7 skills every IT manager needs to survive the 2010s

Pure technology is out, communication and business insight are in

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Essential IT skill 6: Move from project management to program management

Managing a project is a tactical skill set that is a proven starting point for IT managers. But as skills go, it's also an easily replaceable commodity. The real skill is to use your project management capabilities to lead to a more strategic role in an organization: program management.

"Being a great project manager is a great way to star," says Lamb. "From there you can get involved in program management." But program management requires much stronger business skills than IT managers often have, especially in building business cases vital to obtaining funding and executive buy-in. He cites two examples of such missing business skills: understanding net present value (NPV) and internal rates of return (IRR).

Learning these skills can earn you "tickets to a boardroom, rather than standing outside," says Lamb. But there's an even bigger trick to it, which most aspiring managers often fail to consider: "If anyone asks, 'Do you really believe in this business case?' ask whether they want the political or nonpolitically correct answer. Those are career-changing situations." Be prepared to give an honest assessment of the initiative and risk a disagreement with others for the chance to earn the respect of higher-ups in the organization.

Program management provides IT managers an opportunity to become a trusted advisor to business units, and that's a key skill for anyone wanting to prove his or her strategic value. As you rise in your organization, recognize that what you manage also changes, says Ullrich, the recruiter: "From VP/director level, the 'doing' skills are different than the 'leading' skills. You can be a top-notch engineer, but as you get to a director level you have to be able to manage teams. It goes beyond project management to team leadership and how do you set the direction, motivate, and delegate."

Essential IT skill 7: Actively communicate

In large organizations, it's not unheard of for a CIO to work with a writer to convey ideas to various stakeholders such as employees or customers. Some CIOs even hire writers to tweet or blog for them. But what if you're not yet a CIO? Are communication skills essential career survival skills? Absolutely.

"Think of all the IT workers -- [it's clear that] you can distinguish yourself with strong communications," says Ullrich. "If you're strong at communicating, you'll get noticed," she promises.

The keys to this skill are listening and effectively explaining: "It's working with customers and understanding their requirements and what would help drive the business. It's not just the project manager but the person who can communicate ideas and bridge the technology to business," she says.

It's all about having business value

There are countless ways to develop your career, but you can best succeed in an IT organization by continuing to find ways to add business value that makes you too desirable to lose. But you need to do the work: Attaining this bulletproof status requires a commitment on your part to embrace continuous learning -- adding new skills, of both the hard and soft varieties -- that continually up your game and improve your standing in the organization.

This article, "7 skills every IT manager needs to survive the 2010s," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in tech career issues at InfoWorld.com.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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