Being the top tech person in your company once meant you worked primarily with hardware and software. Those days are long gone. Today's IT managers must operate as smoothly with staff and customers as they do with machines and interfaces.
Brian Margarita, founder and CEO of San Diego-based IT staffing firm TalentFuse, says IT managers need to expand their skills beyond the technical realm and focus on the core mission and components that make up the business, including internal staff, customers, partners, distributors and shareholders.
"Like any great commander, the key to becoming a successful IT manager is being involved," says Margarita. "You can't bark orders from the sidelines and expect things to get completed exactly the way you want them done. As a manager, you are expected to lead by example -- you share the success as well as the setbacks."
Seeing the Big Picture
Steve Claggett, president and COO of Ajilon Consulting, a Baltimore-based IT consulting firm, agrees that today's IT managers primarily manage people. This involves identifying driving industry forces and internal customer needs, as well as coaching and mentoring staff.
Ajilon offers professional-development opportunities on both the technical and management sides of the business, says Claggett. Keeping an open mind and attending client or customer meetings are considered important parts of an IT manager's duties.
"It used to be that knowledge of IT systems alone was most important," says Claggett. "Today we know that systems knowledge must be combined with an understanding of the business, customers, employees and industry."
The Job Description
An IT manager's job description varies according to the size of the company, his reporting level within it and the strategic value of IT within the organization, says Claggett. At one end of the spectrum, IT managers are concerned with meeting deadlines and providing specific service levels. At the other, they are involved in long-range planning, discussions with business leaders about innovative approaches to market, creative process enhancements to improve the enterprise's product cost, and discussions with top management on upgrading internal corporate infrastructure to increase organizational effectiveness.
According to Claggett, successful IT managers are adept at:
- Discerning the difference between price and value. This ability helps with human resources decisions, buying software and hardware and especially with deciding which functions to keep in-house and which to outsource.
- Negotiating and collaborating, not only within IT, but also with people in other departments. Mistakes include not staying in touch with customer needs or keeping up with trends in the company's industry as well as in the broader IT world.
A Talent for Inspiring Talent
Exceptional technical skill isn't necessarily required to become an exceptional IT manager, says Margarita. "A great manager with average technical skill who can successfully command and inspire a team is much more valuable to the organization than one brilliant mind who stands alone."
Margarita says great IT managers:
- Have a good general understanding of several technologies and systems rather than superior knowledge in one area. They also seek out top talent and experts to accomplish goals and objectives, though they might not be experts themselves. They get the experts working for them.
- Trust in their appointed team leaders and junior managers. They let the reins go and believe in the abilities of their support staff. Micromanaging is a sure way to kill a project, and it also puts restraints on subordinates' ability to grow through experience.
"A good manager surrounds him or herself with talented people, so training and education are key," says Claggett. "Contact your HR department to create an online education program. Encourage your team to build relationships with people in other departments, and talk to those who interface with the clients. These steps will increase the knowledge base of you and your team and will help you better understand how and where you can make a difference."
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