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Management requires special skills

Moving into management is tempting to many IT pros, but before jumping into a position you’re not ready for, there are a few issues you should examine.

I’ve been fortunate to have managed thousands of employees in my 20-plus years of managing IT resources. One of the interesting things I’ve consistently noticed during that time is how many employees want to become managers.

I absolutely love managing IT organizations and the people within them, but it’s not all glory and accolades. There is also hard work, frustration and tremendous challenges required to do the job right. So before you start applying for that open management role, you should take a closer look at the job.

Review the four points discussed below and decide if you’re prepared to move successfully into management nirvana.

1. Answer the “why?”

When interviewing or counseling employees, I’m often confronted with someone’s desire to become a manager, and the first question I ask is, “Why?”

Their response can provide a useful perspective. Here are a few examples that I’ve gotten over the years:

  • “I want to be the boss.”
  • “I want the authority and prestige of the position.”
  • “I want to tell others what they should do.”
  • “I don’t know; it just seems like the natural course for my career.”
  • “I want to attend management meetings and learn what the company is planning.”
  • ”I want to build a big organization.”

At the time, the staffers who provided these responses didn’t have a clue what an IT manager’s job involved. In fact, most IT professionals don’t. Too many get thrown into management positions with little or no preparation to do the job effectively. The result is pretty predictable.

Your answer to “Why do you want to be a manager?” reveals a great deal about what you want from a job and how you view the role of IT in the company.

Many technicians see the role as one that defines the technology direction of the company and determines what tools to use.

For them, the allure of a management position is the ability to make these decisions. To some extent, this is true, but many don’t get the fact that what really drives these decisions is the company’s needs and not necessarily the technical knowledge the manager may possess.

2. Current competency isn’t all that’s needed

Being good at what you do does not necessarily prepare you for a management position.

Let me repeat that: Just because a person is an outstanding technician doesn’t mean the person will be a good, or even an average, manager.

The growth of technology in the last 20 years has created a large demand for more IT managers, and many have found themselves in the role without anything more to help them than what they learned in their former positions.

Certainly, knowing how to program can benefit you in a programming manager role, but it can also be a limiting factor.

When you take the best software developers and make them managers, the company and CIO often lose their best productive resources plus a very green person is now placed in a management role that directly influences many others.

For many years, it was thought that the best resource in a technical area could effectively manage the rest of the team.

WRONG!

That’s not only a false idea; it can also be a dangerous one for the company, the IT organization, and even the employees touched by such a move.

The fact is that effectively managing employees and technology resources has very little to do with how technical you are and more to do with your ability to facilitate, persuade, plan, organize, motivate and communicate.

You don’t hear anything very technical in these terms.

Suddenly, what becomes more important is not what you can do yourself, but what you can get accomplished through others. This is a tremendously difficult transition for most technical experts to make – i.e., to start depending upon others more than of themselves.

Management is like any other skill. You can learn it, but the key issue is that it’s a different skill set from what you have used as a technician.

Of course, the fact that you have been successful as a technical resource does give you a head start, because it helps you relate to others who have technical roles.

When you become a manager, you have to let others do the technical part, so you can focus your time and energy on doing the management part.

With technology changing as rapidly as it is, it’s almost impossible to continue being a technical expert and expect to be an excellent manager. Managing an IT organization is a challenging and fulltime job.

If you take nothing else away from this article, take the message that when you decide to become an IT manager, you have to focus your time and energy on things that help you succeed as a manager.

If you like solving problems, learning new technologies, and implementing new tools and technology, you may want to stay in your technical role. That’s what technical experts do.

Managers don’t have time to become experts in the new technologies and do their management jobs well, especially if you are in a large company.

3. Positioning yourself for management

I’m not suggesting you can’t become a manager if you truly want to. Take my insight as a message to prepare and understand what the job is really all about before taking the leap.

It’s not about giving orders and telling others what to do as much as you might think. If that were the case, it would be a simpler deal.

Here are five steps to take in your current role to prepare for a management position:

  • Learn how to manage projects and establish a successful track record of managing projects that are delivered on time and within budget. Developing sound project management skills is the best preparatory step as the role requires many of the skills needed in a management position.
  • Observe successful managers managing and motivating employees. When you see something that’s effective, incorporate it into your skills “toolkit.”
  • Find a mentor who has a successful management track record and is willing to help you develop management skills and offer insight. Mentors are invaluable and can help you save time, avoid wasted effort, and reduce frustration because they know the shortcuts that are effective as a manager, just as you know the shortcuts in your technical role.
  • Tell your current supervisor that you’re looking to move into a management position and would like help preparing for the new challenge.
  • Ask for more responsibility so you can develop new management skills. Be sure you preface the request so that it’s clear that you want it to help you develop skills that will prepare you for a management role.

4. There’s no quick shortcut

Depending upon your background and experience, you may have a long road ahead in your preparation efforts. Don’t expect to be offered a management position the week after you ask for it. You need to realize that management roles require new skills, so you should be prepared to make the investment to develop those skills.

Over the years, I’ve turned down a few management/promotion requests from staffers who were not ready to become managers.

But for those who showed a genuine desire to become a manager and who I thought had good potential for management, I made an investment in them. Many turned out to be exceptional IT managers.

If I had moved them into management roles, unprepared in both perspective and skill set, I would have been negligent as a manager myself and could have damaged their careers.

In every case, the first question I ask is, “Why do you want to be a manager?”

In many cases, the initial answer is not the same answer given a year later when they better understand the role.

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