8 Skills You Need to Be a Successful IT Executive

The skills that helped you become an IT pro and climb the ladder aren't the same skills you need to succeed in the c-suite. Learn the skills necessary to break through to the top.

Mon, July 22, 2013

CIO — Have you been pondering your chances to make it to the executive suite? Few transitions are more difficult than moving from a managerial position to a top leadership role. It takes more than hard work and technical skills to succeed at the highest level. The complexity and breadth of projects at the CIO level can quickly overwhelm those who have worked in siloed managerial positions.

As a director or senior IT person, you're at the point in your career where you have to realize that "the skills that got you your seat at the table aren't the ones that will keep you there," Pamela Rucker, chair of the CIO Executive Council's Executive Women in IT, says.

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You have to empower yourself to move forward and understand that what it takes is a dedication to professional and personal improvement. Look at the leaders around you. Chances are many of them started at the bottom just like many IT pros, and if they can do it so can you. To aid in your journey we asked CIOs, career coaches and other experts what skills it takes to get into executive office.

Overcome the Transitional Challenges of Being a Strategic Leader

When moving from an IT professional to an executive position getting away from your functional expertise and the things you know well, and forcing yourself to broaden your understanding of the company, your products or services, your customers, and your industry can be tough.

"Too many people hang their hat on knowing a technology when those skills are becoming more of a commodity. The higher-level skills are those around company strategy, product development and customer-focused innovation. Big data, cloud and CRM can all be outsourced," says Rucker.

Related Story: 10 Ways to Be an Authentic IT Leader

One of the biggest hurdles faced by new executives is the loss of control, according to Bob Boudreau, CEO of WinterWyman, an IT recruitment firm in the Northeast. "If you're used to getting things done yourselves then, in some terms, you lose a bit of control because you shouldn't be the one with your hands on the keyboards making things happen. You have to trust the people who you work with that they will do the job even better than you," says Boudreau.

David Brookmire is a corporate professional development consultant, has spent the last several years doing leadership and team assessments, as well as team coaching; prior to that he worked for the likes of Fritos and General Motors working in HR and talent management.

"You have to become more of a leader and less of a manager. Management is planning, organizing, delegating and controlling. Leadership is typically vision, inspiration and motivation. These skills become more and more important the higher you go up the ladder," says Brookmire.

Having to manage your peers can create an interesting dynamic. "You have to be able to change that relationship in a way that establishes the hierarchy without alienating your peers. That's tricky," Brookmire says.

While it's not unique to the technology field, Hugh Scott, CIO at Energy Plus at Energy Plus Company, says that dealing with ambiguity and uncertainty is a critical part of the job. "Every senior leader has to have that skill and capability. The crux of making the transition from technical specialist to leader is making that leap," says Hughes.

So what exactly will help you reach the executive level? Here are eight tips that will help you make your move.

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