7 steps to becoming an IT manager

Are you ready to take it to the next level?

You’ve been working in IT for several years now, and have mastered almost all the aspects of your job. You have been given increasingly responsible roles and you’ve received outstanding performance reviews. You are an excellent developer, an effective business analyst, a skilled network technician or a superior QA analyst. Now you want to take the next step on the ladder to become a manager.

Unfortunately, many candidates hoping for a promotion into a management position are not successful. Most are not successful because they believe that being, say, a top developer means you can do just as well in management. This is NOT the case.

What got you to where you are, will NOT get you to the next level.

Here are 7 steps to help you achieve your goal of becoming an IT manager.  Let’s start with the step you need to take before you even begin.  Let’s start with step 0.

0. Excellence. Before you even begin to think about becoming a manager, ensure that you have mastered your job.  Do your clients appreciate the work you do, and ask for you to work on their assignments and issues?  Do your team-mates come to you for advice and ask for your opinion on difficult matters?  Does your boss call on you for the tough assignments?  And, are you are able to take a project or initiative from inception to successful completion?  You need to be able to say “yes” to all these questions.

1. Understand your business. Many IT team members focus on their specific area of responsibility to become effective at their job. This is very useful in most IT functions. In order to be an effective manager, however, you need to understand the entire business and how the IT department, and your team, play a part in the success of your organization. If you are working on an enhancement to an ERP, ask yourself “why is that important to the organization?” Are you driving for efficiency? Are you going after new markets? The “why” is much more important that the “what”. Once you begin to see how your own personal work contributes to business goals, make sure you talk about it. If your VP, CIO, or CEO asks what you are working on, make sure your answer is in relation to the business. NOT “I’m fixing bugs in our ERP.” “I’m working on improving our ERP so that we can fulfill sales faster” is much, much better.

2. Relationships. An effective IT manager creates strong relationships with co-workers both inside and outside the IT department. If you don’t have “friends” in other departments, now is the time to make some. If you are introverted, this might be difficult, but I can assure you that it is necessary. You don’t have to make friends with everyone around you, but you can make connections within your organization in a way that is comfortable for you. But you MUST make connections.

3. Study leadership and management as entire disciplines just as you would a new API, a new methodology, or a new platform. Leadership and management are two very different disciplines. Study both. If your company offers professional development and you are able to take courses on management or leadership, enroll. If it doesn’t, consider taking an online course on Coursera or at a local college. Do it now, and practice what you learn.

4. Practice Leadership. You are already working in a team setting. Look for ways to lead initiatives. Think of leadership as a set of skills to master. If your work environment is limited in leadership opportunities, consider joining the board of a local charity. Or volunteer to coach a sports team. The rewards for doing these are huge compared to your investment in time, and you will have an opportunity to practice your leadership skills.

5. Diversify. Look for opportunities outside of IT to make connections and to understand other aspects of the business. Join the Health and Safety Committee. Volunteer for the Social Committee. Participate in any lunch-and-learns offered by other departments. Take part in charitable fundraising activities. If you can’t think of ways to do this ask your manager or someone in your HR department for help. Very early in my career, I volunteered to dress up in an over-sized Snoopy costume to represent my company in a Santa Claus parade. It was way out of my comfort zone, but it ended up being a lot of fun, and I ended up meeting several VPs.

6. How do things get done? Become a student of the projects and initiatives within your organization. Why are some projects funded and pushed forward and others not? Why are some projects tremendously successful, while others die on the vine? Once you can answer these questions, make sure you are doing your part to make sure the initiatives you are working on will be successful.

7. Money. Finally, work to understand your organization’s budget cycle and methods. Understand what it takes to get funding for resources.  In order to be successful you need to know how to get the second most important resource for success (the first most important resource is, of course, skilled people).

OK, I guess that’s 8 isn’t it?  Preparing yourself to become an IT manager is hard work, but I can tell you that the role is extraordinarily rewarding. If you decide to try to get to the next step in your career, I wish you the very best!

job promotion

If you have any additional thoughts or questions about proceeding to a management position in IT, I’d be grateful if you included them in the comments below.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Stephen Abraham
Stephen Abraham
Stephen Abraham is the CIO and IT Director for the Medical Council of Canada, the organization that issues Licenciates for Physicians practicing medicine in Canada. Mr. Abraham has been a CIO for a decade. He has made many mistakes during his 30 years in IT, and has learned a few things along the way.

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