Whether you’re already working in IT management or still on your way up, you should be sure of one thing: that you’re as comfortable working with people as you are working with tech.
As a leader in IT, you’re responsible for much more than technology. You’ll likely spend as much – or more – of your time working and communicating with people as you do on technical tasks.
While that responsibility might be exactly what you’re looking for as an IT professional, it still takes an adjustment. You’ll need to spend time developing soft skills, growing and managing your team and communicating with other members of the leadership team.
“To adjust to these new leadership responsibilities, CIOs must develop business acumen, expand their executive and board connections and share technology decisions with a broader business team,” Gartner’s Suzanne Adnams says.
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For those of us who have spent more time sitting at our computers or working with other IT pros, this can be a challenge. Here are 4 key ways to speed up that process.
Hone your team growth skills
One of the most exciting trends in IT right now also highlights one of the biggest challenges for leadership in general: hiring. To ensure that your team can grow and support the rest of the organization, you’ll need to hone your skills in screening, interviewing and onboarding.
The Society for Information Management found that 61% of organizations increased their IT recruiting and hiring in 2017, and 70% expect further increases this year. IT’s role within organizations is expanding, and new technologies require onboarding specialists.
There are also new specialties to account for. For each new technology you bring into your business, such as AI or IoT, you’ll need to either find new hires with the skills to support it or reallocate your current resources to train existing team members as necessary.
Cultivate a leadership mindset
Becoming a leader means transitioning from an IT individual, responsible mainly for yourself and your own projects, to a leader with responsibility for your team.
You’ll need to be able to keep your team focused, inspired and motivated – while also managing your communication with other teams. You’ll likely spend more time in meetings, delegating work and collaborating with other executives and managers. Many managers and aspiring execs turn to leadership coaches, books and on-demand online courses for valuable advice on handling this transition.
Leading and collaborating effectively requires a strong leadership mindset, with habits and outlooks that positively impact others. “Learn how to think like a leader, how to grow people, how to be more purposeful and intentional with your time,” says coach Emily Hawkins in the intro to her LeaderSHIFT course. “Set a clear vision for your team and your organization, so that things are done quickly and you are a more fulfilled, happier leader.”
Adapt to changes
This next challenge can plague all managers and execs, regardless of department. In a field like technology, however, where such important changes and updates can happen quickly, it’s compounded even further.
When you’re more distanced from day-to-day work and instead focused on delegating or managing the bigger picture, you’re at risk of falling behind. You may be used to tackling specific types of tasks on certain timetables, but management thinking has a different rhythm.
As an IT leader, you’re also often expected to be the one bringing new innovations to the table. Increasingly, CIOs are focusing on improving business outcomes like revenue growth and profit margins. The rest of your company’s executives will expect you to have the expertise and data to help introduce change and improve other areas of the business.
Balancing these expectations with your bigger picture role can be a constant challenge, especially if your organization moves slowly.
Work with other executives
Finally, becoming a manager or executive calls for working and communicating with people outside your own team – and doing so a lot more often. While this might mean dealing with cross-functional teams, you’ll also be spending a lot of other time working with the leaders of other departments and business units.
To collaborate most effectively and best represent your own team’s interests, you’ll need a strong understanding of everyone else’s tactical considerations and goals. That mutual understanding will lay the groundwork for healthy relationships between IT and other departments that will make everyone’s work easier.
You’ll also be able to advocate for your team and interests around other executives and in the boardroom. A confident and compelling presence around your colleagues will influence their opinions of IT as a whole.
Just don’t try to change too much too quickly. “Unless you’ve been hired to clean up a mess left by a former manager, avoid making sweeping changes during the first three to six months in your new position,” recommends Ed Tittel from Tom’s IT Pro. “You should assess processes and procedures for efficiency, and come up with some ideas to improve work flow, and then plan how to implement changes incrementally.”
Take on the challenge
If you’re serious about becoming an IT leader, you’ll need to get comfortable with stepping outside of IT and into more general business strategy. You will likely face hiring difficulties, competing interests with other teams and hurdles for cultivating the right team culture – but if you dream of putting CIO in your LinkedIn profile, it will all be worth it.
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