How can I learn to be an IT manager?

IT is essential for business success. As more and more companies digitize operations, this work has taken on critical importance. And as a result, the role of IT manager carries a higher level of visibility and accountability than it used to.

Job prospects and compensation have followed that upward trajectory. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that IT manager jobs will grow 11 percent between 2018 and 2028 with income ranging from $87,000 up to $200,000.

Making the switch to a role in management requires a new set of skills and responsibilities — which might not be right for everyone. You will lead a team and likely manage larger initiatives, IT environments, and budgets. It helps to deeply understand the responsibilities so you can ensure that you are prepared to take on a leadership role.

Embrace company strategy

IT teams used to function as a back-office silo. The opposite is true today. IT is inherent in most business operations. Being a successful manager means deeply understanding your company's vision and business strategy — as well as how IT supports and strengthens both.

Think about how you approach your work today. Can you connect what you do to higher-level goals and initiatives at the company? Are you able to navigate conflicting directives and prioritize the most meaningful work? Demonstrate your ability to make these kinds of strategic choices — others will notice and follow suit. You will gain visibility in the organization when you focus on the work that matters most.

Another way to show commitment is to engage with company leaders and stay informed of company progress. Read the organization's annual reports, marketing materials, security guidelines, and RFPs. Ask other teams to share their challenges and wins. The goal is to be as knowledgeable as you can about the company's direction so you can contribute to its success.

Broaden your IT expertise

Expand your scope of knowledge beyond your individual team to understand how the entire IT department brings value to the organization. Reach out to peers on other teams to learn about their tools, processes, and workflows.

The point is not to replicate their expertise but to get a deeper understanding of all areas of infrastructure — data analytics, information security, storage, cloud services, networking, and software development. Seeing the bigger picture allows you to make connections across teams and identify problems that you will be poised to solve as a manager.

Stay current with what is happening in your industry and across technologies. Have a point of view on how your company can modernize, whether with DevOps practices, updates to legacy technology, or cloud-native initiatives.

Enhance your leadership skills

People are the most important asset at any company. As a manager, your job is to facilitate and support great work — through leadership, coaching, and responsiveness. Great leaders model behaviors that promote the company's values and are invested in the success of the team. Seek opportunities to share knowledge with others, resolve process bottlenecks, and celebrate shared success.

Some organizations offer training courses for prospective managers — take these or find a course of your own. Knowing how to lead with conviction and empathy will help you earn trust from your peers and potential direct reports.

Make a plan

Talk to your manager about your career goals and ask for feedback about how you can prepare for a management role. Come up with a written plan together that outlines the concrete steps to prepare for that next role. Potential steps could include the following:

Set your intention

What kind of management role do you want? What opportunities exist in the organization? What is a realistic timeline for advancement?

Create stretch goals

Determine the areas in which you need to improve and how you will show mastery.

Identify new areas of responsibility

Choose upcoming initiatives and projects that you can lead. Be purposeful about how you plan, communicate, and report on progress.

Mentor teammates

Look for opportunities to coach junior members of the team — through onboarding, code reviews, or more formal coaching.

Seek feedback

Ask for honest feedback from your peers to understand what it is like working with you today and how you can improve in the future.

Meet regularly with your manager to review your career plans and evaluate your growth. Come prepared with an agenda and discuss how you are progressing on your goals. Transparency is key — being forthright about your growth areas can be refreshing and a bit intimidating. With intentional preparation and a solid plan, you will be ready to take the next step in your career.

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