So, you want to be a technology manager

If you are looking to advance your technology career in management, there are plenty of opportunities for the right people. The first wave of IT leaders is nearing retirement. These were the men and women pioneers, many of them who happened to be in the right place at the right time during the last 20 years during the revolution of the personal computer.

Managing isn’t for everyone. Nor is it something to be waded into. Unfortunately, that is how most of us get there. We were good at something, so others thought we could/should/would manage a project or unit. But the skills that got us here are not necessarily the skills that help us succeed in management.

Effective [technology] managers and leaders develop other skills and character traits.

  • A positive attitude and ‘can-do’ spirit
  • Organization and follow-through
  • Project management skills
  • Strong writing and presentation skills
  • Active listening skills
  • Ability to discuss complex technical issues in lay terms
  • A keen sense of the organization’s strategic mission
  • Ability to coach and bring out the best in those around them
  • Positive role modeling
  • Passion for remaining current in the field
  • A willingness to do whatever it takes, which sometimes requires long hours
  • Ability to delegate appropriately
  • Desire to work for, with and sometimes around people
  • Propensity for personal reflection
  • Humility and the knowledge that there are no right answers, only solutions yet to be discovered
  • Ego strength to absorb criticism without taking it personally
  • Strong sense of self that is not necessarily defined by work
  • Knowledge of when to lead, when to help, when to follow
  • Humility

Few people meet all these areas. However, many are skills and traits that can be developed.

If you have been successful in your career to date and want to advance into a technical management role, here are some things to consider.

  • Management training and professional development
  • An advanced or terminal degree
  • A mentor, someone in the organization you trust, respect and demonstrates leadership
  • Discussion this with your supervisor (or mentor) and see what the needs of the organization are and how you might fit into and advancing role
  • Develop a career plan
  • Assess your strengths and weaknesses (see bullets above)
  • Ask others about your skills
  • Become an expert project manager, first on small scale and work your way up
  • Study effective leaders and what they’ve done
  • Read, read, read
  • Write, write, write
  • Identify your organizations key challenges in the next 1-5 years
  • Do the Myers-Briggs, DISC or other (meant to be done in teams and with facilitator, but you can find your way to online surveys that will score you right away. The key is to look for results analysis and how people with your profile work with others.)
  • Be patient, be persistent

It is also important to assert a leadership role over your own career development. Others may help, and organizations may provide training, but don’t fall prey to the entitlement trap. Organizations will help you as long as it’s in their interest. Training budgets are finite and politics can sway allocations. The best approach is to be your own advocate and consultant. If you need to learn a new skill or technology, take initiative. If someone asked you about a new technology or product, learn about it. Become an expert on your own!

Organizations seek managers and leaders who can make things happen. They can deal with ambiguity and find their way through it. These are not the people who see something wrong (or absurd) and broadcast the problems (or absurdity). Rather, those who simply take the initiative to do something about it and offer viable alternatives and solutions.

Suggested readings: Job Shift and On Becoming a Technology Leader.

More on managing your technology career...