Moving from a techie role into a management position entails propulsion out of the comfort zone for the average IT professional. Our experts offer their advice on making the transition as smooth as possible.
1. Team leader first
"Make the first move into management a small step," advises Dr Ben Booth, CIO of global market research firm Ipsos. "If you’re moving from a support or programming role, it’s better to become a team leader rather than a fully fledged manager, to begin with." Rob Lambert, senior lecturer, Cranfield School of Management agrees: "If you’re the top Java programmer, then go for head of Java development, that way you’re still comfortable with the technical piece, while getting to grips with management skills."
2. Volunteer for responsibility
"Rather than jumping in at the deep end, a better strategy is to try out your management skills on an informal basis. Don’t say, ‘I want to be promoted’", counsels Dr Ben Booth, CIO of research giant Ipsos Mori. "Instead, if you hear of a relevant project, put up your hand and volunteer to manage part of it. If it doesn’t work out, there’s no major fallout, other than a bit of wounded pride. The upside that you’ll have gained some self knowledge and that may help you achieve your goal of being manager one day."
3. Make the break
"Don’t drift from one role to another, but make a distinct fresh start and use ‘breaks’ to reinforce the transition," advises Professor Chris Edwards of the Cranfield School of Management. "Make a break in time by going on a course to kick-start your new role. Most big organisations have internal training programmes and if you’re working for a small or medium sized business, there are plenty of third party courses to choose from. And you can make a break in location by moving to a new desk, even if you don’t need to. This acts as a signal to your colleagues, as well as a reminder to yourself, that you are embarking on a new role."
4. Hold a workshop
A positive way to begin a new and to set your mark is to sit down with the team and jointly discuss a strategy or plan for the piece of work ahead. Taking half a day out, perhaps off site may be a good way of establishing a new rapport with the reports who used to be your peers. Make sure you get their involvement and buy in, and try to ensure they are motivated to achieve the project’s goals, rather than following their own techie aspirations.
5. Speak to your rival
If one of your peers was a rival for your new job, don’t gloss over the fact but acknowledge it, preferably in private. Words to the effect that it was a close contest but you look forward to their cooperation in the new relationship should be sufficient. If the rival cuts up rough, backstabs or undermines you from the job in hand, you’ll need help to sort it out. Your manager should intervene and if necessary, give a warning. If this isn’t heeded, the culprit may have to be moved on.
6. Learn to delegate
It’s perhaps the hardest thing of all for a hardened techie to do, but is essential if you are to perform in any management capacity. The word manager comes from the Latin manus, for hand, and means literally to guide. So managers should not be constantly intervening in tasks or dishing out advice but should act or make decisions when called upon, reminds Gill. You got to where you are by being the best Java coder – now you have to let someone else do the job.
7. Find your style
There are many ways of being a manger – some prefer to directly manage every member of a big team while other like to have an ‘executive cabinet’, rather like the Tony Blair style of government. and then have these manage people and projects. Research points to three types of leader: the effective leader who is a good all-rounder, the technical leader - who is a subject specialist - and the people oriented leader. Your new job is to learn what makes people tick and to motivate them.
8. Get your manager’s support
However good management material you are, you’ll need the support of your manager and colleagues to make the transition. Ben Booth, recalls unhappy moves into management earlier in his career, which were caused by lack of support from his bosses at the time. "Rather than go it alone, ask for training early on. Then make sure you have a regular meeting to discuss how it’s going, ask for objectives and for help when you need it."
9. Check the lay of the land
Find out the facts relating to your new responsibilities straight away. What is your budget and the scope of your powers? Do you get to see all customers relating to Java development projects, say? “Understand your new world and what is important in the culture”, recommends Cranfield’s Lambert. “Is it more important to deliver on time than to budget - or vice versa?”
10. Make it personal
The best way to win the support of staff is to show you care, advises chartered psychologist, Dr Colin Gill. “Remember birthdays and take an interest in colleagues’ family life – and there’s nothing wrong with keeping memos about this kind of information”, he says. If you can hold a conversation with someone beyond the next delivery item, it will deepen your relationship. Nor does this personal bond mean you roll over and die for staff: “be very clear about instructions and expectations, and set these within formal objectives”, advises Gill.
Check CWJobs for team leader roles and all manager jobs for IT professionals