Engineers and developers often make the best IT leaders. Not only are they forward-thinking and tech-savvy, but they’ve already have the trust and the loyalty of your IT team and they know the ins-and-outs of a great culture. If you’re looking for good IT leadership, you should start from within your own ranks, says Kathy Harris, managing director of technology executive recruitment firm Harris Allied. Not only will this foster greater trust and engagement, it can be a powerful recruiting tool for other elite talent, Harris says.
“Top people always want to work with other star talent. They understand that within that environment they can learn, grow and be challenged professionally. Including engineers and developers in your IT leadership also means there’s someone at the table who understands the technology, the methodology, the quirks of your organization and the culture,” says Harris. Here are six traits to look for in a great IT leader.
Successful IT leaders are going to be managing existing teams and tasked with building new ones, so good management and team-building skills are a must, says Harris. “You can’t delegate this task to HR and expect them to fill in gaps. Good management and communication both within the team and externally are necessities. They also need to pay attention to where team members’ strengths and weaknesses are to build on and address those,” she says.
As an IT leader, you have to learn to love networking. This may not come naturally to many technology professionals, especially those from engineering or development backgrounds, but being able to network is a valuable skill — not only for landing a new job but as part of a new leadership role, Harris says.
“Never let a networking opportunity pass you by. Take a lead role in the team and talk to your own manager about how to develop those skills. Then, the next step is networking with people within the business in other departments to figure out what your needs and capabilities are. Then you can look externally to build bridges; through networking events, conferences, any way to increase your industry knowledge,” Harris says. You should also leverage social media, she says.
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Being able to identify and attract other elite engineering and development talent is another critical skill for an up-and-coming IT leader, Harris says.
“A manager is only as good as the team they build, so it’s important from a talent management standpoint to constantly know what new technology’s out there, what skills and experience are hot, and always be on the hunt for the best and brightest,” she says.
Understanding technology is critical, but so is having a solid understanding of the business drivers within which your IT department operates, says Harris. A great senior-level tech manager sees technology as an effective tool that solves business problems, not as a solution in and of itself, Harris says.
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It’s not just about being able to communicate within teams or with other technology or executive leaders, says Harris. Communication skills, negotiation skills, and being able to translate business needs to IT and IT’s requirements to the business is key.
“Exceptional tech leaders are able to communicate effectively with both the business and the tech side of a company, and maintain open communication channels between the two,” she says.
Last but not least, any engineer or developer worth their salt has to know that tech qualifications still matter, she says.
“Are you up on the latest technology, skills and trends? Do you keep your own engineering and development skills sharp? Are you active in developer communities? You can always check out job descriptions to get insight into the skills companies are looking for in their senior technology management team,” Harris says.