Prepping for a Tech Management Role


Many tech professionals don’t begin their careers with dreams of taking a management position. Many would rather spend their days elbow-deep in tech, solving problems and building new things. But any techie who sticks around long enough at a company will eventually find themselves considered for a managerial role, especially if they’re good at what they do.

With that in mind, tech pros who only focus on technology may eventually find their careers stalled if they can’t develop the skills necessary for a role in management. That’s not to say that everyone belongs in management; but the opportunities, when they do arise, are often tempting. Techies in managerial roles get to choose and oversee projects, train less-experienced colleagues in cool tools, and expand their personal skillsets.

What do tech professionals need to make a successful transition to management? Here are some concrete ways you can prepare yourself for a future in management:

The Role of Manager is Changing

Managers need a thorough understanding of information security and governance. “Gone are the days when the only thing that mattered was speed and availability in information systems,” said Shawn Davis, Instructor of Information Technology and Management at Illinois Institute of Technology. “IT management needs to ensure that data is protected, otherwise they could lose their job or watch as their entire company is bankrupted either through a loss of reputation or the result of costly litigation for affected individuals. Target is a good example where the CEO and CIO lost their jobs after their breach.”

A Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) might be overkill for someone positioning for a managerial role. While it certainly can’t hurt, a CISSP is more for a day-to-day, hands-on tech professional. Instead, managers in the making may want to obtain a more management-specific certification.

A Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) is just such a certification, which teaches international security practices and recognizes the individual who manages designs in addition to overseeing an enterprise’s information security. “The manager doesn’t have to be an expert in every area of security but needs to know enough to be able to manage such internal or external experts,” Davis said.

Build those Negotiation Skills

“IT management needs to be familiar with choosing, evaluating, working with contracts, and finally managing third-party providers,” Davis added. “Organizations these days may outsource their email (Google Apps for business), their web servers (Rackspace), CRM systems (Salesforce), etc. A smaller organization may hire a manager of security services (MSS) to perform the role of a 24/7 security operations center for security monitoring. “

You can offer to serve as an additional set of eyes for your current manager, reviewing business-critical aspects such as upcoming Requests for Proposals (RFPs). That will not only train you in what to look for, but show that you’re a team player.

“Oftentimes, the employee can start taking items off of their manager’s plate such as scheduling, sitting in on interviews, creating budgets, procurement, managing third party contractors, etc,” said Joseph Blasi, Professor in the Labor Studies at Rutgers University and coauthor of The Citizen’s Share. “The current manager will appreciate having some of their time freed up and will also most likely provide a favorable recommendation to upper management should the manager be promoted or another supervisory position open up.”

In addition, “a successful manager must be well versed in defining projects, setting clear expectations, and finally determining an agreed upon delivery date,” Davis said. Gain skills in those areas by participating as soon and as frequently as possible.

Start Building Those Communication Skills

Can you demonstrate an ability to communicate with those who understand technology, as well as those who don’t? “It is very important to be able to understand who your audience is in order to properly cater your message,” Davis said. “Executives in an organization will often simply tune a manager out who is not clear and concise. Going off on tangents filled with technical babble is a quick way to lose an audience or have a project or need declined.”

Senior leadership likes people who can write and express themselves, especially when it comes to projects and solutions. “They like people who can work in teams and collaborate because people who are stuck in their own department or their own narrow focus are less likely to solve problems and draw information from other parts of the organization,” Blasi said.

Aside from verbal communication, accomplished managers must have the ability to write reports with clear sentences and structure, and with a lack of grammar and spelling issues. “Any prospective managers [who] are weak in the writing department should take a remedial English class or work with their local library,” Davis said.

Last but not least, successful prospective managers need to motivate others, and help provide a positive working environment. It doesn’t take a manager to motivate those around us. As Davis suggested: “Employees want to feel like they are needed, valued, and what they are doing matters.”

For all the difficulties you face in a career in Information Technology, you also have a great opportunity for advancement. You can get your foot in the company door without a management background or even a degree; but if you want to run your own teams, you’ll need to adopt the same skill-sets as top managers.