Five tips for becoming a successful IT manager

Even if you've always excelled in a technical role, you'll need to develop some different skills to succeed in a management position. Here are a few areas you may want to focus on.

Before I made the decision to become a freelance writer, I served as a CIO for one organization and as an IT manager for several other organizations. During that time, I learned quite a bit about what it takes to be a successful manager. Some of the criteria are obvious, such as completing projects on time and on budget. More often than not, though, being a good manager has more to do with how you interact with your staff than with how smoothly various projects go. In this article, I want to share with you some of the things I learned about being a good IT manager.

1: Listen to your staff

By far the best advice I can possibly give you is to listen to your staff and to take their recommendations seriously. You don't necessarily have to follow every recommendation, but at least hear your employees out. They are the ones who do most of the day-to-day work, so they may have insight into aspects of the organization's operations that you might not pick up on yourself.

Not only can your staff give you valuable guidance, but taking the time to listen to them helps build morale. Listening to your employees shows that you respect them and that you value their input.

2: Be accommodating

Another thing I realized during my tenure as an IT manager is that it's important to be accommodating to your staff whenever possible. In every organization I have ever worked for, IT jobs have involved a lot of stress and some really long hours. Because everyone worked such long hours, I had to accept the fact that sometimes my employees would need to leave for a little while during the workday. For example, someone might need to go to the bank before it closed or pick up their kids. As an IT manager, I always tried to accommodate these types of requests so long as they didn't interfere with IT operations.

3: Maintain your technical knowledge

Often, IT managers (and especially CIOs) spend more time in meetings than they do configuring servers or troubleshooting problems. As a result, it's easy to let your technical skills become outdated. But there are at least three good reasons why you should maintain your technical skills, even if you don't use them on a regular basis.

First, you don't want your staff to think of you as an idiot manager who knows nothing. If you don't have a minimal level of IT knowledge, your staff may not respect you. Second, you never know when you may have to fire an employee or when someone will quit or end up in the hospital or something like that. You need to have enough knowledge to pitch in and help complete whatever projects the employee was working on. Even if you don't have sufficient time or technical knowledge to complete the project yourself, you should know enough about it to help those who are going to be working on it, if necessary. Third, vendors will constantly try to sell you things. Unless you have a good bit of technical knowledge, you could easily get taken for a ride by a fast-talking vendor who is pitching an inferior product.

4: Know when to get outside help

No IT employee knows everything. Everyone has his or her strengths and weakness. Sometimes, a project may come along that falls outside of your employees' skill sets. As an IT manager, you must not be afraid to acknowledge that some projects simply can't be handled in house and to outsource such projects when appropriate.

5: Take measures to relax and avoid burn out

IT can be stressful. Being a manager can be stressful. So it's critical for IT managers to regularly take time to do something to relax and de-stress. Otherwise, you will become apathetic toward your job as you get burned out, and you will become irritable toward your staff.

Additional reading

10 things you should know about being a great IT manager

10 skills that can help you land an IT manager job

New IT manager: How to hit the ground running

Five tips for becoming a better leader

Check out Five Tips... the newsletter

Get a concise roundup of solutions and techniques that will make your IT job go more smoothly. TechRepublic's Five Tips newsletter, delivered every Tuesday, gives you instant access to the information you need. Automatically sign up today.