Do You Have What It Takes To Be An IT Manager?

by drjim on November 21, 2013

Do you have what it takes to be an IT manager?

Do you have what it takes to be an IT manager?
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So everyone can be an IT manager, right? If you said yes, then you’ve not met some of the managers that I’ve had to work for during my career. The answer is that no, not everyone has the required IT manager skills and they are not cut out to be a manager. However, knowing if this is that path that you should take is a very important question and just how you go about getting an answer to it is what we just don’t spend enough time talking about.

How Most Companies Create Their IT Managers

The world is filled with people who really should not be IT managers. You might be asking yourself: how can this be? Isn’t there some clever goof-proof process by which companies can determine who will be a good leader of people and then simply promote them?

Well, it turns out that this is not the case – as I’m sure that we’ve all seen mistakes made in selecting IT managers at different times during our careers. The problem is that the things that make a person a good individual performer are not the same things that make someone a good IT manager. It is a completely different set of skills that are required in order to perform the manager job. This is where so many companies go wrong when they are selecting their next batch of managers.

What is generally missed is a good understanding of just exactly what a manager does. Managers focus on people – not projects. It’s all about IT team building. A manager needs to understand that he or she can’t get something done by themselves, they need the help of others. Managers need to truly believe in that team stuff and they need to have a broad focus – lots of things all the same time. This is all so very different than what an individual contributor engineer does.

Why “Sink Or Swim” Is The Wrong Way To Pick Managers

So here’s a bit a harsh life-lesson for you: not everyone is cut out to be a manager. Some of us can rise to the challenge and we enjoy having an opportunity to lead a team and to accomplish more than we know that we could ever get done all by ourselves. However, some people don’t like this – they would prefer to continue to maximize their contribution and to only have to worry about accomplishing a very narrow set of objectives. No answer is right or wrong, you just need to make sure that you know what the right answer for you is.

At a lot of companies, they use the “sink or swim” approach to finding their next batch of managers. They promote a lot of promising technical folks and then they take a wait-and-see approach to finding out which ones of them will be good managers. This is damaging to everyone involved. The folks who are not good manager material feel embarrassed, the teams that they are managing are lost and unproductive, and a lot of time is wasted.

A much better way of going about determining who is made of the right stuff to become a manager is to provide candidates with IT manager training — an opportunity to learn what the job requires. There are a lot of different ways to go about doing this, but the most effective that I’ve discovered is a set of training classes that promising prospects go through before they are promoted. They get to see what the job requires. If experienced managers can present the material and share real-world examples with the class, then the learning is even more effective. Based on what the students in the class learn, when they get presented with the opportunity to become a manager, they’ll be able to make the right decision for themselves.

What All Of This Means For You

Every company out there desperately needs skilled IT managers. However, all too often they just pick good engineers and because they have excellent technical skills, the company assumes that they’ll learn to be good mangers.

We know that this is not always the case. Being a manager is all about knowing how to work with people. This can be quite different from what it takes to be a good engineer. If the wrong people get asked to become managers, then the entire IT department can suffer.

The right way to pick IT managers is to expose manager candidates to the job before they have to accept the offer. Make sure that they fully understand what the job will be requiring of them. Allow them to self-select: if becoming a manager is not what they want, allow them to bow out early on. Do this correctly and the IT department will only have excited, dedicated IT managers leading them to future successes.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: How much exposure to what a manager does do you think is necessary for an engineer to decide if becoming a manager is the right decision for them?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

We can talk about what a good boss looks like and does until we’re blue in the face; however, maybe it might be just as important to spend a moment talking about what a bad IT manager looks like. The thinking here is that if you know what they look like, then you can avoid becoming one of them…

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Kate November 27, 2013 at 5:57 am

Yup. A good manager always focuses on people, on his team.

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