To Kay Palmer, promoting techies into management jobs solely because they have a neat appearance and some people skills isn’t the best way to pick the IT leaders of tomorrow. “Often, you lose your best technician and only get a so-so manager,” she said recently.

Palmer, CIO at J.B. Hunt Transport Inc. in Lowell, Ark., led the development of an IT management training program that has been adopted by the firm’s HR department for use in other parts of the business. “We really did end up with better managers as a result of this,” Palmer said at the Computerworld Premier 100 IT Leaders Conference in Palm Desert, Cal.

But for many companies, the recruitment and development of future IT leaders remains a back-burner concern, according to conference attendees.

“As long as tech organizations can run reasonably effectively, there is no imperative to focus on leadership development,” said Jerry Bartlett, CIO at TD Ameritrade Holding Corp. in Omaha. But that’s a shortsighted view, he added. “My biggest concern is that by giving short shrift [to IT leadership], there will be a lack of extraordinary leaders in the next generation.”