Moving from a first line management role (IT Manager) to a manager of managers (IT Director), is a bigger professional transition than you may think.
It may seem obvious to say that becoming a manager of managers (to be referred to here as an IT Director) pushes you one step further away from the people using the technology and from the technology itself. This may sound like a trivial distinction, but it has major ramifications on your ability to keep up with technological advances and the type of people you work with on a daily basis.
Regarding keeping up with technology, as a first-line manager, you may not personally work hands-on with technologies your group is using, but the people working for you are hands-on. As a result, you are still involved in technical decisions and are still immersed and surrounded by technical related activities. As an IT Director, you are totally insulated from the actual work being performed, thus, almost completely removed from the technical work.
From a workload perspective, rather than spending your time managing projects and techies, your day is spent on less tactical/project work and more on strategic cross-functional and organizational activities such as budgeting, salary planning, Disaster/Recovery planning, resource scheduling, project prioritization, corporate politicking, status reporting and presentation writing.
These are of course very important processes that help assure company functions are running smoothly and efficiently. While this type of work requires a deep level of skill, it’s managerial skill, not technical skill. That said, the move into middle and upper management is a tradeoff of one skill set for another. That is to say, as your technical skills diminish, your managerial skills expand.
What you can do, as an IT Manager, to properly position yourself to be a future IT Director include: 1. Start thinking like a CIO, it will help you broaden your perspective and help you gain a deeper understanding of IT and your company as a whole. 2. Opportunistically observe how office politics are played at your boss’s level. This understanding will not only help you position yourself for that next promotion, it will also enhance your performance when you step into your new role. 3. If your employer allows it, begin speaking at industry conferences related to your professional area. This external notoriety can help increase your internal professional brand. It will also provide you with the opportunity to hone your public speaking skills and expand your professional network outside of your company. 4. Become an avid reader of books on leadership, IT management, organizational change and other related topics. The content will help you grow as an IT leader and your expanded knowledge can opportunistically be used to show people you are well schooled. 5. Try to expand your visibility with upper management. That said, do it in an appropriate way given your company’s internal politics and culture. 6. Write great status reports. Not only does it build a written record of your great work, it also illustrates your ability to write well and your competency as a manager. Additionally, it’s a great way to inform your manager’s manager of your great work. The reason your status report finds its way up two organizational levels is because, if your manager likes how you have written your status report, he/she will cut and paste it into his/her staff report, thus sending it up to the next level.
In closing, as you move to an IT Director role and ultimately into higher levels of management, understand that you must continue to grow as both a person and a professional. Every level brings with it new challenges, new opportunities, and new ways to grow.
If you have any questions about your career in IT, please email me at eric@ManagerMechanics.com or find me on Twitter at @EricPBloom.
Until next time, work hard, work smart, and continue to build your professional brand.
Read more of Eric Bloom's Your IT Career blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Eric on Twitter at @EricPBloom. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.