Daily Archives: July 10, 2011

Should your CIO be technical?

This is a long-standing debate in the IT world, , , should a CIO be technical or not?

I’ll give you my perspective having managed IT organizations at a CIO level for more than 20 years.

The answer you will get from me is “No, , , definitely not.”

Before you get mad and leave, let me explain.

I was technical early in my career and when I got an opportunity to manager I tried to continue doing some of the things that helped me achieve success as a technician. I tried to do much of the technical work.

The problem was that I was doing more of the work than I should have been doing and not requiring the work to be done by my IT staff. I was having a tremendous challenge in transitioning from technical expert to manager.

Let me describe it slightly different, , , difficulty in becoming a business manager.

In reality, I was stealing from my employees but didn’t realize it. I was still trying to be the hero like a technical expert tries to do in an IT organization by showing my boss “what I can do”.

I learned a hard but valuable lesson from this first CEO I worked for as an IT manager. He told me, “Mike it’s no longer important what you can do, , , but what you can get accomplished through your team. You can’t do it all and certainly can’t get enough accomplished yourself.”

This lesson was ingrained in my head and I’ve never forgotten it.

He wasn’t telling me I shouldn’t be technical but he was suggesting I needed to delegate and depend upon my IT staff much more.

It’s great to have a technical perspective, but a manager should spend time learning about management processes, strategic planning, how to communicate effectively, and how to coach and motivate IT employees, etc. These are the things that will make you successful as an IT manager, not being the technical doer.

Your success will be based upon what your team gets accomplished for the company.  The more you can organize and focus your team to do what’s needed by your company the more successful you will be, , , it’s about your organization becoming successful, not you.

As an IT manager or CIO, you now have a full-time job learning about the business issues and needs of each of the departments in your company and then developing IT support strategies and plans to address these needs.

Management is a full-time job, , , and IT management is more than a full-time job. There is much to learn and considerable amount to do, , , every day.

My recommendation is that you must leave your technical skills behind and accelerate your learning in areas of:

  • communication
  • strategy
  • negotiation
  • business understanding
  • budgeting
  • project management
  • employee development and motivation
  • planning skills
  • presentation skills

Most CIO’s come from technology backgrounds just like I did, but I have seen a few very effective CIO’s that had no technical background at all. What they did have was excellent management skills and understanding of what a manager role was all about, , , defining appropriate goals and objectives for your team and then organizing and focusing the team to achieve them.

Best of success in your transition from technical expert to business manager.