Take your hands off the tiller to advance

You need to let go of the past if your dream is to become a senior IT manager or CIO.

That’s basically the message I tried to convey during my recent participation in Ignite Your Career – a live Webcast by Microsoft Canada that focused on the topic of, What Does it Take to Become an IT Manager? The fact is that today’s senior IT managers must be prepared to stop addressing day-to-day operations. Ask CIOs where they spend most of their working time and they’ll tell you that it’s in dealing with people rather than technology.

That proof point comes from our recent State-of-the-CIO survey where we asked 235 Canadian CIOs and others who identified themselves as the most senior IT manager in their companies how they spend most of their time. Most say it’s in interacting with other CXOs, focusing on strategic planning and systems issues, and hiring, developing or managing their IT staffs. Only 16 per cent said they spend time learning about new technologies. Only 5 per cent declare that they’re directly managing IT crisis.

Clearly it’s difficult, if not impossible, for a senior IT manager to remain operationally hands-on or stay current with the latest and greatest developments in IT. Consider further what CIOs say are the skills they believe it takes to be a successful IT management leader. The ability to communicate, the ability to lead and motivate staff, and strategic thinking and planning skills rank far and away as the top three personal skills pivotal to success, they contend. Only three per cent of respondents say IT proficiency is a pivotal success skill. Being a successful IT manager is all about being a “people” rather than “technology” person. And as CIOs and other IT managers take on a more important role with their businesses, that will only become a greater imperative.

It’s why I insist that you can’t have it both ways. An IT professional that thinks he or she can remain as deeply immersed in the operational aspects of their enterprise business and do the job of manager is mistaken. Being an IT manager is an entirely different role with a dramatically different focus. So if that’s the career path you choose you’ll need to be prepared to let go of your past life of technology-first orientation.

You can’t have it both ways. To be or not to be an IT manager means you must choose.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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