While technical skills and functional expertise continue to be vital assets for all tech pros, it’s not enough to simply know how to code or set up a software platform. Given the increasing importance of technology to business operations, you need to know how to manage, delegate, and communicate both inside and outside your organization.
“Today’s tech leaders need the ability to extend their influence beyond their peers and members of the C-Suite to external clients and consumers of products and services,” explained Larry Bonfante, founder of CIO Bench Coach and CIO of the U.S. Tennis Association.
If you’re looking for motivation to climb the ladder, consider a recent report that referred to IT managers as the new “it” tech position, with average compensation ranging from $105,750 to $159,000. So whether you’re interested in becoming a team lead, manager, director or even a CIO, developing certain critical skills and competencies can help you take the next step up the career ladder—and earn you a hefty paycheck in the process.
Tech leaders can no longer prioritize their own agendas; there’s always another executive or business unit that needs help with an initiative, or wants the company’s technology to bend to their particular strategy. In light of that, tech leaders must build rapport and relationships across the enterprise.
“In the past, IT was regarded as the land of no and slow,” Bonfante noted. “Now, tech leaders must be strategic allies to managers across the enterprise and enablers of progress.”
So how can you acquire true competence in relationship management? Carve out time for relationship building, and commit to becoming good at it. Engaging in active listening can help you understand people’s issues and motivation, while forging positive connections.
Don’t overlook a key influencer who has the ear of an important and powerful person when making your rounds, added Jonathan Levene, a leadership coach for tech professionals and principal of Levene Coaching: “Building trust and credibility with influential people is critical because you may need their endorsement to secure resources and win approval for your ideas.”
If you know how to uncover and understand the needs of end users, educate them, and propose customized solutions that meet their objectives, you may be surprised to learn that you’re actually practicing solutions-based marketing. It’s become a must-have competency for leaders in cross-functional roles, since it examines issues from a variety of angles, exposes known and unknown benefits and risks, and considers both the short and long-term ramifications of technology decisions.
Working Through Others
Tech pros moving to leadership roles can’t do it all. To succeed, they must create a framework and atmosphere that supports, enables and encourages others to do their best work.
“Success at the next level requires a different way of looking at things and skills such as leading by example and modeling effective team behaviors,” Levene said.
Studying the facilitation techniques and processes of highly effective Agile teams can help you master the art of getting things done through people. Start by establishing effective processes. “Then, shift your focus to the people by becoming more aware of what’s happening around you,” Levene added. “Invite people to participate and call out a team member who seems unwilling to voice concerns.”
Prioritizing customers and their needs is the key to building technical tools and solutions that drive improvements in revenue and margins. Although developing a customer-centric approach and mindset can be especially challenging for backend designers and operations people who have little interaction with consumers, it’s not impossible.
Follow the downstream impact of your work on consumers and spend time with colleagues in customer-facing roles to forge a connection between your work and the bigger picture.
The ability to communicate is the overarching skill for anyone who wants to become a tech leader. But you don’t necessarily need the gift of gab or expert writing skills to score a promotion. “As long as you have the ability to ask questions, listen and engage in a consultative conversation with someone, that’s enough to be an effective tech leader.” Bonfante said.