I’ve been writing a series of career development articles for Tom’s IT Pro lately, aimed in particular at mid-career IT professionals, who often find themselves thinking about how to climb the ladder of career success by at least another rung or two. And indeed, one question that comes up regularly from readers is easy to summarize as “Should I take the management plunge?”
This question is very much worth pondering for everybody who works in IT. It’s essential to understand, however, that for most IT pros moving into management demands a willingness to leave a love for technical details or minutiae behind. At the very least, that stuff will be in the background.
If you’re not ready to at least consider that possibility, then management is probably not a good choice for you.
Rank Your “Management Potential”
1. Which do you prefer: Working at the keyboard, or working with people?
IT can be solitary profession, involving lots of time writing code, running scripts or utilities, dealing with data, and so forth. Though IT managers also manage money, resources, time, and more, what they manage first and foremost is people. If you aren’t into working with others most of the time, then management probably isn’t for you.
2. How are your communications skills? Writing, speaking one-on-one, and giving presentations are all very important elements in management, and you’ve got to have not just skills but real strengths in all aspects of interpersonal communications and relations to succeed as a manager.
This can be a stumbling block, even for the most capable and intelligent IT pros. See my writings on soft skills for some guidance here.
3. How much do you care about business? Can you relate to business goals, organizational success, following rules and regulations, working with HR, and doing things by the book? Managing is a lot about process and all about figuring out how translate overall business goals into what IT must deliver, support and be in order to make achieving those goals as likely or inevitable as possible.
This means understanding more than technology: It also means understanding what your organization is about, how it works, what it needs, and how IT fits into the overall big picture. If you can’t relate to this, and don’t want to try extremely hard to learn how to do these things, then management is definitely NOT for you.
4. Are you ready to step out of the limelight as a star individual contributor and concentrate on helping other people succeed? Ultimately, management is about arming the people who work for you with the skills, resources, and wherewithal to succeed at their assigned tasks and duties.
Management is as much about support and assistance as it is about leadership. Unless you can subordinate your own desires to succeed to your desires to see others excel, management probably isn’t a good fit for you.
5. How strong are your organizational and/or project management skills? Management is mostly about figuring out what needs to be done, by what date, at what level of quality, and within budgetary constraints. That means a good manager has to be strong at organizing, assigning, monitoring and evaluating tasks, deliverables, resources, and people.
You have to be willing to deal with all of the wrinkles that come along with establishing, measuring, and maintaining all of the minutae that go into making other people make stuff happen. Unless you’re really good at — and extremely energetic about — this kind of thing, management is definitely NOT your thing, nor should it be.
It’s a good thing, in fact, that IT has a deep and varied technical track that people can spend their working lives following. While not all IT pros are cut out to be managers, they have plenty of other ways to fill their days, and to fill out their careers.
Stay tuned to this blog, and I’ll follow up on both sides of the management/technical divide in further discussions of professional development for IT pros.