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3 competencies you need to advance into IT leadership

February 19, 2018

By Steve Franzen

The digital era has meant many things to IT professionals: New scrutiny. New skills. And, happily, new leadership opportunities.

Successfully leading an IT function now takes skills you don’t necessarily gain coming up in IT, like the ability to confidently partner with line of business leaders or to effectively communicate with a board of directors.

In my experience recruiting technology executives, there are three key competencies employers want to see, and they’re willing to look outside the IT department to get them. Working to develop and hone these skills now can prepare you to rise to the highest levels of leadership.

Three universally important skills for IT executives

1. Change management

Change—breathtakingly fast, constant, complex change—is the new steady state for most enterprises in the digital era. But that doesn’t mean everyone likes it.

Workers who have been in their roles a long time can be fearful of changes, especially when new trends disrupt everything from their team structure to what kind of tools and skills they use. With most large organizations heading toward a DevOps philosophy (which often means reconfiguring team structure), automating many tasks and moving infrastructure to the cloud, workers are being asked to learn new things and ways of working. Enabling that effectively and quickly is a key leadership task, which means change management may be the single most important competency an IT leader needs to possess today.

2. Influencing peers and leaders

Every business decision triggers an IT event.  The days of IT being stuck in the back room are over; now, you’ll probably spend at least as much time talking to business counterparts as to your team. And those conversations are new territory for many of you. IT leaders spend a lot of time—and political capital—in sensitive tasks like prioritizing competing needs for different lines of business and influencing tech spending and integrations that happen outside their sphere of control.

IT leaders are also increasingly visiting the boardroom for challenging assignments, like explaining data risks and articulating the ROI for expensive technology investments. 

That all takes emotional intelligence, top-notch social skills and an ability to communicate persuasively. It also takes knowing when to be flexible and having the gumption to stand your ground with executives and owners several paygrades above you. Potential employers will want to see evidence of those skills and how you’ve used them to influence counterparts and leaders to impact strategic decisions.

3. Product orientation

The expectations of digital natives are higher than ever, and companies have no choice but to keep up. This plays out in interesting ways for tech leaders, who are now supporting digital transformation initiatives in the back office and product development—even for companies we didn’t used to think of as tech-focused.

Internally, that means enabling lots of new ways to get work done (everything from a Slack channel to paired programming to remote work support). Externally, that means understanding buyer preferences and thinking strategically and creatively about how technology can enhance the customer experience.

Interested in joining the ranks of IT leaders? Our Technology Executive Search division helps connect IT leaders with emerging technology skills with organizations that need their help. We’ve worked with a gamut of companies, from Fortune 50 enterprises to venture-backed tech startups, and are currently placing VP-level and above roles in areas like cloud delivery, enterprise architecture, product management and digital leadership. Connect with me on LinkedIn to learn more.

Steve Franzen is the managing director for Executive Search Services at TEKsystems. 

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