Information technology leaders must perform a wide variety of duties, from overseeing external product rollouts and managing mission-critical systems to developing internal data security training programs and collaborating with fellow executives to map out organizational growth. This expansive scope of work requires an equally extensive skill set.
However, technical brilliance is not everything. Modern IT leaders should also develop some of the more innate characteristics that predict success in the space, according to CIO magazine.
“While there are some things one cannot change about individuals, some leadership traits can be learned,” Allan Boardman, vice president of the ISACA and chairman of the IT governance group’s Credentialing and Career Management Board, told the magazine. “There are very few people who are natural leaders – leadership is something people have to work at. Knowing what your shortcomings are, and recognizing them as such, is half the battle.”
With this in mind, IT professionals looking to climb the corporate ladder must re-evaluate their skills and pinpoint softer competencies that may give them an edge. What might those be? Here are 5 key characteristics of an effective IT leader:
1. A keen self-awareness
Leaders must be able to understand how they fit and move within their respective organizations to make an impact. This self-awareness enriches professional interactions, facilitates growth and leads to wider success. It also forms the basis for overall emotional intelligence, which is important in today’s workplace.
Surprisingly, self-awareness is an immensely learnable characteristic, Harvard Business Review reported. The publication proposes a three-part autodidactic process. Evaluation comes first. Here, leaders must identify both their strengths and weaknesses via established personality tests such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. During the next phase, called “feedback analysis,” leaders reflect on everyday business decisions, charting out both the rationale behind these choices and their projected outcomes. This makes it easier to deploy self-awareness in real-time and helps participants connect the trait to tangible operational variables. The final step involves promoting self-awareness in collaborative settings. Ideally, this should lead to team-based self-discovery and ultimately bolster performance.
While developing self-awareness does take considerable time and effort, the process is certainly worth the trouble in the end – especially for IT leaders who must grapple with internal politics and build relationships to meet departmental objectives.
2. A love for learning
The IT industry continues to evolve at breakneck speed. New technology and implementation methods seem to materialize daily. IT leaders must move forward with innovators in the sector and gain the skills they need to embrace cutting-edge hardware, software and deployment strategies.
For this very reason, many cultivate a love for learning, according to the International Data Group. How? This normally involves simply monitoring the latest industry-specific developments and looking for ways to integrate them into the operation. This sounds simple enough, but many IT executives develop tunnel vision as they focus only on internal issues, according to CIO.
“The demands of leadership roles often make it easy to keep your head down and focus on solving problems for your organization. There is always another challenge or another threat, and you can build an entire image around solving problems and managing risk,” Pamela Rucker, chair for the CIO Executive Council’s Executive Women in IT, told the publication. “Unfortunately, if you continue to do that, you will find yourself behind the eight ball, because the world continues to move and develop, even if you do not.”
Obtaining and maintaining professional certifications is the most effective way to continue learning while in the C-suite. Industry gatherings and other events are also useful. However, it all comes down to individual desire. The best IT leaders look past the status quo and search for the knowledge that will help them and their departments move forward.
3. A knack for communication
Communications skills are prized in most industries – and for good reason. Leaders must be able to effectively connect with employees and fellow executives from different backgrounds to facilitate productivity and ultimately meet or surpass business goals. Of course, modern technology and new operational methods – the rise of the remote working arrangement, for instance – have complicated things considerably. Consequently, many companies now look for professionals with finely tuned communication competencies – even when hiring for the IT department.
In 2015, Bloomberg asked more than 1,200 recruiters to highlight the most in-demand skills for 11 industries, including the technology sector. More than 55 percent said communications skills carried the most weight among employers in the space. Why?
For one, IT leaders must be able to speak to the importance of their department and work with executives and key personnel in other parts of the business to find success with internal and external technology initiatives. Communication skills also come in handy within the IT department, as leaders must be able to unite employees under one goal and execute on key technology initiatives.
4. A talent for team-building
Most IT leaders do not work in isolation. A vast majority manage teams whose members are responsible for completing large projects. However, few employ the set-it-and-forget-it method. Instead, many find success by taking a direct role in team-building activities, using their interpersonal skills and industry knowledge to build and oversee IT teams that produce on time and on budget. This involves not only selecting and directing employees but also fostering a truly collaborative environment that empowers them and drivers them to perform, ZDNet reported.
“Whether you are seen as a critical part of the leadership team will be dependent on the abilities of your trusted people to deliver,” Andrew Marks, managing director for technology strategy at Accenture, told the publication. “And so establishing a well-managed and high-performing team is your best starting point.”
Delegation is the key to employee empowerment, according to InformationWeek. Leaders should find top-level contributors and give them meaningful tasks that test their skills and push them to innovate. This methodology leads to operational breakthroughs, as well as growth across the team.
5. A passion for problem-solving
In today’s technology-driven business world, executives often look to IT departments for answers to key operational issues. Active IT professionals are well aware of this reality, as many spend their days addressing trouble tickets or working with colleagues to resolve kinks within digital workflows.
It is no surprise then that IT leaders are expected to possess considerable problem-solving abilities. However, few businesses expect these technical stakeholders to have all the answers, CIO reported. Most simply want individuals who are willing to think outside of the box and treat problems as learning opportunities, as this approach often yields more sustainable results.
“People often feel like they need to have all the answers. In reality you just need to know the right questions to ask,” BuildDirect CIO Dan Brodie explained in an interview with CIO.
Sadly, recruiters are struggling to find IT professionals with such skills, according to the Bloomberg survey. In fact, the headhunters who participated in the study listed creative problem-solving as the hardest-to-find skill in the technology space. IT ladder climbers can take advantage of this state of affairs by bolstering their problem-solving abilities.
Understanding the ideal IT leader
Technical competencies still matter in IT, but, as business and technology further intertwine, established and aspiring leaders in the sector must supplement these abilities with nuanced skills such as those covered above. How? While professional training and certification programs certainly offer some benefits, advanced degree tracks such as the online Master of Science in Managment Information Systems at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Here, you can build on your technical knowledge while also gaining the leadership skills needed to move into key roles such as Chief Technology Officer or Chief Information Security Officer.
The online MS MIS degree at UAB features six core courses, including IT Governance and Management, Information Security Management and Technology-Based Project Management. The instructional track also includes two concentrations, IT Management and Information Security. Plus, MS MIS students can access all materials 100-percent online, no need to step foot in a classroom.
The Master of Science in Management Information Systems program at UAB ranks among the top 25 online graduate programs, according to U.S. News and World Report. UAB and the Collat School of Business have received accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).
Are you interested in developing the skills needed to become an IT leader? Consider enrolling in the online MS MIS program at UAB. Connect with an enrollment advisor today to learn more or start the application process.