What is it going to take to be an effective IT manager as we roll into the millennium? Are there skills we should have but don’t? Are there skills we have but won’t need? Probably yes on both counts. Let’s take a look at the essential skills of a 21st century manager.

A 21st century manager is technical, but not too technical. The number of technologies we work with on a daily basis is broadening, and the amount of knowledge needed to operate effectively in each environment is deepening.

Once upon a time, you could know everything about everything and thus be the obvious choice for a management position. You just can’t do that any more. Instead, become an expert on one or two issues and acquire or train talent to cover the rest of the bases. If you have so small a shop that you can’t cover the information you need with the staff you have, consider using consultants.

Twenty-first century managers are fast on their feet. As the saying goes, it’s better to make a decision based on incomplete data than not make a decision at all. Because of the fast-moving nature of the industry, if you make a wrong decision, it does not take long to learn from — and then bury — your mistakes. But if you make no decisions, the industry is likely to bury you.

A 21st century manager has excellent people-management skills. Attracting and retaining quality employees in this industry is harder than it has ever been. If you lose a good worker to a competitor, you may not be able to replace that person for a long time, so stay current with your employees’ needs.

If you can’t give them salary increases, reward them in other ways, such as through additional professional training. Such a gesture says, “I respect your skills and want you to continue to enhance them. I am willing to spend money so that you can advance as an individual, and I trust you enough to believe that you will bring those skills back and help me with them, rather than my competitor.”

A 21st century manager can communicate. It’s great to have a vision, but if you can’t communicate it to those who hold the purse strings, you’re sunk before you’ve left the dock. Develop writing and speaking skills. If you’re not comfortable speaking in front of a group, take a public-speaking course.

Writing takes practice, but there are shortcuts. As you read your favourite authors’ works, note the stylistic items that make their voices different from others. Think about what makes you a different person and how to translate that into your writing.

All in all, a 21st century manager is a versatile, flexible person who concentrates more on building and leading teams of excellence than on individual status and accomplishments.

In the past, IT managers’ personality quirks were accepted because these folks were considered “different.” Today, the only acceptable IT manager is one who strives to be “better.”