Learning to lead and speak: Top skills for IT project managers

IT project managers are now challenged with new career demands. They must think – and speak – like a leader.

In just under a decade technological advancements have moved at lightning speed, affecting every imaginable aspect of business. 

IT project managers are now challenged with new career demands. They must think – and speak – like a leader.

Equipping project managers with a wider range of skills and engaging an effective succession strategy will be even more crucial to keep pace with these fast-changing dynamics.

Technical skills are not enough

IT project management was once considered a discipline in which the mastery of technical skills was the only requirement. 

It was less imperative to think strategically or to communicate complex project plans to anyone.

In today's work environment, IT professionals are now not only required to deliver high-quality products, but also to address the business impact of evolving technologies and align technology strategy with business objectives. In other words, IT professionals now need to think like business professionals, not just technical ones.

As a result, leadership and communication skills are considered critical competencies for influencing management, managing relationships and championing technology as a business force across the enterprise. 

Chief information officers (CIOs) and their teams have to deliver more than just technology and manage information. They now have to deliver business sense as well.

IT project managers and change

As big data-driven IT projects get increasingly complex, project managers have had to branch out beyond the IT department to infiltrate other departments such as HR, financial and legal. Now they have to manage organisational change while meeting common business goals.

Any change agent worth his salt will tell you how important communication and negotiation skills are to get the job done. These skills are essential to acquire executive approval and to ensure that any implemented system works seamlessly and delivers value across the organisation.

Leadership and general management skills a must

According to recent ESI research, project leadership, communication and general management skills were named by respondents as the top competencies critical to career advancement in the IT industry. Similarly, HR managers also look for the same skillsets when recruiting project management professionals.

A recent Deloitte study showed that leadership was the number one competency with the largest reported skill gap worldwide. Simultaneously, it was also found that leadership was the number one skill priority in the tech industry. 

In light of these findings, leadership training will become crucial for the IT industry throughout the rest of this decade.

Succession management

Internal hiring and talent development are the best solutions for organisations facing staffing challenges today. According to another ESI study, hiring from within is a sound investment.

Thus, an effective talent retention and succession programme can enable an IT organisation to leverage employees' institutional knowledge and experience to best achieve business objectives within the confines of the existing environment.

In the highly competitive and volatile IT industry, CIOs and IT directors are having a hard time retaining talent. As a result, investing in ongoing training and development for employees can contribute significantly to talent retention in the long term.

Research has shown that the project management office (PMO) has been proven to be a crucial body in providing structured training and paving the career paths for project managers worldwide. Ongoing training and development is instrumental in advancing the IT project manager's career path and improving salaries.

Talent retention and succession management are closely related to continuous learning programmes. It is essential for CIOs and IT leaders to manage their talent flow to ensure that their team members are developed comprehensively and frequently to meet both current and future needs. 

Baselining the current talent of the IT project team, defining clear competency requirements for meeting both departmental and overall business needs in the short and long term, identifying gaps in achieving those requirements, laying out a development framework, and then executing it are the essential steps to ensuring the future of IT project management professionals.

Alan Garvey (pictured) is managing director, Emea at ESI International and leads a regional team of professionals who are responsible for all aspects of the ESI learning programme development and delivery. For more information visit: www.esi-intl.co.uk.

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