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Don Burleson Blog 







Becoming an IT Management Superstar
May 16, 2002
Donald Burleson


Within the information technology industry it's more important than ever before the IT managers with the proper skill sets to effectively manage their technical teams.  The skill sets required by an IT manager are unlike the skills that are found in traditional management areas, and this article explores some of the qualities that distinguish outstanding IT managers from mediocre management professionals.

 The information technology industry is plagued by poor management.  Some of the worst IT managers have the following characteristics:

High attrition rates Many IT professionals "vote with their feet" when confronted with a bad boss. I know one IT manager who lost of his entire staff before being fired.

Poor track records Poor IT managers fail in their Management By Objective (MBO) goals, and typically have a poor record of getting projects complete on-time and under-budget.

Choices of inappropriate technologies The poor IT manager often makes ludicrous choices of technology.  I once had an IT manager recommend a e-mail package as a solution for a database problem.

Also, the cost of poor IT management is has been expanding outside the IT shop.  There is an alarming trend in the IT industry where poor IT managers are being hauled into courtrooms in order to defend themselves against inappropriate management techniques, including sexual harassment, verbal assault, and other anti-social behaviors.

While no single skill distinguishes the effective IT manager, IT managers can generally be categorized along three salient skill sets.  These include:

1 - Appropriate knowledge of technical areas

2 - Appropriate personality and people skills

3 - Appropriate management organizations skills. 

 It's taken closer look at the first two of these areas so we can understand how they impact the effectiveness of today's IT manager.

 Technical management skills

 A solid technical background is indispensable skill for the IT manager.  In order to effectively manage a team working on a complex computer project, the IT manager must have a high-level understanding of all of the salient technologies that relate to their projects.  While the IT manager is not expected to understand the technical detail of each and every component, the outstanding IT manager has to understand conceptual basis for all of the tools and coding techniques that are being employed in the environment. 

 Some of the poorest IT managers are the "posers", managers who have had enough technical information to understand conceptual design, but did not fully understand the implementation details.  These annoying managers can often drive away highly skilled employees by making inane requests, much like the "pointy haired" boss in the popular Dilbert cartoon strip. 

 There is an old adage that "those who can do, and those who can't, manage".  This adage applies especially well towards IT managers, many of whom reached their "level of incompetence" as defined by the Peter Principle.

 People skills

Because many IT managers ascended the ranks through the technical professions; they commonly face many of the same personality drawbacks as other IT professionals.  While it is not fair to generalize, non-IT professionals commonly characterize IT professionals as egomaniacs, introverts, and "geeks", lacking the people skills found in other areas of an organization.

Many IT professionals complain that their management is sorely lacking in people skills, and some IT managers are totally unable to develop effective personal relationships with their employees.  The employees of the poor IT managers commonly complain that they don't trust their boss, that their boss does not have their best interest at heart, and that their boss commonly places obstacles in their paths.

 If we examine the ranks as senior IT vice president and CIOs, one of the most common comments about these managers is that they are "nice" people.  While this may seem like a generalization, the fact remains that the ability to get the job done while being perceived as "nice" is a very important part of the IT manager's job. 





Burleson is the American Team

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