Thomas Gresham, General Services Assistant Director, Information & Communications Technology, County of Santa Barbara
At some point in career development, many IT technologists face a technical “glass ceiling” where moving up means moving into a leadership role. A decision must be made to either remain a technical expert or become a leader that drives people and processes. Leadership roles are not for everyone and many highly competent technical experts prefer to continue as individual contributors.
As new leaders, former IT technologists are not going to be high performers right out of the gate. There is a learning curve to managing budgets, processes and most of all, people. At first, changing roles from a skilled technologist to a novice manager is challenging. It requires a shift in mindset from managing a system of components to leading a team of people. While peer groups, mentors and training can bolster managerial skills, much of the learning process comes from experiences of both successes and failures.
To draw the correlation between what the business is trying to achieve and what technologies can best accommodate those needs
One common pitfall where many former IT technologists find themselves in is falling back to their comfort zone of technical activities. While this may provide some satisfaction knowing you are the best at doing this particular task, it comes at a cost to the organization. Instead of retaining the technical expertise within an organization, that knowledge must be taught with responsibilities delegated. Coaching and mentoring is more time consuming than seizing the keyboard, but it is an investment in the competencies and performance of those you lead.
The good news is that many technologists have an innate drive to logically improve processes, build efficiencies and deliver results. The same skills previously applied to building a highly efficient IT system can be applied to building a high performing organization where a leader can effect a greater degree of change by leveraging the capabilities of a team. Leaders with a strong IT background carry a higher degree of trust and confidence when managing technical teams. Team members look to leaders who not only understand their line of work but who also will make informed decisions that will bring about success.
The job vision shifts from delivering a technical solution to providing value to the business. Leaders who embrace this new perspective will be successful within an organization as business units look to IT for efficiencies such as automation. This is where leaders who were former IT technologists shine as they are able to draw the correlation between what the business is trying to achieve and what technologies can best accommodate those needs.
As a former individual contributor who made the transition into leadership, I can say that it has been a very rewarding experience. Yes, there was a bit of reluctance to let go of the technology, but over time I realized the value of putting my faith and trust in those I was entrusted to lead. This allowed me to focus more on paving the road for success by removing obstacles the teams encountered, obtaining resources such as funding and articulating the value of a technical solution to leaders within the business.