I’ve been an IT manager and CIO for more than 20 years and have been involved in the technology profession for over 30 years. In that time, I’ve seen many good IT managers and a few excellent ones. I’ve also seen a fair share of poor managers.
I believe there are 11 traits that must become the core competencies of any IT manager who wants to have a successful IT management career. While some may argue that there are more, or other, skills that are just as important, I believe from my years of experience that these are the most crucial traits managers need today.
No. 1: Ability to assess needs
All IT managers need to know how to assess the needs of their company as it relates to their technology responsibilities. It doesn’t matter what level you are; you have to be able to discover what the real needs and issues are so you work on the “right things.” Too many managers develop an "IT agenda" because they don't make the effort to discover the objectives and tangible issues of the company. Developing the ability to quickly assess the technology for your area of expertise positions you for more responsibility. Managers who develop initiatives that "miss the target" because they lack strong assessment skills cost companies hundreds of thousands of dollars. Assessing technology needs plays a major part in helping your career advance.
No. 2: Ability to create a vision
To lead, you have to identify your target and create a vision for your staff of where you want to be. To lead, you have to take charge and point the team to the desired destination. Managers who can develop and articulate a vision to their staff can accomplish great things because people will follow them. Communicating a vision tells those around you that there is focus and that you are committed to take the organization to a specific destination.
No. 3: Ability to create the plan
Once they know where they want to be, successful managers know how to develop a plan that will get them there. That means choosing the right priorities for the situation and developing plans that are aggressive but achievable. Planning is an essential ingredient for a “high achiever” manager, but too many managers fail to plan. Instead, they react, accomplishing much less than what the organization is capable of. Having the ability to develop a plan that addresses company goals and objectives positions you for more responsibility. Planning denotes a sense of being proactive vs. reactive.
No. 4: Ability to build the team
Successful managers know the importance of building a team that has depth as well as skill in critical areas. A successful manager must know how to improve an existing team, as well as how to build a new one from scratch. Every good manager I’ve seen has the ability to build the right team for the issues at hand and can anticipate what will be needed in the future so that the team is prepared for new challenges. Strong career managers are effective career builders of people. They understand the importance of career and use career building as a tool to develop a stronger team capable of operating more independently.
No. 5: Ability to focus the resources
Focusing IT staff, money, and technology resources on key priorities of the company is essential to achieving success. The technology resources must be focused on initiatives that are in sync with company needs and objectives, and they must deliver in a productive, cost-effective manner. Career-minded people at any level understand the need for strong focus.
No. 6: Ability to implement a "client service" mindset
A high level of client service is essential for any IT organization. Successful managers create a culture that places customer issues first—whether the customers are internal users or external clients. Great IT managers know the reason they have careers is because people need the technology and support services that they provide, which is why successful IT managers build excellent client relationships.
No. 7: Ability to manage projects
The cornerstone of any IT manager’s job is that the organization can deliver project initiatives in a predictable and cost-effective manner. Effective project management discipline must be a key part of any manager who expects to succeed. Regardless of your career direction, strong project management skills will enhance your opportunities.
No. 8: Ability to implement change management processes
Technology, by its nature, demands rapid change. Every IT manager needs to be able to understand how to effectively implement change, whether it’s swapping out a PC, upgrading an entire network, or developing and installing new software. Failure to manage change effectively will cripple any manager.
No. 9: Ability to lead and motivate
IT organizations don’t get a lot done unless they are motivated. IT managers who can create significant momentum by virtue of strong leadership and motivation techniques always achieve more than those who can’t. Getting things done through others is a key skill required for management success.
No. 10: Ability to communicate effectively
Successful managers can communicate on many different levels with all types of people. More than ever, career success is highly dependent upon effective communication skills. Getting your message across to technical staff as well as nontechnical clients, being able to manage expectations effectively, and “netting out” issues and project status with senior managers are necessary skills that prevent many managers from achieving high levels of success. IT managers who achieve the greatest career success are those who can communicate effectively with all levels of people: employees, peers, internal and external clients, vendors, and senior management.
No. 11: Ability to track and measure performance
It’s important to set objectives and be able to measure your progress. Successful managers establish specific measurements that tell them and others how well the organization is doing and provide feedback that helps managers “zero in” on issues that will improve the organization’s performance.
The best managers, and the ones with successful careers, have each of the above-mentioned skills, and their competence transcends the technical organizations and companies that they work for.
Granted, there are other skill and career traits that promote advancement and success, such as working proactively, having strong follow-up skills, and being able to negotiate with vendors successfully. But when you dig down into the core competencies of a successful IT management career, these 11 tend to stand out.
Forging a successful IT management career is one of the most challenging feats in any company, because the role is constantly changing and being heavily scrutinized by all. Developing each of these 11 traits as a core competency within your personal makeup will help you achieve much higher success levels and will position you for greater career responsibility.
Mike Sisco is the CEO of MDE Enterprises, an IT manager training and consulting company. For more of Mike’s management insight, take a look at his IT Manager Development Series. Additional insight on the 11 key traits for IT management success is available in his book, “IT Management-101: Fundamentals to Achieve More.” For a limited time, you may download the e-book for free from his Web site. A paperback version is also available for purchase from Amazon.com.