As a consultant, trying to determine a manager’s skills and capabilities can be more difficult than assessing a client’s technical staff. For example, if you want to rate a programmer’s programming skills in C++, the right tests can pretty much tell you the level of capability the employee has. Certifications can help you determine a level of proficiency in networking skills.

For managers, you don’t have any real certifications or objective sales numbers to go by. A manager’s effectiveness lies in identifying key issues, prioritizing appropriately, and focusing the IT staff on those priorities. Specific knowledge of technologies is not as important for a senior manager as being able to determine the means of focusing technology resources on issues that will help the company achieve its mission.

One tool to help you quantify the management capabilities of individual managers in a company’s management team is this downloadable technology leadership skills/experience matrix. Let’s look at how it can detail the short list of skills needed by IT managers in different disciplines of technology.

Using the matrix
The matrix works on the assumption that each manager falls into one of three broad categories:

  • Executive: CIO- and CTO-level managers deal with organizational development and strategic planning and implementation to address business issues of the company. They work with other senior managers of the company to establish strategy to support their needs.
  • Infrastructure: Managers that have responsibility for infrastructure usually have a strong technical background. Local area networks, wide area networks, and server technologies require managers that can implement change without disrupting systems services to the technology users of the company. Strong managers have the ability to create an environment that is stable and easily upgraded to handle company growth. Help desk managers are often included in this group.
  • Business Applications: Managers who take care of the business applications of a company normally have a programming or a business analyst background. They may also have a background in installing business applications. A solid understanding of the business requirements of the company is a plus because these managers are responsible for maintaining end enhancing the business applications of the company to improve employee productivity.

Two versions of the matrix are included in the download. One includes values for each of the three types of managers. The table with predetermined values can provide you with more insight into what to look for as you develop your interviews. This version uses a three-point value system for “leader” types. A 1 means the skill is less important for that position.For example, the “Research and Development” skill is assigned a value of 1 for the Technical Infrastructure Manager; it’s assigned a higher value, 3, for a CIO.

As you quantify your assessments for each individual, it will become easier to tie the company needs and current environment to what you have and what is needed. The matrix without values allows you to assign your own values or rate managers based on your own needs

Conducting your evaluation
You can conduct an evaluation of an IT management team in two ways. The first is to evaluate the managers without considering the company situation and needs. A second approach takes the company’s needs and current environment into consideration. I always prefer to evaluate a management team in the context of what the company needs.

Before you begin assessing a group of managers, define what the company is trying to achieve and how it’s positioned to accomplish its objectives. These issues will define the type of manager needed and the capabilities required.

For example, a company that wants to acquire other companies needs IT management that can assess other technology environments and put plans into place to absorb the new companies effectively. On the other hand, a company that has major challenges with its technology needs a manager capable of introducing change and rallying the IT troops toward appropriate priorities that help the company. A “turnaround” manager must be able to make tough decisions regarding current projects, staff focus, and whether the right players are on the IT team. The point is that different situations need different management capabilities and experience.

The author’s experience
I moved up the management ranks through the business application side. As a CIO, I had responsibility for the infrastructure as well as the business applications of a company. I never felt the need to learn how to configure a network or to install an e-mail application, but I knew that we had to have staff with the skills and experience to do so.

Likewise, as the CIO, I never needed to know all the intricate issues of our business applications. In fact, I never signed on to most of our business applications. It was important for me to understand how our business applications addressed our business needs and what could be done to improve them to achieve greater productivity in the company’s greatest resource, its people.

So, while my applications background gave me the ability to become an expert in any of our applications, focusing on that area would have been a poor investment on my part and the company’s.

Mike Sisco is a former CIO and current president of MDE Enterprises, an IT management training and consulting company in Atlanta. More of his management approach and experiences are available through the IT Manager Development Series, a set of 10 publications devoted to increasing IT management effectiveness.

Which manager is best to work with?

Depending on their contracts, consultants may find themselves working under a variety of managers. Based on your experience, which type is best to work with and why? Post your comments below or send us an e-mail.