Being a manager is not as easy as it looks. Lots of IT workers may aspire to management positions, but many are shell-shocked when they finally get that promotion. On assuming a management role, you find yourself in the driver's seat. You are the one giving out assignments and fielding questions from lower-level employees, and you are the point of contact for their concerns and other issues. In addition, your own bosses expect more of you. You have to give presentations, attend numerous meetings and stay on top of what's going on around your department. In general, you find yourself "on the spot" with a much greater frequency. For a person without specific management training, this is not always easy to handle. But what are the key areas that make a successful manager?
The first and foremost skill that successful managers possess is stellar communication skills. According to Kim Batson, a Certified Career Management Coach in the Seattle region, IT workers often wonder why some are promoted more easily than others even when their technical skills or experience may not be as extensive. Communication skills are often the answer. "The art of communicating effectively is the single most important key for technology professionals in moving their careers to the next level," Batson says. "For the most part, those that go far in their careers have carefully developed and paid attention to the way they come across to others."
Social awareness is another component of the successful manager. "Many IT professionals have very strong technical capabilities but they really haven't honed relationship skills," says Betty Vandenbosch, Associate Dean of Executive Education and External Relations for Case Western Reserve University. Managers have to be able to put themselves in the place of lower-level employees and be able to understand the best methods of communication. "I think lots of performance problems result when people don't know what to do; it's not usually skill or attitude," Vandenbosch says. "A new manager is particularly prone to this because they give assignments in way they'd like to have their own assignments presented to them and they forget that they have to take responsibility for that communication."
Social awareness and communication skills go hand in hand to facilitate a third area of the successful manager, which is the ability to maximize and encourage teamwork. "As a manager, your job is to make the most out of everyone's skills and capabilities so that the sum is greater than the parts," says Vandenbosch. A common mistake made by new managers is to not ask others' opinions often enough, but people will feel more personally committed when decisions are made with their own input.
Batson agrees. "In a meeting, the successful manager may be the last to say anything until they've heard everyone else's point of view on the subject of the day. Then they speak carefully, thinking before speaking, making a few salient points that are highly relevant to the listeners."
Perhaps the most important skill of the manager is being able to understand the mechanics of leadership. "Perhaps the biggest mistake is mistaking authority and status for real leadership," says Vandenbosch. It isn't status or time at the company that makes a person a leader, but something more. "You can be the lowest level employee in the company and still be a leader if you encourage others to be the best that they can be," she points out.
Numerous workshops and soft skills programs exist to help new managers or hopeful managers improve their skills. Sometimes, these programs can provide deep personal insight as well. "You always think you're a good listener until you study listening and you practice what you study," says Molly Mahoney, an attendee of the Regional Leadership Forums sponsored by Society for Information Management. In addition to seminars, there are numerous books available for those who absorb information best through reading. All in all, the most important thing is being willing to constantly improve yourself and know your strengths.
"We tell our folks that managing requires a full repertoire of capabilities," says Vandenbosch. "The root is really knowing and managing yourself."