IT managers need a “Swiss Army Knife”

swiss army knifeManaging an IT organization requires many skills to succeed in today’s fast paced and complex world. IT managers are required to juggle several issues at the same time and meet ever-increasing demand from their clients (senior managers, department managers, users) and from their IT staff.

For example, to be effective you need to be able to:

  • coach
  • monitor
  • manage
  • lead
  • council
  • innovatelate
  • strategize
  • communicate
  • investigate
  • sell
  • troubleshoot
  • analyze
  • decide
  • focus
  • prioritize
  • critique
  • persuade
  • research
  • educate
  • budget
  • understand technology of all types
  • , , , and more

Do you still need convincing?

It’s like we need a Swiss army knife to help us handle all the challenges of managing an IT organization. A single function knife blade will no longer do the job, , , we have to become skilled in multiple capabilities.

On top of managing today’s technology support environment and issues, IT manager responsibilities are constantly changing.

  • Client priorities seem to shift like the wind from month to month, maybe even from day to day in your situation.
  • Technology is changing faster than ever, , , and the pace of change will only increase in the future.
    • To stay current with today’s technologies is tough now and will be more difficult in the future.
    • There will be technologies in two years that are not even on the drawing board today and will make some of the technologies we use today obsolete.
    • It is difficult, if not impossible to be a technical expert in today’s environment and also be a strong manager.
  • Client need is evolving and increasing in demand as new technologies emerge.

Sounds like an impossible mission, doesn’t it?

Well, it’s certainly a big challenge. I’ve written many times and explain to IT managers in my classes all over the world that, “IT managers have the toughest management role in a company”. The reasons are what you’ve just read:

  • Technology is changing so fast.
  • Client demand for technology is increasing and changes all the time.
  • The IT manager, especially the CIO must understand the needs and issues of every department in the company, not just the IT Department. No other manager in your company is required to do this to be successful, , , only in IT.
  • IT people are different and can be challenging to manage.

How do you attack these challenges?

  1. yes-noFirst and foremost is that it’s important to realize, “You don’t have to be an expert in everything.” Even if you had the brain power and capacity to learn it all, you won’t have enough time in the day to be the expert in all areas. What this means is that you need to prioritize and focus on what you believe is required in your circumstance. Every situation is different.
  2. Become a prolific reader to learn things and to improve the knowledge and skills needed in your profession.
  3. Augment existing skills with training and education that will add new skills in the areas you need them.
  4. Find mentors who have experience in the area of responsibility you have or that you aspire to.
  5. Identify internal and external resources who can help you “cover all the bases”.
  6. Learn to delegate and rely on these extra resources  to handle issues outside your expertise.

A key to doing these things is that you must spend some time to assess what your organization (company and IT Department) needs from you.

Next, do an objective and honest skills assessment of yourself. What are your current skills, and how strong are each of these skills relative to what is needed?

Finally, create a plan of attack to develop your skills where you see gaps in what is needed versus what you have.

Give this part plenty of thought and prioritize your efforts. IT people have a strong tendency to want to do everything and do them to the “nth degree”. Not necessary, plus it only serves to overwhelm you which will prevent you from accomplishing as much as you could if you keep your list short, focused and reasonable.

Remember, you don’t need to be an expert in all areas, , , just competent in most and expert in a few. Choosing which areas you will become an expert in is subjective and depends upon the situation you have. Making these choices will be a challenge, , , but part of managing well is making decisions and choosing “what not to do” sometimes. Not an easy thing to do but it will help you manage to what is possible and not what our minds tell us is desirable.

Identify where you will develop additional skills and where you will rely on others (either internal or external resources) to provide the organization the complete set of skills needed for success.

Swiss army knives come in all types of configurations. So too do the needs of IT management positions in companies. Not all positions require the same set of skills, , , every situation is somewhat unique, so the skill requirements can and should be different.

Let’s use my personal example to explain. I’m comfortable managing programmers, business analysts, and Help Desk environments, but when it comes to managing some of the infrastructure resources (specifically Network and Systems Engineers), I need help because I don’t have this technical background. So to the points I’ve been making, I find resources who can competently fill the technology expertise needed in these technical areas to compliment the set of skills I have.

I’m not going to become an expert in networks, security, and systems, , , but we have to have experts in these areas to support our business. I’ll either rely on someone internally (hopefully) or will bring in help from the outside to provide the skills we need.

Build the “Swiss army knife” you need for your situation, , , one that gives you the skills and tools to be successful. And don’t forget to also develop resources you can rely on with additional capabilities to handle issues in areas you choose to delegate and rely on others for.

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