Many IT leaders don’t know how to plan and work in a proactive mode. Most are so busy putting out fires—being reactive—that there’s little time to sit and plan, a key aspect in being proactive.

Yet managing an IT organization is all about taking charge and leading an organization to do all it can, and that can’t take place in the reactive mode.

If you want to enhance your career opportunities, you must begin transitioning yourself into being a proactive manager who is on top of his or her business. I’ll outline the various steps you can start taking today to make this transition happen.

Step 1: Put plans in place
The key to managing proactively is to develop a plan of attack and a process that helps you turn your reactive nature into one that is more proactive. Most managers only plan when they are asked to by their boss. To become proactive, you should always have at least two plans in place: a 30-day plan and a six-month plan.

The two plans are important for setting the course for your organization. Putting a plan into place prevents you from floating along aimlessly and merely reacting to whatever comes your way.

Both of these plans are tactical, not strategic. You should also work toward developing one- to two-year strategic plans, but keep these simple to start with. Short-term plans of one month to six months are simpler and easier to develop, so start small and work your way up to a true strategic plan.

Putting a plan in place that senior management agrees with empowers you to focus on the real issues of your business and allows you to work on things that make a long-term difference.

Step 2: Prevent fires before they start
New issues and unexpected events happen all the time in an IT organization. I generally coach organizations to be able to fight fires but to spend much more of their time focusing on preventing them from happening in the first place. When fires are prevented in this manner, your company and client will be better served.

You can quickly get a handle on fire prevention by taking a look at recurring issues and problems and investigating the trends behind them. With this information in hand, you can then devise a plan of attack that eliminates the cause or reduces the frequency of the occurrence.

If you take this approach for the top three problematic issues, you’ll make major strides in positioning your organization to work more proactively.

Step 3: Position your organization to be proactive
Another key to being proactive is to manage the workload. Your staff has a certain capacity to get things done and if you fill their responsibilities with new projects, every problem that surfaces will require a refocus of your staff—ultimately causing you to complete less than what you were tasked to achieve.

For example, if you have an organization loaded with client service problems, you need to build enough time to address these issues into the resource hours available. This way you can work on initiatives that eliminate the problems from happening in the first place.

You must also manage everyone’s expectations in terms of what your organization can get done so that no one is disappointed due to unrealistic expectations. Then, focus your responsibilities on dealing with critical issues first and position the excess capacity on new projects and problem-prevention initiatives.

It may be a difficult sell to upper management, but you have to align your capacity with the true support demand if you are ever to shed your reactive tendencies.

Not quick, but still worthwhile
Obviously it takes time, focus, and perseverance to gain a proactive management style—especially when you have been reactive for a long time, but it is worth the effort for your career.

Managers that can transform a reactive organization into one that has a vision, works a plan, and eliminates issues that cause problems are worth their weight in gold.

Mike Sisco is the CEO of MDE Enterprises, an IT management training and consulting company. For more of Mike’s management insight, take a look at his IT Manager Development Series.