Ready to Go from IT Manager to IT Leader? Here's What to Work On

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If you’re a manager, you may be eyeing the next step on the career ladder. Whether it’s a role in senior leadership—or just being perceived as a leader at your organization—how do you transform yourself from a manager to a leader?

Rich Otteson, president of CompTIA AITP Research Triangle Park and executive IT consultant for Global Consulting, says a leader is “strategic and influential” while a manager tends to be “more tactical,” often tasked with specific responsibilities. And while certain situations call for managerial skills and others call for leadership skills, gaining leadership qualities can benefit both your career and your organization.

Here are some key leadership qualities and tips for how to achieve them: 

Influence: A leader should have a sphere of influence that isn’t just based on his or her title. She should be the person that people turn to for advice, even if they’re not direct reports. “Without a doubt, a leader needs to be able to influence—not based on the position at their organization—but have the knack and the ability for people to understand them and trust them,” Otteson says.

What to work on - Listening skills: So how do you gain that influence? By being a good listener, Otteson says. Listening closely to your employees and colleagues tells them you value their perspective. And hey, they may have some good ideas, too.

“I think the real value proposition is being able to listen and play back what you heard other individuals say within the group you’re speaking with, to make sure you understood their perspective,” Otteson says. Don’t be afraid of silence, he adds. You don’t need to fill the room with your own voice.

Vision: A leader will have a broader view of where to take the organization, and sometimes, those views may not be popular. “A leader’s not afraid to make change; to sometimes go against the norm,” Otteson says. He adds that the IT industry tends to attract problem-solvers, who may be more focused on the specific task at hand rather than taking a macro view. “IT folks love to solve the problem and at times solves without  understanding the breadth of what they’re trying to do,” Otteson says.

What to work onTake the 30,000 foot view: When facing even small problems, keep the larger goals of the organization in mind. Make a coffee date with someone you admire higher up at the organization. They may be able to give you insight on the company and gain an appreciation of what you do at the same time. To keep the big picture in mind, make sure to set goals that are longer term—say, months or years in advance, not just days or weeks.

Share the glory: As a leader, it’s important to help everyone feel like they’re part of the solution. Otteson says he found this to be a tough transition when he became a senior leader and started managing managers. But he found a leadership style of gathering input—rather than top-down management—was important to get the best out of his staff. “Allow them to work with their teams, which gives them freedom to learn how to be a leader,” he says.

What to work onManagement by walking around: Otteson suggests doing this very literally. Even if it makes your staff nervous at first, they’ll soon relax if you have their best interests in mind. Find out how they’re doing and how you can help them. “Let people know it’s OK to say, ‘I don’t know how to do that and I need additional training.’”

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