Do IT and management skills coincide?

I recently spoke to a CEO who was incredibly frustrated with his IT professional, who is incapable of managing his IT assistant successfully. In fact, in these times when organizations are having difficulty recruiting qualified IT professionals, this CEO was considering firing this professional who is enthusiastic, knowledgeable, devoted, and highly skilled technically—even though he is not the best manager.

Fortunately for the CEO, after our conversation, he decided not to terminate the IT professional and keep him on board. The CEO will arrange management training for the IT professional.

In my experience, not all of the very best IT professionals are also excellent leaders and managers. Expecting all IT professionals to also be good at management reminds me a little bit of the flying cars, or amphibious vehicles. Those vehicles are pretty good at both, but not excellent at either.

Although I have met a few, should we expect IT professionals to be good managers? Many of the C-level executives I speak to feel this is a reasonable expectation. Please post your comments on this blog.


6 Comments

  • Rafael Ortiz August 5, 2010 at 6:21 am - Reply

    I think that executives should consider sometimes that the IT field is avast field of work. Because everyone who work in the field is specialize on some field. A good example is a programmmer only desing and creates program if you put that employee on a Networking position you will stumble with poor development on that area.

    • Mike Foster August 5, 2010 at 7:21 am - Reply

      Thank you Rafael – I agree. I see this all the time when my clients need to hire someone else to fill another IT position in another field of IT expertise, so they decide to “save money” by promoting the programmer to also wear the network administrator “hat” too. Then the programming suffers and the network often becomes a poorly managed mess. To me, it is like asking a highly qualified neurosurgeon to also perform cardiac surgery “on the side” so the hospital doesn’t need to hire a cardiac surgeon – or so the hosptital thinks.

  • Howard Goldman August 5, 2010 at 6:43 am - Reply

    Expecting all IT professionals to also be good at management ? No

    Expecting IT managers to also be good at management? Yes

    In a similar vein, my experience is that good sales people often do not make good sales managers. The corollary being that many excellent sales managers are not the best sales persons.

    • Mike Foster August 5, 2010 at 7:28 am - Reply

      Hi Howard – I agree with you too. With IT, the danger comes in when the IT professional gets promoted to be an IT manager whether they can manage or not. This is of course the famous Peter Principle from the book by that name by Laurence Peter and Raymond Hull.
      You are so right; this applies across most, maybe all, professions. Since senior executives sometimes have no idea just exactly what the IT people do, and how they do it, then it seems particularly easy for this confusion to happen in IT.
      I’ve even witnessed this is outsourced IT companies. A particularly IT qualified outsourced professional starts hiring staff but has no idea how to manage them, and the business struggles with high turnover, their clients suffer, and sometimes the company fails. Thank you for helping raise the awareness!

  • James Mercer August 6, 2010 at 3:24 am - Reply

    It’s a real problem, but management ability is a skill that’s gained through effort, practice and education. To do it well, one has to have the desire – the drive – to succeed at it. From there it’s a matter of being mentored and/or being exposed to some of the formal education for training successful management.

    The elevation of ANYONE to a management role should NOT be left to chance; one of the leadership initiatives (in my opinion) that a CEO/President has is to ensure that an effective process exists to provide a support/training framework for newly minted managers and supervisors.

    Sadly, many organizations just promote, and leave it up to a strange form of gambling in hopes that the newly promoted will find a way to succeed. I consider this negligent, to say the least.

    Part of the burden rests with the IT person being promoted, too; if there’s any interest in performing well and the organization itself offers no formal assistance in training or mentoring them, then the individual promoted has a responsiblity to either find mentoring or self-educate to increase the odds of success. If they’re not willing to do this, then they should consider the idea that they’re not suited to a management role and shouldn’t have accepted it.

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