How to Succeed as an IT Manager

Not everyone who works in IT dreams of becoming a manager. Perhaps you started out as a JAVA developer or database architect. Now, someone has tapped you on the shoulder and asked you to take on more responsibility. How do you make the transition from peer to boss? This moment could have been a few days, a few years or decades ago. However, it's never too late to rethink the basics or pass on advice to someone transitioning into a leadership role.

What You Need to Become an IT Manager

Experience. A career in IT management is usually preceded by several years of relevant work experience, which is required to truly understand what it takes to get things done. Six years is a good benchmark for credible experience in the field. Along the way, practice your soft skills in dealing with people and setting expectations. Where possible, try not to focus solely on technical expertise, since your ultimate goal also demands mentoring and inspiring others.

Education. Most successful candidates for IT management positions will at least have completed a Bachelor’s degree. It's very common for prospective managers to have a master's in IT management as well as project management and other certifications. Your education should include a blend of technical and business skills geared toward development and management of IT solutions across different industries. If you are considering going back to school to further your career, a certification or degree in IT management can bring you up to speed on recent trends, like cloud computing and virtualization. 

Hot topics to discover through school or on your own include:

  • Systems Design
  • IT Project Management
  • IT Operations
  • Risk Management

Hard and Soft Skills That Help You Get Noticed

Whether you are a people person or a hotshot developer with hard technical skills, you have to spread your wings to succeed as an IT manager. Try to focus on any opportunity to develop the following or similar hard skills:

  • Oracle
  •  SQL
  • SAP
  • Java
  • Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems

Successful IT leaders must have a fundamental understanding of many processes, including budgeting, project management, resource allocation and recruiting.

Six Essential Leadership Skills for IT Managers

Maintain Credibility. This covers a lot of ground. So many times managers gloss over uncomfortable topics or shade the truth. Nobody expects their manager to have all the answers, but everyone appreciates a straight answer.

Hold Employees Accountable. By setting a high bar for integrity, you make it clear there is no double standard. However, in IT,  it's important for developers and analysts to own their mistakes. It's hard to find a root cause if someone is being dodgy about an inadvertent mistake. 

Set Clear Objectives. In IT, there are a number of tools and methodologies available to help teams succeed. Project plans and life cycle management frameworks, such as ITIL, make it easy to plan, track and share progress and hurdles on multiple projects. These tools only work if everyone is on the same page and understands their role in the project clearly.

Know the Business. It's easier to transition into a management role if you've come up through the ranks. Often, however, a jump to management involves changing companies or even working in an entirely new industry. You'll only get so many passes on rookie mistakes. So, do as much research as you can on your own. Then, talk to your team. Interview each team member to understand their role and aspirations. This is just as important as coming up to speed on the project timelines and management expectations. 

Develop Your Employees. Many employees in technical fields get stuck performing the same tasks or developing repetitive projects. Where possible, look for projects that will challenge your people. Encourage cross-training that gives less tenured members a chance to pick up new skills. Stronger bench strength allows you to look out for opportunities for accomplished team members without jeopardizing the project.

Don't be Afraid of Conflict. In a field where long hours are the norm during crunch periods, tempers flare and moods sour. Try not to take it personally. Sometimes, people just need to let off a little steam. On the other hand, after you have heard what everyone has to say, steer the conversation back to the objective at hand. Encourage passionate conversations about finding resolutions rather than winning personal conflicts.

About the Author: Nancy Peckham

Nancy began her career in telecommunications in 1983 as an account executive with Republic Telecom, a regional long distance carrier. She was named district sales manager for the Wisconsin region in 1987 when Republic Telecom was acquired by Mid American Communications. She recognized a need for independent, objective telecommunications consulting which led her founding Valicom. Since its launch in 1991, Valicom has been a leader in providing telecom expense management solutions and serves enterprise and mid-market clients in a variety of industries and verticals across the U.S. Nancy earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, founded and served as president of the Telecommunications Professionals of Wisconsin (TPW) from 1989-1992, and was executive vice president on the board of directors of the Society of Telecommunications Consultants (STC). Nancy is also a founding member and executive council chair of the Independent Telecommunications Expense Management Association (i-TEM).