Although I am no longer a manager of people, I was one for a bit more than 10 years up until very recently. Here’s my thoughts and personal experience on what works and doesn’t work in managing in IT. You’ll notice a lot of it is people management, because without these people you can’t be successful. A lot of this will relate to being a manager in general, and even if you aren’t a manager, you’ll hopefully agree that this is what you want to see from your own supervisor.
How to be a good IT Manager
- Be there for your staff
- Improve your staff
- Show that you need your staff
- Have a collaborative team
- Leverage your experts
- Work with other departments
- Work with the CEO
- Be in control
Be there for your staff
A primary aspect of being a manager is to enable your staff. You’re there for them and on their side to see them be successful in their role. The trickier part is working out what the staff need for this success, as sometimes they don’t know themselves. Some like being left alone to do their own thing with occasional check-ins, and others will want frequent discussions. Regardless, they all want to know that you’ve got their back and can come to you whenever they feel the need.
Alternatively, nobody likes to be micromanaged. If you feel like you need to get heavily involved, first ask if they’d like you to do so. If they do, great you’re helping. If not, work out how else you can help.
Improve your staff
Once you’ve worked out how your staff ‘tick’, you can work on improving those things. You can’t expect everyone to work the same – the same pace, the same skills, the same output – but you can work to improve these things.
A staff member might be very unsure of themselves and need constant reassurance. For this, you might need to work on getting them to come to you later and later in the piece once they seem to be on the right track, and instead of asking you straight away what to do, get them to work out what they think they should do and check with you at the end before enacting it. Small changes like this can help build the confidence of someone so they can see their own abilities. If they keep getting it wrong, then there’s another issue which could be knowledge, and they need training or a buddy to shadow for a while to see how someone else does it.
You’ll also need to bring in constructive criticism. People take this differently and you might not find out the right approach until you try something – but when providing feedback on where someone could do better, always approach it as a learning experience. You’re not telling people off; you’re identifying something that could have been done better; and let’s work together to identify what went wrong and how that can be avoided next time.
Show that you need your staff
This one is low effort but may need a conscious effort to do and needs to be continual. Thank your staff when they do something you’ve asked them to do. Thank them when they’ve just done something well. In catchups, point out the things they do well. Try to make sure no single staff member is a silo, and encourage them to share with others. If they want to own the thing they love doing, let them own it – but there needs to be backup when they aren’t around. Random acts of kindness go down too – you don’t need a trigger to show that you value the work your team does, drop in some occasional snacks, gift cards, or team building fun – which could just be a nice lunch.
Have a collaborative team
Good communication is the most critical aspect of having a team that works well together. Usually not communicating enough is how a team breaks down, but it can also be a lack of clear communication. Encourage your team to talk amongst themselves but be inclusive of the whole team. Err on the side of inviting too many people in and make it acceptable for people to say they don’t need further comms on a topic.
As a manager, you need to feed information to the right areas, but also consider that more than just the key people should be involved. You may think that Operations don’t need to know about Projects, and Developers don’t want to know about Infrastructure – and you’d probably be right – but that doesn’t mean these teams should never talk. Don’t assume on behalf of others what they might or might not want to know about, again keep communication open and broad, but to the point, which lets staff themselves decide what they want to know about or not.
Leverage your experts
Keep up to date on the industry as a whole, and leverage staff who have specific interests/responsibilities and use them as your advisors. You can’t know everything, and having good advisors shows your trust in those people and their work. If you can’t find good internal advisors, then get external ones. Some topics might need constant external guidance, where others might just need occasional deep dive expertise. Sometimes the constant external guidance costs will then prove the need for creating a new internal resource.
Understand your costs and contracts. It might be too time consuming to know about every existing contract, but work out when they end and how much you need to know, compared to again bringing in the experts to guide you through it.
Try not to have just a single expert on any topic – if you can’t have more than 1, then at least try to find someone that can start skilling up and learn from the expert. Hopefully the expert will like having someone else around that actually cares about the topic as much as they do.
Work with other departments
Being an IT Manager isn’t just about IT. It’s about enabling the entire business’s IT functions. Frequently catch up with both leaders in other departments, and other key staff that might fall into a department, but have their own sub-section that the leader won’t be as across as someone on the ground that owns that sub-section (for example, Payroll may fall under Finance). Find out where they are on projects, what pain points they have (and don’t limit this to I.T. – let them tell you what they’d like to share. It might give you extra context on what’s going on in the company, or it might end up being a process that could be improved with IT’s involvement). You’ll build up relationships and trust, while getting a better understanding of the business from different perspectives.
Work with the CEO
Whatever the leaders of your business are called, you’ll need to understand what they care about. Usually it’s money driven – without money the business can’t exist (or in some cases, it will still exist, they’ll just get new leaders). Find out what other drivers they have too – sometimes an open question of ‘What do you want to see from IT?’ can be a good starting point. They probably won’t care about your issues ( those are for you to solve), but if you do need to raise something because you need their approval, make sure you come with a recommended solution or two.
Be in control
Be confident but not cocky about your position. You’re there to do a job and perform a certain role – this doesn’t mean you need to have all the answers, but you do need to take everything on to get a result. Get your vendors to tell you what they do for you and what value they provide. Make them accountable for the work they do for you, and if you don’t understand or don’t like what they’re doing, dig deeper. Bring others in for extra viewpoints.
Run frequent meetings where you think they’re needed. Ask others what they think are needed to – you should be continually touching base with your team. Be flexible, don’t keep doing something that doesn’t work, and listen to feedback to improve efficiencies. Maybe one meeting needs to be fortnightly rather than weekly, or maybe another meeting needs a bigger audience to avoid double-ups.
Make directional decisions once you have enough information to do so; don’t flip-flop, but also don’t be so rigid that once a decision is made, it can’t be altered.
Other quality management skills
Be honest, be open. You need people to trust you to be successful in your role. This doesn’t mean walking around telling people what you think of them; but it does mean you’ll work towards what’s best for both the business and the employees.
Be structured in what you do – make things like projects clear and visible to all those who want to see them.
Be fair to your staff. Nobody wants to see someone else as the favorite, nor do they want to feel less important than someone else. Find the value in everyone and be their supporter, and make sure the rest of the team knows the strengths and special skills everyone else has.
Work out what you can delegate. You can’t do everything which is why you have a team. Delegating isn’t removing responsibility from yourself; it’s sharing it with others. Make sure you have the person’s buy in to what you’re delegating, and that you’re there to help them if they need it. It will help skill them up in areas they might have less experience with, or give them more variety in their role.
Find colleagues in different companies and industries you can catch up with to get outside ideas, guidance, and support from – and give the same back to them!
Hopefully this summary of what I found worked will also work for you. Did I miss anything? What else makes a good IT Manager?