Being an IT manager isn’t easy. If you’ve come up from the technical ranks there’s a big mental shift to make to thinking about the business and managing people. If you’ve come from outside IT, there’s a lot of overwhelming technical information to learn.
That said, there are attributes that can be practiced and honed, which help to create amazing IT managers, whatever their background. (And they don’t include the ability to deliver projects because, as Robert Reeg, president of MasterCard Technologies & Operations (MTO) says, ‘You don’t even get consideration if you don’t deliver results’.)
8 attributes of amazing IT managers
1. PR whizz. As IT manager, you represent your department. That means selling the business relevance and importance of IT to the rest of the company, including senior management. It’s your responsibility to pitch the IT team as enablers rather than just the people you call when something goes wrong. Fail to think about perception and IT will become that oft-satirised idea of geeks in the basement that people don’t want interfering with the important work of business.
2. Big picture thinker. There’s no use talking up IT if there’s no strategy or delivery to back it up. Big picture thinking means understanding the business inside and out in order to see where IT fits in now, and where it could support growth and ambition in the future. You also need ‘the creative flair to spot the opportunities to keep total cost of ownership in check,’ says Mike Lucas, regional technology manager, Compuware
3. Great communicator. This goes hand-in-hand with being a PR whizz, but it’s about more than IT department branding. When something goes wrong, or you roll out a new application or update, it’s up to you to make sure everyone understands what is going on and why. You have to be able to communicate specifics in a way that non-technical people will understand, and you have to translate their questions and needs back into specific goals for your team.
4. Great listener. While you should always keep a toe in the technical waters, becoming a manager means you will no longer have that front-line knowledge and experience you used to. You therefore have to learn to trust your team, their recommendations and their feedback. ‘Working through others is the only way to scale. If you don’t make this shift, you will hamper yourself and more importantly the entire organisation,’ says Robert Hewes, senior partner at Camden Consulting Group. Respect that they know what they’re talking about. That doesn’t always mean agreeing or acting on what they say – you have to balance that against business needs – but it does mean taking the time to listen.
5. Effective prioritiser. You’ve likely come from a more technical or engineering background and when an outage strikes or a bug bubbles up, you’ll be tempted to jump in and start trying to fix it yourself. But amazing IT managers don’t do that. They support their team and talk to the business to help them understand what’s happening. They are able to spot the different between a technical emergency and a business emergency and decide what needs fixing first for the long-term benefit of the business.
6. A polymath. As you grow into a managerial role you have to start learning about a lot of different topics: HR, finance, marketing, business planning. While no one expects you to be an expert in these areas, you need a strong grasp of them to perform your job well, for example understanding the context for the budgets you’re working with or developing, training and managing your team. Amazing IT managers aren’t afraid to ask colleagues and networks for advice and seek out formal training. ‘Rather than go it alone, ask for training early on,’ says Dr Ben Booth, CIO of global market research firm Ipsos. ‘Then make sure you have a regular meeting [with your boss] to discuss how it’s going, ask for objectives and for help when you need it.’
7. Cool under pressure. As a point of liaison, you’ll face a lot of simultaneous and sometimes contradictory pressures from your bosses, your team and the business as a whole. Hopefully, your seven other amazing attributes will minimise this stress, but they won’t eliminate it. You’ll also feel pressure to stay on top of the ever-emerging trends in IT. Amazing IT managers don’t crumble under pressure, but they also know when to take a break. Everyone has a limit and what sets amazing IT managers apart is the ability to spot that limit coming and take action before it hits.
8. Never afraid to ask for help. ‘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,’ says Brien Posey. Working with partners is a great way to expand the collective knowledge of your department and balance the need for maintenance with the need to make time for innovation.