Climbing Your Way to a Tech Management Role

Not every tech pro wants to end up in management. Nonetheless, there are good reasons to aim for that particular brass ring. At larger companies, for example, managers with technical skills often get to lead the most interesting projects. And then there’s the money factor: managers can get paid more—the average pay for tech management hit $136,934 in the most recent Dice Salary Survey (PDF)—and receive some fantastic perks.

But succeeding as a manager, particularly in a higher-level executive role, requires a set of tools that can take years to develop. Chief among these: soft skills. If you haven’t taken the chance to work on your communication, collaboration, and delegation abilities, it’s never too late to start.

Picture Your Goal

There are lots of management positions. Would you be content as a mid-level project head, or would you rather aim for the C-suite and become a CIO?

Once you have your goal in mind, you can build toward it. Most higher-level tech management has a background in operations or development. If you’re at the very beginning of your career, but already have ambitious plans to climb to the top, taking on progressively larger projects is key to building up the experience necessary to make a management play. Volunteer to solve challenges and take on thorny tech issues—if you complete those successfully, chances are good your manager will give you more responsibility.

If you’re in mid-career, you can bolster your résumé with key certifications. For example, the ITIL expert certification (which features a fantastic ROI) is considered essential by many businesses on the lookout for qualified IT management. And if you want to specialize, you’ll need other qualifications—for example, if your ultimate desire is to head up a major corporation’s IT security, consider earning your ISSAP/CISSP (InfoSys Security Architecture Professional) and Check Point Certified Security Master (CCSM) certifications.

And let’s not forget TOGAF (Open Group Architecture Framework) certification, which deals with designing, planning, and implementing enterprise IT infrastructure. If you decide that your route to management lies in designing and launching services, then you should evaluate a TOGAF cert.

The Art of Management

Certifications and technical experience won’t necessarily add up to managerial aptitude (although you might pick up some pointers along the way). Once you reach the upper tiers of management, your day-to-day will revolve increasingly around business outcomes. It’s not just about ensuring that technology runs; that tech must help power positive business outcomes.

If you have the money and time, you could always head to business school and pick up your MBA. But if you’re not inclined to venture back into the classroom, find a mentor who’s amenable to walking you through how to actually run a division or even a whole business. If you’re lucky, this mentor may even allow you to participate—or at least observe—interactions with HR, marketing, and other divisions.

While it’s intimidating to ask someone to serve as a mentor, you may be surprised at how readily they’ll agree to the request. People like explaining to others what they do; and provided you’re respectful of their time, they’ll answer all of your questions.

Soft Skills

Managers must communicate. Those unable to convey their ideas in a clear way won’t last long (or find themselves unable to do anything productive).

Tech professionals who rise to the level of manager have a singular advantage: because they understand the technology, they can explain it to non-techies in simple, straightforward terms. That’s the hope, at least. In reality, everyone could use a little practice and experience when it comes to conveying ideas. Make sure you get that work in.

But “soft skills” aren’t limited to speaking and writing; it’s also the ability to engage with others in a way that makes them feel recognized. While networking is generally something that people do when they need a job, it’s also useful in building up your ability to converse with others on a variety of topics; consider heading to such events on a regular basis, especially if you’re in the mood to build up your contacts.

By merging your soft skills with your technological know-how, you can become a force to be reckoned with in the management suite. How far up the ladder do you want to climb?

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