IT pros tend to bristle at the idea of administrative skills, which many perceive as sitting in an office instead of doing work that really needs to be done. Nevertheless, administrative skills play a major role in getting IT work done. These skills are indispensable for IT managers, who constantly walk a line between enabling their staffs to do work and clearing political issues with business users so work can proceed.
Here are 10 administrative actions every IT manager should be able to handle.
1: Fighting the good fight for the budget
If worthy projects that require business value aren't sold to management, work stops. Staff depends on IT management to sell their work, so it is virtually impossible to "over prepare" project justifications, returns on investments — and of course, the numbers to convince others why IT projects should proceed.
2: Acting quickly when problem situations emerge
Whether they are political, technical, strategic, or operational, problems can quickly surface from nowhere. When this happens, go after them before they turn into full-blown situations, and always strive for clean resolutions so they don't come up again in another situation.
3: Praising employees
The article The Power of Praise in Business — and How to Do it Right cited a study published in Harvard Business Review that found that at Best Buy, "a 0.1% increase in employee engagement drove $100,000 in operating income to the bottom line of each store per year." Commenting on the study, motivational speaker Chester Elton observed that the most important factor was recognition.
4: Building teamwork
Everybody preaches teamwork. But if your company has a culture that is fiercely competitive — with everyone feeling that they have to constantly promote themselves to be recognized — teamwork will be impossible to achieve. It's amazing how many managers still don't get this.
Managers who are strong administrators understand the complexity of day-to-day IT. They know that IT can't effectively approach projects without a solid and committed team. Accordingly, they "walk their talks." They are the first ones to do whatever is needed to assist the efforts of others, and they let others see this in the form of exemplary behavior.
5: Demanding accountability
In a team environment, individuals must accept responsibility for their work or everybody loses. There are always some individuals who refuse to accept responsibility when things go wrong or who try to pass it off on others. It's the manager's job to be familiar enough with the situation to be able to see exactly where things went wrong and who was accountable for it. This breaks up attempts at trying to pass the blame to others, which can demoralize the team. It is also the manager's job to let the staff know that everyone makes mistakes. The key is owning up to your responsibilities and taking corrective action when you need to.
6: Being accountable yourself
This is a given, if you're going to demand accountability from your staff. You won't get it unless you practice it.
7: Deflecting politics away from the team
In technical disciplines like IT, there is always an abundance of strong technical performers. But the flip side is that most IT'ers have an inherent aversion for politics and would just as soon occupy themselves in the "world of things." This is why one of the biggest favors managers can do for their staff is to take on the political battles and pressures. If they can clear the way politically for work and projects, those things usually take care of themselves.
8: Building good working relationships with upper management
The politics of business and IT go smoother when there are solid trust relationships between upper- and middle-level managers throughout the company. Managers with strong administrative skills intuitively know this. They work hard at relationship building with their peers throughout the organization, and do everything they can to build trust in the work that IT undertakes for the business.
9: Looking for burnout
IT professionals are highly driven. The best won't quit until they've finished a major piece of work or solved an elusive problem. That's exactly what a manager wants: the knowledge that if a problem is there and it's three a.m., that there's a dependable person working on it. But there are also IT pros who will put themselves in these "do or die" situations day after day. You want this commitment — but everyone needs to step away periodically so they don't burn out. The highly driven individuals who thrive on the pressure will never tell you that they need R&R. That's why great administrative managers regularly tour the trenches, looking for signs of burnout. When they see it, they step in, often rewarding the person with a comp day off.
10: Clearly defining projects, work, and goals
Even with lean budgets, IT staffers are resourceful and creative. They will usually find ways to get any type of project done. However, they can't do this if they don't understand the objectives and the outcomes of the work. Good IT managers never authorize a project that doesn't have clear requirements, goals, and expected outcomes. They authorize project prototyping and sandbox work only if there is an objective, as well as a point where work gets cut off before it becomes unproductive. This is the degree of definition that an IT staff needs to be productive. It is the responsibility of the IT manager to see that it is there.
Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President of Product Research and Software Development for Summit Information Systems, a computer software company; and Vice President of Strategic Planning and Technology at FSI International, a multinational manufacturing company in the semiconductor industry. Mary is a keynote speaker and has more than 1,000 articles, research studies, and technology publications in print.