Making the Transition to IT Management: Are You Ready?

Even if you love your work as a solo contributor to an IT team or project, you might still wonder if you are cut out for management.

Perhaps you feel stuck in your current role and see managing others as a path to improve your pay and status within an organization. Or you might see yourself as a natural leader who craves more responsibility and influence.

Some in IT actively seek out management roles as part of their career progression, while others have leadership opportunities thrust upon them unexpectedly. In either case, experts recommend thinking carefully about a jump to management. Your due diligence before accepting a promotion to manager should include asking yourself (and others) a few simple questions.

  • Do you possess natural leadership qualities?
  • Are you able to communicate your ideas and expectations clearly?
  • Are you comfortable giving constructive criticism (and receiving it)?
  • Will you be happy making tough decisions about colleagues who are peers and friends?

IT management consultant Paul Glen advises thinking about what makes you good at your current job and whether a move to management will lead to greater happiness or frustration.

“Being the best developer in your organization doesn’t mean that you would make a good manager of developers,” cautions Glen. “In fact, the reasons that you are such a good developer — a love of solitary work, of finding clear solutions to well-defined problems or of getting rapid and unambiguous feedback on how well you are doing — may lead you to hate being a manager.”

If you decide to make the switch, the tips below can help ease your transition:

  • Seek Advice: Rick Hutley, a former CIO, tells InfoWorld that new managers should seek out mentors and role models. “Identify leaders you resonate with -- who display qualities you admire and wish to emulate. Then observe them whenever you can and understand why you admire them: How did they handle a particular situation; how do they dress, speak, act?"
  • Get Training: Your company may offer management training, and you should take advantage of it. Alternatively, says IT author Stephen Haunts, seek out online classes or books to improve your leadership skills around these topics: Mentoring / Coaching, Conflict Resolution, Critical Thinking, Time Management, Appraisals and Objective Setting.
  • Don’t micromanage: Coming from an individual contributor role, it’s natural to want to dive into the details of each project your team members are working on, but that’s not especially efficient or effective. The best managers delegate and focus on team goals rather than minutia. If you persist in micromanagement, you risk demoralizing team members.
  • Get acquainted with your team: You’ll be working closely with the programmers you manage, so it’s important to take the time to get to know your team. Find out more about their career goals and their skill sets through one-on-one meetings and assessment tools. Make sure they get to know you, as well. Make your expectations clear and have an open door policy. They should feel comfortable coming to you when they need help and guidance.
  • Don’t let your technical skills go by the wayside: As a manager, you won’t spend as much time doing the hands-on IT work. While your role will change, it’s important that you stay up to date on the foundations of your trade. If feasible, assign yourself small programming projects aligned with your team's project—small because you need to balance your time and workload.
  • Go easy on yourself: As with anything in life, you will grow into your management role through trial and error. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself and learn from the mistakes you make along the way.