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Career Change: Becoming the Boss

By Mark Feffer

For many people, moving into management is a sign of success.

It means more money, more responsibility and a greater chance to have an impact on their company's long-term plans.

But if climbing out of the trenches is your goal, it's important to have a realistic idea of what's involved.

The Manager's World

Becoming a manager isn't just about growing your current role to its next logical step. Instead, it means drastic changes to the work you'll do, the way you'll interact with others, and the scope of issues you'll be responsible for.

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For many professionals, such dynamics are simply part of the territory that comes with an advancing career. But others may not be prepared for the sudden shift in priorities and approach that's required when you become the boss.

It's a tough change to negotiate. As a manager, you're not just a part of the team – you have to lead the team. People will look to you for direction, for advice, for coaching and to resolve conflicts.

Where before you were only responsible for your own work, now you'll be judged on how well the work of others gets done.

As if that's not enough, your relationships are going to change. Your peers aren't your peers anymore. No longer can you vent about a colleague or wonder out loud if the CEO knows what the heck he's doing. When you're in the manager's chair, your opinions and behavior take on a whole different context.

Managing in IT is a complex proposition and requires skills that go far beyond the technical. The ability to communicate, to organize, to present and to listen become more important than your knowledge of JavaScript or VMware. Though you may work in the same building and with the same people as you did before, in many ways you're entering a whole new world.

The Work of Others

As a tech professional, you were judged on your skill and ability to contribute as a team member. As a manager, you'll also be judged on how well your team performs under your supervision.

No longer will you be a technical professional responsible for coding assigned portions of a project or troubleshooting the network's firewall. Now you'll be on the hook for delivering the whole package -- the final product, the secure and functioning network -- on-time and on-budget.

The personnel issues, conflicting priorities and endless questions that used to be someone else's problem? Well, now they're yours.

It's All About... Them

By definition, a manager is someone who directs or oversees the work of others. That means that what you do every day will involve keeping track of what your subordinates are up to and making sure they're on course to meet their deadlines, stick to their budgets and, in general, keep all the promises they've made to clients or others in the company.

Doing this involves more than asking for status updates. In the course of talking to people about their work, you'll have to help them identify and solve problems that involve everything from code to non-responsive co-workers.

Effective managers are good leaders, and leadership is about more than checking off boxes on a to-do list. It means motivating your team, understanding the obstacles they face and looking for ways to help get past them.

You'll need to build a level of trust that allows you to know when you should leave people to their work and when you should get involved in an issue. And, you should be able to make each individual feel as if their work is more important than a single assignment and a paycheck.

Tools to the Team

When it comes to putting your arms elbow deep into the kind of technical issue you excel at, well... That's not your job anymore.

One of the manager's responsibilities is to provide their team with the tools necessary to get their work done, meaning the direction and resources that lead to clear responsibilities and adequate time for a project to be completed. Making sure timesheets are properly filed is now your headache. When HR mandates that new training be conducted, you're the one who has to make sure the team signs up. And when that technical issue crops up? It's your job to assign the right person to handle it so you can focus on what you're supposed to be doing.

Ear to the Ground

Communication is an important part of the manager's job, and that includes information-gathering as well as sharing what you've learned.

Just as executives need to stay up to speed on the status of your department's work, your team wants to know about the company's plans for facing new competitors or marketing its new product.

In both cases, people will depend on you to collect information from different sources and put it together in a logical way. Where, before, your communications were focused on a few projects, now you'll be in touch with a wider range of people on issues that go beyond the status of certain deliverables.

It's a sensitive area. Your boss will be curious about what people are saying when she's not around, and your employees will want to know the story behind the latest feature in the company newsletter. A good manager knows how to share intelligence in a way that helps people see context and understand how their concerns fit into the greater whole.

Bottom Line

Good managers spend most of their time thinking about their teams and making sure they've got what they need to get their work done. Succeeding requires both the ability to step back for a wider view and the knowledge of how technical parts fit together. Many IT professionals love the challenges that come with moving up, but more than a few have realized that their first love is the hands-on work that managers often leave behind.


About the author...

Mark Feffer has written, edited, and produced hundreds of articles on careers, personal finance and technology for leading business and career sites. He is currently writing for JobsinME.com, JobsinRI.com, JobsinVT.com and JobsinNH.com, the top local resources for job seekers, employers, and recruiters in New England.


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