Tag Archives: it manager skills

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.

12 To Do’s in Preparing for an IT Manager role

questionSo, , , you want to be an IT manager, huh?

Well, I have two questions for you:

  1. Why?
  2. Are you prepared?

I always ask anyone who tells me they want to be an IT manager, “WHY ??”. We aren’t going to spend time on the “why” here, but if you are interested in analyzing this for yourself, take a look at a previous post after you read this article:

Let’s assume you are beyond the “why” part, , , let’s focus on the preparation part.

To be promoted into an IT manager position can be a difficult proposition. You see, senior managers want people who can actually manage others and lead them to success. They want leaders who can motivate other employees and can make things happen. They want people who are organized and who take appropriate initiatives. And lastly, there aren’t a lot of new IT manager positions to open up in most companies.

Senior managers know that the IT manager role is a difficult position to be successful in. In my opinion, IT manager is the most difficult management position in your company.

Few companies offer programs that will develop and groom a technical employee for an IT manager position. Only the bigger companies tend to have formal training programs, and even they do not really offer a program that focuses on developing an IT manager. At best, they will offer general management topics.

Sound difficult? It should, , , unfortunately, more people fail at IT management than succeed, , , it is a challenging job and far too often there is no one around who can help a young IT manager “learn the ropes”.

Enough already, , , what are the things you can do to prepare for an IT manager role so that when an opportunity comes up you have a good chance in being selected for the position?

Here is what I recommend.

1.  Establish a positive track record – You need to start as early in your career as possible in establishing a track record that says two things:

  1. You do what you say you will do.
  2. You complete your assignments successfully.

This is extremely important because the results you achieve and how you go about your work tells senior management whether you are reliable and they can count on you to do a good job. You need an excellent track record if you want to become an IT manager.

I also think it’s important that you exhibit to senior managers that you are concerned about the quality of work and that you are willing to “go the extra mile” to insure you take care of your client and that you do a thorough job.

2.  Gain project management experience – Managing projects is some of the best preparation you can do to prepare you for an IT manager role. You deal with people, you have to manage client expectations, deal with target deadlines, , , plus you have to plan, budget, organize and hold meetings, communicate with different groups of people, etc., , , many of the things an IT manager has to do.

Every project you manage needs to be delivered on time, within budget and meet the client’s expectations for the project. Be sure you invest in your projecBook_IT Project Managementt management knowledge and find tools that will help you succeed in this area, especially if your company does not have a development program.

If interested, I offer a book and tools that can help you learn how to manage projects effectively titled, IT Project Management, a practical approach.

Something you will want to do is to track your project success rate. There is a big problem in IT about failing to deliver projects successfully. Your ability to show that you have a strong success rate in delivering projects can make a huge difference. A simple tool called an IT Initiatives Portfolio can help you show how well you do in this area. Check out the article and free download in ITLever.

3.  Invest in your IT management knowledge and skills development – Your company may not provide training that will groom your IT management skills but that doesn’t mean you can’t invest in developing these skills yourself. Here are some resources from my company worth considering:

  • Hundreds of Free IT management articles, tips, tools and templates at http:itlever.com

4.  Learn about the business – You need to learn about what the business does and what makes it successful, , , both profitable and productive. Who are your company’s ultimate clients and what role does technology play in each department’s ability to support your company?

Start with a high level view of what the company is all about and learn about the strategy your senior management team has in place to grow the company and make it more successful. Then, work your way down to the departments in the company and begin learning “what makes them tick” by learning about their objectives, challenges, and how they depend upon technology to do their jobs.

Now, you don’t need to become an expert in the business side but having a good perspective about what your customer has to do to be successful and their dependencies, issues, and challenges they have with technology is very good insight to have.

5.  Develop your communication skills – One of the biggest hurdles a new IT manager has to overcome is being able to communicate effectively. Most of us in IT have poor communication skills and even have a low desire to communicate outside our “inner circle”. To become an effective IT manager, you have to communicate well with all different types and levels of people.

Start immediately in developing your communication skills, , , it will be a big benefit to you throughout your career regardless of what you decide to do. Key communication skills include things like:

  • Presenting
  • Writing
  • Negotiating
  • Holding meetings
  • , , , even developing your listening skills

6.  Show everyone you are a team player – How you go about your work means a lot, , , probably much more than you might think. Learning to work with others in a collaborative way so you reach a “win – win” result is key. It doesn’t matter if you are talking about working with other employees or if it is clients or outside vendors.

Senior managers want their young managers to be positive and work constructively through challenging issues, , , and teamwork is a key trait they look for.

7.  Exhibit traits of working well under pressure – IT managers deal with tough issues from time to time. Be aware that how you handle pressure situations will be something senior managers will evaluate you on before they give you an IT management position. Show them you are calm yet have a high sense of urgency and that you think through issues and possible outcomes before “pulling the trigger” on problem situations.

8.  Show managers that you understand business value – Effective IT organizations deliver tangible and quantifiable business value, , , they don’t deliver technology. Every recommendation for investment of time and money from the company needs to be targeted to deliver business value.

Business value is defined as a project initiative that does one of the following:

  • Increases revenue
  • Decreases cost
  • Improves productivity
  • Differentiates the company
  • Improves client satisfaction

Start as early as you can in your career to look at the business reasoning for spending money and using people’s time to do things. If there is no business value that will result from a project, you need to question whether you should be doing the project.

When making IT recommendations think like a business owner. If it were your money, would you want to spend money on this recommendation?

9.  Make your manager aware – Your manager needs to be aware you aspire to become an IT manager. He or she must agree that you would be a good candidate for such a position so again, , , your track record and how you go about your day to day work speaks volumes in terms of whether they see you as a viable management candidate.

Sit down with your manager to discuss your goals and the possibility of preparing yourself for a future management position. Develop a game plan with your manager on specific education you should obtain as well as experiences you should gain in your preparation efforts.

Once your manager knows management is your goal and agrees you have good potential for it based upon what he has seen, , , he can position you for project management work, make investments in your training that will help prepare you for a management role, and begin positioning other senor managers for your future promotion.

10.  Find a mentor – Learning from someone who has already, “been there, done it, and has the t-shirt” as they say can help you in so many ways. Try to find a senior manager in your company or even outside it who will be willing to help provide guidance in developing your skills that are necessary for your future IT manager responsibility.

You can learn a great deal from a mentor plus they can be great resources to run questions by, ask for their advice, or just have long casual discussions about things that happen in a management role.

Your management mentor does not have to be an IT manager although it would certainly be beneficial. What’s important is that you learn about basic management principles so you are preparing yourself and gaining insight from experienced managers.

The other nice thing about developing a strong relationship with a mentor is that once you become an IT manager you will have someone to call when you deal with new issues for the first time. I’ve had 30 years of IT management experience and I still have a couple of people I consider to be my mentor, , , you’re never too old to learn and another manager’s insight can be very valuable.

11.  Volunteer – Candidates who have shown they are willing to “do more” and who consistently look for ways to help the team have an edge over other candidates who do just enough to get the job done.

Look for opportunities to help your manager and other managers in the company, , , even to help fellow employees and your clients. This “willingness” to help others goes a long way.

12.  Create a professional image – IT employees need positive role models so take a good look in the mirror every morning before you go to work. Are your clothes nicely pressed and professional looking, are your shoes shined, is your haircut nice and neat?

You may not think it’s a big deal, especially if your company operates in a business casual environment, , , but I can assure you that when senior management looks for a new manager, they want a strong positive role model, , , someone who represents your company well.

Your casual attire may not affect you all that much as a technology expert, but when your role impacts other employees and is one where you need to be a positive role model, I can assure you it’s something that will matter.

If you are serious about wanting to be a manager, take a look at how senior managers of your company dress and how they look when they come to work. Find a role model and start doing your part to create a good example for others to follow.

There are no guarantees!

Getting prepared to manage does not guarantee you will be promoted into a management position. More on this in just a minute.

However, if you are not prepared, the odds of receiving a management position are extremely low, , , so if you think you want to become an IT manager, the smart thing is to start preparing. And, what I can tell you is that when a manager invests in someone to take on more responsibility, he or she usually wants to help the employee obtain the opportunity.

Let’s talk just a bit more about there being no guarantee. Just because you think you are prepared to be the next great IT manager in your company, several things have to happen before you will get the opportunity:

  1. There has to be a management position open.
  2. You have to be qualified for that specific position.
  3. Senior management needs to think you can do the job and you are the best fit.
  4. There probably needs to be a replacement strategy for the vacancy you will create when promoted.

In addition, if you are in a small company where there is only one IT manager, you may have to be prepared to leave your company to be promoted because the one manager who is there isn’t going anywhere. My advice in this area is that you should be patient, , , especially if you work for a strong IT manager, , , you might be able to learn a great deal from him or her that can help you considerably down the road.

Final thoughts

Additional responsibility goes to those who are prepared and who have shown they can “do what they say they will do”. When senior managers look at management positions, they also look for candidates who have shown they can work well with people, are positive role models and who can make a difference.

Position yourself and develop your knowledge and experience in a few key areas and you may find yourself managing an IT organization one day.

Want a quick checklist? 12 To Do to Prepare for an IT Manager Position – Summary List.

10 skills that can help you get an IT manager job

managersYour experience and technical credentials may make you a strong candidate for an IT manager position, but the CIO may want something more. Non-technical attributes can help you stand out from the competition and tip the hiring decision in your favor.

Maybe you have the skills and experiences the CIO is looking for in a certain position — but there may be many other applicants with similar resumes on the CIO’s desk. The 10 traits listed below extend beyond the required skills and can help set you apart from the other candidates. Look at your resume and try to tie in examples and experiences to these traits in cover letters and during interviews.

#1: A self-starter attitude

CIOs want managers who take initiative and want to do a good job. Being proactive is an excellent trait as long as it’s consistent with the mission.

#2: Adaptability to change

Our IT world is constantly changing and those who are adaptable tend to achieve more. CIOs need managers who can adapt to change and maintain high levels of productivity even in uncertain times.

#3: Appreciation for good customer service

People who understand the importance of client service know that clients, or users, are the reason we have an IT career. They also know how to take precautions when working on issues that can cause downtime and loss of productivity.

#4: Team player

Too many excellent technicians lose their value to an organization when they can’t work effectively in a team environment. Demonstrating an ability to work successfully with mixed teams of IT staff and users is a tangible asset.

#5: Proven commitment

CIOs want people they know will go the extra mile when called upon to take care of a situation — those who will do what it takes to succeed individually and for the team. True performers come through under pressure.

#6: A strong desire to achieve

It’s hard to teach people to want to succeed if they don’t already have the desire. Having such a desire puts an emphasis on getting important issues resolved, and CIOs need people who recognize when a situation calls for “all hands on deck”.

#7: Problem-solving skills

Putting out fires is a big part of any IT manager’s role, and competence doesn’t necessarily mean a manager has to have all the answers. Good managers are willing to work hard to find answers and enjoy the challenges that land on their desks.

#8: Solid communication skills

Being able to communicate effectively with others is necessary in any IT management role. IT managers communicate with everyone these days — from senior management to the CIO to users. Strong verbal and written communication skills will set you apart from most of your peers.

#9: Strong follow-up skills

Nothing is more frustrating for a CIO than to have a manager drop the ball by not following up on a commitment or issue. It probably harms the credibility of the IT organization more than anything. The ability to follow up shows commitment and an understanding of client service.

#10: Low maintenance

CIOs want managers who can operate independently, solve problems and who don’t create personnel or workplace problems. No CIO wants a manager tapping them on the shoulder all day, double-checking things and seeking help. The manager who requires minimal direction and who can deal with issues while ensuring that the appropriate steps are being taken is a valuable asset.

Often, it’s the soft skills and the “warm and cozy” feeling a CIO picks up in an interview that helps you get that management job. Senior managers look for candidates they believe can and will be able to do the job, will require minimal support, and have great “can do” attitudes who lead by example.

Be sure you load up your resume and interviews with things that help demonstrate these type of attributes as well as your technology understanding, , , it can make a big difference.