Five Core Skills for IT Middle Managers

Susan Hall
Slide Show

Seven Leadership Skills CIOs Need to Drive Results

CIOs must have the right leadership skills in place to deliver on today's heightened expectations.

At InformationWeek, Larry Tieman, most recently senior VP of architecture and technical strategy at FedEx, writes that senior IT leaders don't do enough to develop their VPs and departmental directors. Failing to do so, he says, keeps senior leaders dealing with day-to-day issues rather than other business units and promotes a technology-centric perception of them. With IT increasingly being called up to drive business growth, that's not the perception CIOs want.


Tieman lists five competencies at the core of IT leadership and says developing them can be formal plans as well as subtle suggestions :


  • People-This is basic to everything, yet Tieman writes that many departmental leaders got to this position because of deep personal knowledge of an area, a favorable set of circumstances or a great team.


Larry Bonfante, the CIO of the U.S. Tennis Association whose book "Lessons in IT Transformation" just came out, says managing others requires working on people skills, which can be quite uncomfortable for IT pros. At the same time, though people skills increasingly are considered the differentiator among executive job candidates. VPs and departmental leaders not only have to supervise others, but also develop relationships with peers, business partners and clients. Increasingly, they must learn to influence those not under their authority.


As this MarketWatch piece points out:

In a traditional corporate organization, an executive in charge of a regional business unit would have control over all the resources needed to run the business. In a matrix environment, however, some of the workers and budget needed to build, distribute, sell or support a product within the executive's region are controlled by others, and important decisions are often made by committee, rather than by a single individual.
  • Project-Those people skills are closely entwined with this, as Tieman writes:
Successful IT leaders get things done mainly through deft project management: setting up program and project offices, working with steering committees and working groups, ensuring the coordination of architecture and development teams, and working closely with the finance organization.

It's no wonder that a big issue for middle managers can be the switch to "coordinating" rather than the actual "doing."


  • Financial-Tieman writes that two of the hardest financial-management tasks for middle managers are building a relationship with finance and working with a team to develop a complex business case. My colleague Ann All has written about the benefits of befriending the CFO to illustrate the benefits of investing in technology. Increasingly, though, the CIO reports to the CFO and Gartner Fellow Mark Raskino calls this a person you want to "teach, mentor, advise, persuade, support, nurture and generally cultivate" as the next business leader you might be working for.


Meanwhile, our IT Downloads center offers some rich resources for building strong business cases.


  • Executive-Tieman writes of the need to manage up as well as manage down on the organizational chart. He says it's tricky business to figure out what must be reported to management and what just needs to be handled. He says:
There's also an art to informing without getting more help than you want, an art to knowing how to ask when you need help, and an art to knowing what to say and when.
  • Contract management-With the rise of software-as-a-service and cloud computing, the increasing need for contract-management skills has come up a lot. Drew Garner, director of architecture services for Concur Technologies, has been saying of his company's move to a hosted private cloud:
Especially from an SLA standpoint, people have had to become mini lawyers.

Yet Ann wrote earlier this week that companies still aren't devoting enough resources to managing their outside service providers. Tieman concurs, adding:

Sadly, this is probably the least developed IT leadership skill and one that can cost a company significantly.

Can you think of other core competencies vital to IT middle managers' success? I'd love to hear about them in the comments section below.

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