A good manager need not be an MCSE or CCNA to effectively manage your help desk. However, working for managers with weaker technical skills and strong management skills can be a challenge for IT pros. The key to a successful relationship is getting such a manager to trust your technical expertise. It may seem difficult to win this trust when you consider the knowledge gaps and outsider advice that such a manager must deal with, but it can be done.
Remember: You each have a job to do
IT managers don't need to be techies if they have the proper management skills. They must be capable of managing the department and making sure their reports have the resources they need to do their jobs. As an IT employee, it's your duty to handle daily the technical tasks and to help your manager understand those tasks so he or she can make the right decisions for your department.
Allow your nontechnical boss to use your knowledge
Nontechnical bosses need to recognize when to defer to their IT staff's knowledge and when to give guidance themselves. Although it may take time for them to develop such skills, you can help the process by giving your boss clear, concise information that's not heavily laden with technical jargon. Help desk techs are usually good at explaining things in layman's terms, because they do it on a daily basis when working with end users.
So when you need to replace an aging server, approach your manager with clear, nontechnical choices, in language he or she can understand. You might say something like, "Our current server will soon be inadequate for our needs. It lacks sufficient memory and storage space to run the latest version of our accounting software. There are two things we can do to alleviate the problem: upgrade or buy a new server. If we upgrade, we may be able to get another two years from the machine, but the server may still have some reliability issues. Replacing the server with a newer model is the more expensive option, but here's why I think it's a better option…"
Remember that your manager's priorities may not be the same as yours. He or she may be more concerned with your department's budget than a server's 100 percent availability. Just remember to explain how the issue at hand affects other departments or the company as a whole. For example, a slow server can have an impact on employees' work, and server downtime can cause a rush of help desk calls. When you present issues to your manager, give reasons for your opinions. A good manager will listen and respond to your concerns. Ultimately, the manager will be the one who must answer to senior management when IT issues erupt, so it will be in his or her best interest to make informed decisions.
When you're looking to make an airtight case for an equipment or software upgrade, the following TechRepublic articles and downloads can help:
- "Learn to write a convincing cost benefit analysis"
- "Submit your idea as a simple cost benefit analysis"
- "Vendor bid comparison spreadsheet"
- "Download our simple cost benefit analysis template"
- "A project manager's cost/benefit analysis"
- "IT investment cost/benefit analysis worksheet"
- "Estimating hardware and software costs when migrating to Exchange 2000"
Deflect erroneous outside influences
It seems everyone knows someone who "works with computers" these days. I once worked for a nontechnical boss who was constantly under the influence of an unqualified IT "expert." Unfortunately, most of the IT advice this so-called expert gave my boss was inaccurate and inconsistent. But because my boss wasn't very technical, he couldn't see the flaws in the "expert's" advice. Luckily, I was usually able to disqualify the advice before it got too far.
Because your boss has problems understanding technology issues, he or she might think very highly of outside advice. Your manager's "expert" may even be a close friend or family member of your boss, so try not to ridicule the advice, even if it's downright laughable. Your boss may see such an insult as an attack on someone he or she respects. Instead, politely remind your boss that the company pays you for your technical skills and that maybe he or she should also consider your input on technical matters.
Suggest that your boss run the outsider's advice past you before taking any action. Then, explain why you agree or disagree with the advice. Remember to be clear, concise, and as nontechnical as possible when you explain your stance.
Techie or nontechie?
Is technical knowledge essential for an IT manager? Which type of manager would you rather work for? Have you ever worked for a nontechnical manager who thought he or she knew more than you? Post a comment to this article and share your thoughts.