Main image of article 6 Must-Have Skills for Technology Managers

Much like technology itself, the fundamental skills that tech managers need to excel on the job are continuing to evolve at a rapid pace.

For instance, as more organizations eliminate managerial and principal engineering roles to create flatter structures, the remaining managers are expected to serve as player-coaches, noted Josh Bob, career coach for tech managers and founder of Career Vision Coaching.

“Under the circumstances, having the ability to understand the code on a deep level and the soft skills to coach and motivate team members to work harder and reach higher levels of achievement is a big plus,” Bob said.

From the technical to the tactical to the social, here are the skills and competencies that have become indispensable to ascend into tech management, along with some ways to acquire them.

Business Know-How

Business know-how has become the bedrock of a technology manager’s skill set.

As organizations shift from project to product delivery models that work closely with a cross-functional team, tech managers are expected deliver solutions that have a positive impact on the customer experience, products and worker productivity, explained Martha Heller, CEO of Heller Search.

To solve business problems that may have a technical component, today’s tech managers need a deep understanding of how money flows in an organization, how processes impact worker productivity and what causes customers to buy more or less of a company's product or service versus the competition.

How can you gain the expertise to make good business decisions?

Work for a company that provides opportunities to attend all-hands meetings and business training programs for professionals working in technology, Heller advised. Another option is to move into a role that bridges the gap between technology and business strategy like a business relationship manager (BRM), application manager or business analyst.

The Rationale for Making Wise Trade-Offs

Along those same lines, tech managers need the ability to weigh the options when developing products, identify the technical trade-offs, and make tough decisions that benefit the business in the near term.

For instance, a common trade-off is development time. Should you strive for code that is extensible and adaptable or opt for a faster release time? If your company is strained for resources or living quarter to quarter, in most cases, faster is better.

Even if you haven’t had a management title, you can still demonstrate the rationale for making wise trade-offs by referencing the decisions you’ve made when creating code or performing your duties, Bob said. Just try to view your daily activities with the eyes of a business manager.

Coaching for Improved Performance and Motivation

Leading a reshuffled team after layoffs can be challenging. Successful managers know how to identify improvement opportunities, address those areas with training or firsthand experience and drive higher levels of team performance. They also have a knack for putting staff members in the right positions to succeed.

And of course, great coaches ask, listen and empathize.

The impact that managers have on the ability to attract, retain and motivate people is huge, noted Larry Bonfante, CEO and founder of CIO Bench Coach. Highly effective managers recognize this and adhere to a variation of the golden rule known as the platinum rule, which states that you should treat others the way they want to be treated.

The experience you gain by mentoring junior team members, organizing team building activities, promoting a healthy work environment or stepping up to solve problems that limit team performance can facilitate your own professional growth and serve as a proxy for previous experience when competing for managerial opportunities.

Cross-Functional Cooperation and Collaboration

The ability to foster teamwork, collaboration and cooperation between team members who bring different perspectives, backgrounds and knowledge to the table has become one of the top requirements to land a job as a tech manager and succeed in the role.

Even if you haven’t had the opportunity to directly influence stakeholders or professionals from design, marketing, sales or other relevant departments by serving on a cross-functional team, you can still be curious, Bob pointed out.

Before you start coding, ask why. Having one-off conversations with stakeholders or end users to learn the underlying motivations or issues when implementing a feature can transform how you think about your work, build trust and even unleash creativity and new solutions.

Relationship Management

Why do so many first-time tech managers fail? They lack the ability to inspire support for their ideas, articulate the business case for investing in technology or build effective partnerships with members of the C-Suite.

“Managers who rely on their technical acumen can’t survive anymore,” Bonfante said.

In the era of SaaS, cloud and web, tech managers need advanced communication skills to nurture meaningful relationships and achieve success beyond meeting the technical requirements.

To sharpen your communication skills, grab any opportunity you can get to work with mentors, make short presentations or communicate ideas to non-technical stakeholders.

Data Literacy

In today’s data-driven world, technology managers must know how to read and interpret complex data sets, extract actionable insights, and leverage the results to make strategic decisions. They also need to know how to create a self-service reporting and analytics environment. Put another way, aspiring managers need to show that they can think like a data scientist or transformational leader who knows how to use data to drive innovation and inspire new ways of thinking.

What’s the best way to hone and showcase your data capabilities? Every time you leverage data insights to make a strategic decision, transform a business operation or drive a meaningful outcome, write it down, Heller said. Then integrate the strongest examples into your resume, as well as the answers and anecdotes you’ll share during interviews and meetings to request a promotion.