10 soft skills needed by IT managers

I was just promoted from a Java programming job to Manager of Software Development. As a manager, what else do I need to know in addition to my technical skills?

As an IT manager, it’s your ability to communicate, work with others, solve conflicts, negotiate on behalf of yourself, your team and your company, and other soft skills based abilities that will ultimately drive your success or failure in the IT management ranks. In fact, the higher your organizational level, the less important your technical skills become.

That said, there are a number of soft skills that would be well worth your while to master, include the following:

1. Conflict Management: Conflicts can arise from many different directions. You may have a business user unhappy with your services or a decision you made on his/her behalf. You may have an issue with an employee who refuses to follow your directions. You may continually be at odds with one of your fellow managers. Whatever its origin, your ability to work through the issues in a business-like, efficient, and socially viable manner can enhance your reputation as a team player and simultaneously help you reach your objectives.

2. Negotiation Skills: As the title of Chester L. Karrass’ book title alludes, ”In Business As in Life, You Don't Get What You Deserve, You Get What You Negotiate”.

As a manager, you are not only negotiating for yourself, you are also negotiating items related to your team. For example, if you do a poor job negotiating the end date of a project, your poor negotiation skills may force you and your team to work nights and weekends to meet an unrealistic due date. As another example, if you negotiate poorly with your boss over your department’s office space, your team will get a view of the parking lot behind the building instead of the beautiful view of the ocean on the other side of the building.

3. Vendor management: The selection, oversight, and administration of vendors is key to managerial success. Within IT, this skill will continue to grow in importance as IT outsources more and more services and processes to third party providers.

4. Active Listening: This may sound like a rather unimportant skill, but think again. The ability to properly listen to the needs of your staff, management, vendors, and internal business partners can help you be a better manager as well as provide better service to your department’s constituency.

5. Presentation skills: Your ability to create and deliver a quality presentation to key decision makers within your company can help you increase your budget, get your favorite project approved, and even potentially get you a promotion.

6. Delegation: In short, if you can’t delegate, you can’t manage effectively. As a manager, it’s your job to orchestrate the work done within your department. This orchestration includes assigning tasks to those on your team. If you try to do it all yourself your team will be underutilized and you will be overworked.

7. Leading without authority: The IT function, by its nature, tends to have many dotted-line reporting relationships. As an example, your team may include a software tester who is on long term assignment to your group but administratively reports to the Manager of Software Testing. As the team leader, it’s your job to be able to motivate your team members, even if they don’t directly report to you.

8. Time management: As a manager, the discipline of time management is best divided into two categories; personal time management for you, and second, executive time management which are time management techniques designed to make your staff, rather than you, more efficient.

9. Effective writing: Whether it’s in emails, status reports, research papers, business case justifications, technical specification, budget requests, or any other written correspondence, how well it’s written is a reflection of your abilities, professionalism, mental organization, and managerial competence. Additionally, the better something is written the better chance that it will serve your purpose of getting the project approved, etc.

10. Problem solving and decision making: I have included these two topics together because they are two sides of the same coin. Namely, you make decisions because there is a problem or issue that must be solved. Management, by its nature, requires the ability to recognize that a problem exists, analysis capabilities to identify the problem’s root cause, the problem solving skills to define a plan of correction, and lastly the decision making skills to make the decision to move forward on implementing the solution.

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.

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