Traits You Need to Get Ahead in IT

Information technology is a tricky field. There is a whole list of things you need to know to establish yourself after getting your information systems degree. The list might vary, depending on your exact role and the technical you’ll be handling. But as you develop your career and move into management, you will find that the technical competencies are no longer enough. There are other areas to master.

Market analyst firm Gartner in its annual survey of CIOs asked them which three leadership traits would be most important for CIOs in the future. The answers split into roughly groups: core leadership traits, technology executive traits, and specific traits associated with IT, as this Gartner diagram shows.

Knowing what you need is the first step to developing it so you can further develop your career. The top three answers — business knowledge and acumen, communications and influence, and personal and professional demeanor — fall into the business, influence and communicate, and personal categories. These are core abilities that could easily be transposed to any other sort of executive. This is a reminder that IT is still part of businesses, and that technical executives must understand how business works, how to effectively with others, and how to comport themselves. In other words, at the top of an IT department, you’re first an executive and second someone with a technology background.

You might call the middle layer in this model the execution layer, because this is where you take leadership traits and put them into use. Such execution skills as delegation, managing subordinates, interpreting metrics about the business, and constructing tactics are just some of the tools you will use daily to accomplish things. Relationship building? Absolutely key. No department in a company exists on its own terms. IT has to work with other departments to understand their needs, recruit executive support for projects, and both source and build solutions that address the real needs of the company. Relationships are also necessary for you to push back when appropriate and explain why the new technology that a vice president wants might not actually deliver what he or she thinks it will. Technology vision may seem the easiest of the three for someone with a technical background, but it is more than knowing arcane details.

Vision means seeing future trends and evaluating what will work for the developing needs of the company. Only on the very outer edge come the tasks associated with IT. Although many in the industry assume this is the center of managing information technology, it is on the periphery. To manage well, you need the core and executive traits to inform decisions. If you want to enter IT management, it is a reason to consider working for an MBA to expand your understanding and skills.

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