What does it take to be an effective manager? Should you demonstrate strong hands-on IT skills or have the ability to manage human resources?

Possessing both talents is the mark of a first-rate IT manager, according to the sentiments in a recent TechRepublic discussion. However, many respondents agreed that these managers are few and far between.

The discussion started when TechRepublic member Asmaklad asked other members how much managers should know about the technical needs of their teams and how much business knowledge a manager should possess.

We looked at the discussion responses and found that the underlying problem that many managers face is working with knowledge from both skill sets.

In this article, we’ve highlighted some tips from our members that you can use to become a two-sided manager and to increase your knowledge in the IT and business worlds.

Worth their weight in gold
Managers who have both technical and business knowledge are rare, according to one TechRepublic member who wrote that ”Techies are by nature, hands-on, get-to-the-guts people, and being a good manager is a very difficult task for most. However, once in a great while, you will find that individual that has both the technical knowledge and the managerial skills. When that happens, consider yourself extremely lucky.”

Pwilhlem added that the differences between the IT and business disciplines keep the number of managers with knowledge of both low. “What makes it a rare occurrence is that they are opposing aptitudes and very different skill sets. It is not a natural occurrence but must be worked at.”

TechRepublic member Mikkawi put it this way: “Ideally, the best IT manager would be both, a good manager plus the best technical background, because without the proper technical background, the ‘manager’ can’t be an ’IT manager.’”

Managers with IT skills can also roll up their sleeves and be a morale booster for their team, according to Lee44. Then, when the staff overloads, the manager can help.

“If my manager sees that we have a high workload or a short deadline, he will jump into the fray,” Lee44 wrote. “Whenever he does, it definitely raises the motivation of the team to get the job done.”

How to find golden managers
Some respondents said that finding managers with technical and business expertise is troublesome.

“I would say the hardest thing is to find techies that actually want to learn the management skills,” said munkresc.

While experience is the best way to acquire IT knowledge, formal business training is the best way to learn the business side of managing, according to Mdowney.

“A manager is a career and a vocation in its own right and not something you just pick up. You don’t become a good manager just by doing the job of the staff you now supervise for many years,” Mdowney wrote. “If that was the case, all technical staff could be managers.”

Not all discussion respondents felt that both skills are necessary, but members disagreed on which skill set should be the top priority.

Technical skills come first
Some members said that managers should hold IT skills over being a business-orientated “people person” and that without the proper IT training, a manager can throw a wrench into a project.

For Wayne, beginning a project with a manager who doesn’t have IT knowledge is taxing. Wayne believes that there’s nothing more frustrating than taking a careful, thorough proposal to an MIS/IT manager who does not understand the technical aspects of the project.

And managers without IT knowledge rely too heavily on their staff to complete tasks, according to Asmaklad.

“There are way too many overpaid, clueless project managers out there who mismanage technical projects and then expect techies to pull miracles in order to clean up the mess,” Asmaklad wrote.”

But for some respondents, the opposite is true: Hiring and developing a strong team is the key to being a good manager.

Managers can rely on staff
To step back and let a team complete a project is effective management, if the manager has a solid grasp of the technical environment they operate in, according to James Linn.

“No one can stay on top of everything… they [managers] should be able to immerse themselves in industry trends and understand future directions, but they don’t need to know every bolt in the boiler,” Linn posted. “They do need to know that they have someone they can trust who does.”

A hands-off approach is also acceptable management to patrickmiller. “Managers are consumed by paperwork and politics and need to stay out of the way,” he wrote. “A rudimentary understanding is fine; otherwise, a fully proficient tech manager just serves as an interruption and a bothersome backseat driver.”

Jac_63_au also agreed. “To me, good management is allowing your staff to do their jobs and making sure that they are meeting their performance targets and you are meeting yours.”
Are you a manager who values technical know-how over “paper pushing” skills? Why or why not? Let us know what works best in your shop by dropping us a line or starting a discussion below.