CXO optimize

Nine traits IT managers must have to succeed today

While most experts agree that most of what leaders do is part of people management 101, there are distinct differences when it comes to IT. Here are nine traits successful IT managers should have.
Being an IT leader is different from what is was 10, or even five, years ago. It’s no longer about running herd on a central services staff and checking off end-user needs. For today’s IT leader, a superior aptitude for technology is not enough.

Bob Hewes of Camden Consulting Group says there are even differences in what it takes to be an IT leader over any other kind of leader. Here are his nine traits of strong IT leaders:

1.  Trusting (that employees will take chances, and may even fail)

It is very important that IT leaders create an environment where employees are encouraged to take chances and are safe to fail. This is often tricky to do. Often times we hear, “Of course, we encourage people to take risks, but we don’t get enough of it.” Why? It can be due to the consequences of what happens when something doesn’t work. If it is called out in a bad way, people will shy away from risk taking. Now, you don’t want people taking risks willy-nilly. Rather, it should be calculated risks in consciously chosen areas. The leader needs to help define the boundaries and act in the right way when a “failure” happens. This takes vigilance over time.

2.  Strong and approachable communicators

Communication is one of the fundamental leadership capabilities, IT or otherwise.  Why?  So much is done through communication; it is how initiatives are launched, results reported, and a plethora of things in between. Remember, communication is a two way street and listening is as important as “telling”.  Great IT leaders listen incredibly well and ask great questions.

3.  Collaborative

Collaboration is one of “those” skills that technical people can look down upon.  However, many great ideas and decisions come about because great minds worked together on a problem. That is collaboration. To push on it – and ask why? Simply put, no one has all the answers especially to the most difficult challenges. A great IT leader will encourage collaboration at the right moments.

4.  Self-aware

It is critical for IT leaders to be self-aware. It is vital to know your style, where it works best, and where to adjust your approach. If you don’t know your weaknesses, how can you improve them?

5.  Problem solvers

Many IT people (maybe most) are problem solvers at heart. Given the technical nature and complexity of each issue, problem solving is key and something an IT leader pushes for.

6.  Confident (in others)

IT pros tend to have difficulty relinquishing control when they move into management. As a leader, it is incredibly important to hand over control and work through other people, as it is the only way to scale.  If leaders don’t make this shift, they will hamper themselves and, more importantly, the entire organization.

7.  Strategic thinkers

Seeing the bigger picture and looking forward is critical to succeeding as a leader; without it, one’s head is down too much. An IT leader should be strategically focused at least 15% of the time. One must take a hard look at where you actually spend your time and where you should.  Make an adjustment to include more strategic activities.

8.  Decisive decision makers

Precise decision making is an essential trait of IT leaders. Leaders need to make both quality and timely decisions. They also need to know what and why they are making this decision, how to explain the decision to their staff, or justify it to the C-Suite.

9.  Ahead of industry trends and changes

Today the pace of change, need for faster decision making, and consumer demand in IT is intense. IT leadership needs to be ahead of and deliver marketplace demands while also maintaining security and other critical functions. That is not easy to balance, but it is something IT leaders need to tackle head-on.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

7 comments
gevander
gevander

Like David P Martin earlier, I was surprised to agree with SO MUCH of this article.

I'm pretty sure these items are not ordered.  If they were, I would expect #8 to be either #2.  It is critically important to trust your people to do the work assigned them (or that they ID as "needed"), but it is ALMOST EQUALLY important to know when to step in with a "because I said so" decision about what to do or how to do it.

brianbrill
brianbrill

Great article, You have some strong points for any CEO to take note of. I should add you can always outsource IT to a company that specializes in managed IT services. I run a small business in Canada and we use a company called Digica for our managed IT services.
It has been a lifesaver for a guy like me who is not savvy in the tech world.

RMSx32767
RMSx32767

Folks, especially managers, should not work on improving in weak areas. The emphasis should be on becoming even better in your strong areas and surrounding yourself with others who are strong in the areas you are not.

rishibedi
rishibedi

Great article, very thought provocating

zolazimase
zolazimase

Superb article. Thank you.

The first trait (Trusting) can also talk to the dogmatic approach on SLA and processes. Sometimes these become a hindrance because IT managers seem not to be able to think beyond their noses. I sometimes wonder why they employ technical people if they cannot show some trust.

adegokeo
adegokeo

The article is well thought out. I particularly identified with the 6th attribute. IT leaders tend to find it hard to relinquish control - with respect to myself now as a manager, my manager now and my previous managers.

davidpmartin
davidpmartin

When I saw the title of this article, I inwardedly groaned, thinking "OK, here's yet ANOTHER IT journalist telling me how to lead IT people". So you can imagine how surprised I was when I read through the article. Toni has done a superb job at nailing down the essential traits of a good IT leader. Thanks for the great article, Toni -- CEOs and CIOs do well to pay attention to what she has to say.