Becoming an IT manager is usually an acknowledgment of years spent resolving technical issues and maintaining complex computing systems. However, the role of IT manager also requires a secondary set of skills, such as people management, financial governance and communication.
We’ve assembled an essential list of business skills for existing IT managers keen to refine their skill set and any IT professional contemplating an upward progression. Most of these are soft skills, and improvements to each will elevate both your knowledge and effectiveness in this high-pressure role.
Every IT team needs a leader, and that role usually falls on the manager regardless of how effectively tasks are delegated. It’s the IT manager’s responsibility to take control and build the team’s momentum. Pep talks have their place, but actions speak louder than words. Therefore, a true leader must lead by example because your subordinates are watching and judging you. For instance, if you want your staff to be in by 8 a.m., you should arrive by 7:30 a.m. and stay until necessary tasks are completed instead of walking out the door at 5 p.m. sharp. Team-building exercises help colleagues learn to rely on each other and collaborate on tasks. However, offering the right mentorship gives employees the opportunity to grow, but only if they’re chosen wisely – which brings us to our second point.
IT managers aren’t likely to be high-level decision-makers like CIOs and CTOs, but they will need to make team-level business decisions. When reviewing a situation, they should analyze the relevant data and consider the risks involved before signing off on a purchase or action. Sometimes this will need to occur in harmony with other personnel – like working with an HR manager to hire and fire employees – and require negotiation skills. Forward-planning is particularly challenging, especially in the fast-moving world of computing. A skilled IT manager will be comfortable making decisions based on the data they have at the time.
Effective IT managers are knowledgeable about industry changes. For instance, it’s widely anticipated that quantum computing will enter the mainstream before the end of this decade. Your IT manager may want to consider its impacts on your workflow.
The IT field is evolving faster than ever, so reaching targets can be considerably challenging. Rather than setting long-term targets, which might be suitable for slower-paced industries, work around the timescales of your sector. For example, desktop and laptop computers tend to require replacement after three years, so a five-year IT plan won’t predict future changes in technology. The coronavirus pandemic upended many long-term IT plans, so remain flexible with your department’s goals. Take advantage of free tools for tracking goals.
IT managers must be able to think strategically when making personnel changes or answering budget-related questions. Here are some common questions to address:
With the proper research and preparation, a talented IT manager will be able to justify their decisions when called upon, thus building confidence among senior staff.
There’s a lot of give and take in any managerial role. Simple negotiations – like giving an employee a day off for working beyond their normal hours – are common, but there are occasions where a business negotiation needs to pay off in a bigger way. That’s especially true when working with vendors and licensing agreements. IT managers often find themselves wedged between upper management and technology vendors, answering to both sides to ensure everyone is happy with the outcomes. Someone well-suited to an IT manager role won’t find this process daunting.
Every year, IT managers are provided with budgets for both operational and capital expenditures. A degree of bookkeeping familiarity is required to calculate, balance and record financials, but managing a budget isn’t always straightforward. Flexibility and know-how are often necessary, such as when weighing up the rival merits of outright purchases versus annual licenses for software packages. An IT manager must also make sure any allocated budget is spent, as underspends may result in reduced budgets in the next fiscal period. A particularly ambitious manager may want to brush up on their accounting skills.
Forward financial planning can prevent last-minute panic buys made purely to use up available dollars in the current financial year’s budget.
Of all the managerial skills, communication is perhaps the most important. Communication is a two-way street – IT managers must listen effectively, ask questions and proactively confront problems. Socializing and open-door policies are appreciated, whereas not engaging with colleagues at all could be interpreted negatively by staff. Consider these communication tools to foster conversation and collaboration.
Most IT managers are promoted after years in a subordinate role with direct experience in the technologies they now run. This knowledge is useful at first, but it quickly becomes outdated as hardware, software and user requirements evolve. IT managers need to find a balance between managing both people and technology, while understanding how best to support frontline IT staff in the coming years as programs and procedures change. They need to adapt to the sector’s twists and turns, and make sure the company adapts too. [Related article: Resilience and Adaptability Are Key to Business Success]
Organization is essential in any management role, and piles of paperwork simply won’t cut it. Even in a digital world, IT managers will have cabinets filled with software contracts, support agreements, employee information and the like. Shared online folders and collaborative software utilities also require careful supervision in this role. Being organized further extends to multitasking between major projects, daily administrative tasks and people management. You may find organization apps helpful for this.
Don’t think of an IT manager’s role as a promotion within that department. Frame it as a move into management instead, because it requires a blend of skills from other groups, like HR, finance, communication and marketing.
This builds on the last point, since time management is a cousin to organization. Every hour’s work uses finite corporate resources, so effective project management as an IT manager requires judicious time management. It’s easier to plan your week once you know how much time specific tasks take. It also prevents overruns, overspends and poor results, which need to be justified to other managers and directors.
Becoming a manager is a proud moment for any IT professional, but different skill sets are required that tend to lead away from the data center. To keep any IT manager relevant in this fast-moving industry, a balance between technical knowledge and managerial skills needs to be maintained. Read our tips for first-time managers for more key leadership skills.
Julio Urquidi contributed to the writing and research in this article.