly Practical IT Manager Newsletter at www.mde.net/free.
Depending upon your background and experience, you may have a long road ahead in your preparation efforts. Don’t expect to be offered a management position the week after you ask for it. Showing an understanding that you realize the management role requires new skills and that you are prepared to make the investment to develop these new skills tells your manager a lot.
I’ve turned down such promotion requests from employees initially but made the investment in helping those who showed a genuine desire to become a manager. Many have turned out to be exceptional technology managers. Had I allowed them to jump into a management role unprepared in both perspective and skill set would have been negligent on my part and could have damaged a career.
In every case, the first question I asked them was, “Why do you want to be a manager?” In most cases, the initial answer was not the same answer given a year later when they better understood the role.
So, , , learn from others and prepare yourself for a management role so that when you get the opportunity, you will be better positioned to achieve success.