While possessing technical skills is a must for anyone looking to enter the management ranks in the IT industry, the fact is that no matter how much expertise you have in operating systems, how many observability tools you've mastered, or how intelligently you can speak about the pros and cons of different cloud architectures, technical chops alone won't be enough to become an IT manager.
IT managers also need mastery of a variety of other domains that have nothing to do with specific technical skills. To provide guidance for IT operations engineers who are aspiring to land a management role, this article examines must-have IT management skills that go beyond technical ones.
As we'll see, moving up the ranks requires paying attention to the broader context of IT work — things that are easy to overlook if you spend your days "in the trenches," working on technical problems without thinking about how they impact the organization more broadly.
1. Finance Expertise
Being an IT manager requires, to a certain extent, moonlighting as a CFO. That's because many of the core job responsibilities of IT managers — like planning budgets, identifying the most cost-effective IT tools, and negotiating contracts with vendors — demand a deep understanding of cost management.
So, aspiring IT managers would do well to give thought to questions such as which direct and indirect costs arise from the tools they use, how to make the most of limited budgetary resources, and so on.
2. People Skills
IT professionals aren't usually noted for being "people people"; on the contrary, popular representations of IT staff tend to paint them as geeky, socially awkward types who are much more at home in a dark server room than in a meeting.
Whether or not such depictions are fair, the fact is that the ability to work well with people is absolutely essential for success in an IT role. And while people skills may come more naturally to some of us than others, there are certainly steps that IT engineers can take to improve their ability to collaborate with and manage others.
Volunteer for projects that will require you to work with a team, for instance. Spearhead efforts to build bridges with other departments. Note during post-mortems how communication breakdowns may have hindered incident response efforts and offer suggestions on avoiding such problems in the future.
3. Project Management Skills
Virtually all IT managers are also project managers. Even if they have dedicated project managers working underneath them, responsibility for ensuring that projects like new infrastructure rollouts, team structure modifications, or the launch of new tools ultimately falls to the IT manager.
That's why the ability to manage complex projects is a critical IT management skill. IT engineers can bolster their experience on this front by, for starters, learning the ins and outs of whichever project management tools their organization uses. They can also volunteer to serve as project leads. Even taking some project management courses could be a wise use of time, especially if you're looking to move up the ranks at an organization that values formal education and certifications.
4. Knowledge of Business Management
Much more so than IT engineers, IT managers must align IT success with business success.
Doing so requires an understanding of how businesses work and what makes them succeed or fail. Part of this knowledge involves expertise in finance, which we already discussed, but business management skills extend far beyond an understanding of dollars and cents. You should also educate yourself about things like how mergers and acquisitions work, how businesses grow (or shrink) over time, what the different functions of a business are, how they are organized, and so on.
Focus in particular on learning how your type of business works. Its operations could vary depending on factors such as the size of the company, its vertical, and how long it has been around.
5. Writing and Speaking Skills
IT managers should expect to have to write and give presentations at least occasionally — and sometimes very frequently, depending on where they work.
If you struggle with either of these skills, then you'll want to invest some time in improving them. If that feels intimidating, keep in mind that you don't need to become a great writer or orator in order to become an IT manager. But you should gain an ability to write and speak clearly — and a good way to do that is simply to practice.
Conclusion: Start Now Growing Your IT Management Skills
From finance, to project and business management, to communication skills and beyond, IT managers need to know how to do a variety of things that don't require specific technical expertise. If you're gunning for a career in IT management, take some time to develop these ancillary IT management skills in addition to learning the ins and outs of IT as a technical field.