What skills do I need to be an IT manager?

Being an IT manager takes agility. The role is versatile and demanding. You have to switch contexts quickly and prioritize the projects, services, and technology that will have the greatest impact to the business. Depending on the size and structure of your organization, the breadth of your role will vary.

On any given day, you might find yourself:

  • Planning short- and long-term initiatives and technology enhancements across IT systems, services, and infrastructure

  • Coaching and developing a team of functional specialists or cross-functional practitioners

  • Providing guidance or technical reviews to teammates

  • Adjusting the IT budget to reflect a new project or area of focus

  • Meeting with the executive team to share progress towards goals

Doing it all successfully requires a blend of experience and skills — most of which can be learned if you are motivated to grow. Whether you are applying for a new role or looking to improve your current standing as an IT manager, growth starts with self-awareness. Reflect on how you work today and the skills you would like to improve.

Education and experience

IT managers often grow into the role through a balance of preparation and hands-on experience. Most have a bachelor's degree in computer or information science. Some IT managers have an advanced degree in business administration or have completed specialized learning tracks in topics such as cloud computing, network administration, or IT project management.

Not surprisingly, many IT managers start as individual contributors — software developers, system administrators, or IT analysts. This practical progression allows you to gain technical, real-world experience in a given area before stepping into a management role. Having a deep understanding of the individual roles on an IT team better prepares you to empathize with and eventually lead the team.

Skills

IT management roles vary significantly across organizations and industries. Some roles, such as a cybersecurity manager, will be highly specialized — requiring experience using security software and systems. Others may be broader and more general. For example, some IT managers may not need to dig into technical details on a daily basis and will instead be focused on operational efficiency.

No matter your area of focus in the organization, there are some skills that are essential to any type of IT management role. These include:

Business analysis and strategy

Great IT managers are able to articulate the value that IT provides beyond the bits of code or components. You understand the larger goals of the business and how IT helps the organization achieve those objectives. You are passionate about strategic planning — helping people set priorities, invest in the right initiatives, and build more nimble technology and practices. You drive the direction of the IT roadmap.

Communication

You are a strong communicator — switching between technical and non-technical contexts with ease. Whether it is through 1:1 meetings with your team or check-ins with cross-functional leaders, you engage folks in their best work through clear direction, active listening, and productive negotiation.

Leadership

Great leaders are part mentor, coach, and decision-maker. You identify skill alignment and help the team grow. This involves putting the right folks in charge of the right projects — everything from updating software to managing long-term innovation initiatives. You might help a teammate work through a thorny data storage problem or a code review to help a junior team member improve their knowledge of the codebase.

Problem-solving

As an IT manager, you have to evaluate multiple sources of data and feedback — both within the IT team and from external stakeholders. You have a deep sense of responsibility towards your users and take pride in identifying solutions that make their lives easier.

Project management

Many IT leaders are former project managers. Similarly to project management, your role requires you to allocate resources, manage project timelines and dependencies, and mitigate risks to keep everything on schedule. Successful IT managers bring an increased focus on business value to their project management tasks.

Reporting

There is no shortage of data to analyze in an IT environment. You have a strong point of view on which data to collect and why. And most importantly, you understand how you will use that data to deliver better experiences within the organization and to external customers.

Technical expertise

While you may not have technical expertise in each area that you oversee, you have technical acumen — you understand the expertise that is required to be successful and bring in the right team members to collaborate on solutions. You develop questions and technical models to help the team consider alternatives. You also have an awareness of emerging technology trends and potential areas for new investment.

The table above is not exhaustive. There are lots of other skills that could be included — cost management, public speaking, and contract negotiation, to name a few. Beyond these essential skills, you will also find that different organizations and teams value particular traits in managers, such as assertiveness, attention to detail, optimism, and self-discipline.

It may sound like a lot — that is because it is. IT managers are entrusted with motivating and engaging some of the most specialized and significant roles in the organization. Take away the internet, email, applications, and IT security and most businesses could not function. What separates exceptional IT managers from others is your ability to modernize your organization. Every day you have an opportunity to improve the quality of your data, technology, transformation initiatives, and team.

Prepare for the future with IT roadmapping software that helps you set strategy, prioritize investments, and deliver new capabilities to your users. Try Aha! for free for 30 days.

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