In the hierarchical levels of IT management, middle management sits between directorial / C-level business leaders and the hands-on IT pro. Usually having a fair degree of IT experience, managers plan, steer, assign and purchase resources, while supervising their technical employees, all for the benefit of the company they work for. But their abilities must go far beyond just knowledge of the tech. They must have some soft skills as well. You definitely need these 10 specific skills, natural or acquired, to be an effective IT manager.
1. Team Management
Every IT team needs to have a leader, and by default, that role, regardless of delegated responsibilities, falls on the manager. It's the manager's responsibility to take control and build the team's momentum. Pep talks are great, but actions taken by the manager speak louder than words. Such endeavors as team building exercises guarantee the team members can rely on each other and collaborate on tasks. And offering the right mentorship gives employees the opportunity to grow.
IT managers aren't likely to be high-level decision makers like CIOs and CTOs, however, they probably do need to acquire necessary tools and make the team-level decisions. Managers need to be able to look at a situation, analyze the relevant data and consider the risks involved before signing off on a purchase or action. This is especially relevant for break/fix situations, change control and planning for the future.
3. Targeting goals
It's one thing for a manager to know where they want to be, but getting there can be a considerable challenge, especially for IT. The IT industry today is ever changing at a rate must faster than before. The "five-year plan" of yesterday is out, and IT managers need to be able to plan for shorter terms. For example, EOL (end of life) for a lot of hardware averages around three years, so any goals related to hardware refreshes will need to be accomplished quickly, at a motivated pace.
4. Strategic thinking
In the IT game, managers have access to all the pieces on the game board. Among the many gaming pieces that managers must play with, are team members, budgets and information privy to someone at a manager's pay grade. With all those resources, a manager must be able to devise a game plan while answering important questions like:
- Who on the team is best suited for an upcoming project?
- Is it too early to start budgeting for a transition to VDI?
- Where should specific individuals go in an upcoming reorg?
- With the right research and preparation, a manager is able to justify their plans and outcomes when called upon.
There's a lot of give-and-take to be dealt with for someone in a managerial role. Simple negotiations like giving an employee a comp day off for working beyond their normal hours are common, but there are occasions where a gamble needs to pay off for the company. That's especially true when it comes to working with vendors and licensing agreements. Managers are usually put in the middle between upper management and technology vendors, answering to both sides and making sure they're happy with the results.
6. Controlling financials
Managers are delegated budgets, money allocated for specific purposes including operational and capital expenditures. Bookkeeping skills are required to calculate, balance and record financials for the end of every quarter and fiscal year. However, managing a budget isn't always cut and dry. Some creativity is required, like when money is shifted from one cost center to another to make an important purchase. A manager must also make sure the full budget is spent so that less isn't given for the next quarter.
Nothing is more important than being a masterful communicator, however, it doesn't just come down to sending out meaningful emails or giving great speeches. Managers must listen effectively, read between the lines and confront possible problems proactively. Socializing, team building and even open-door policies are appreciated and are great ways to invite input from team members. Managers are looked up to, and anytime they shut themselves away, the actions they could be interpreted negatively by the staff.
Most, if not all, IT managers come from the working in the data center trenches, having years of experience in various technologies they are now in charge of. This knowledge is useful at first, but as time goes on, that experience gets outdated. As technology moves forward, IT managers need to find a balance between managing people and managing technology. This doesn't mean IT managers must get their hands dirty, but rather they should know how the technologies they manage work so they can help architect even better solutions down the line.
Every manager has their own way of being organized, and that's absolutely essential. Even in a digital world, file cabinets still hold software contracts, support agreements, employee information and many other things that slide across a manager's physical desktop. Similarly, shared folders sitting in a file server need to be managed to find things easily. Being organized also includes being able to multi-task between projects, tasks and daily routines.
10. Managing time
Time management walks hand-in-hand with being organized. Especially when it comes to managing a project, managers need to watch their time wisely. Whether it's building a server, running a meeting or editing a script, every hour used to do something costs an employer money in labor, parts or missed deadlines, while impacting the manager's reputation with the higher-ups. Once a manager knows how much time certain tasks take, they can then effectively make plans around them.
Being an IT manager is a step up for someone working in IT, but it can feel strange. Different tasks and skills are required, often leading an individual further away from the data center, and closer to the corporate boardroom. Still, at this level, a balance between technical knowledge and management needs to be maintained to keep the individual manager relevant, yet marketable.