If you’ve ever looked into advancing your information technology (IT) career, you’ve probably noticed two paths. The first path leads to technology specialization and the second leads to management. Both are viable options for ambitious tech pros, but most people gravitate towards one or the other.
Maybe you don’t consider yourself super tech-savvy. Or perhaps you have a knack for business processes and enjoy motivating others. If you can relate to these statements, becoming an IT project manager may be the perfect next step on your career path.
IT project managers (PMs) operate much like a manager in the business world. They typically oversee a team of IT specialists and open the lines of communication between their team, customers, stakeholders, superiors and anyone else involved in a given project. These professionals know the world of IT, but also bring business smarts to the table as they lead their team to an optimal project outcome.
So, how can you get started in this promising field? Keep reading for expert insight on how to become an IT project manager.
What are some qualities that successful IT project managers share?
“Discipline, innovation and character,” says Sean Si, founder of SEO Hacker. Si has learned that candidates who lack self-discipline have a hard time rallying their team to finish work in a timely and efficient manner.
“Innovation helps you to stay ahead of the game,” Si adds, pointing out that a PM’s innovative business side is why they are managing in the first place. Katie Bisson, manager at Technology Seed also emphasizes the business knowledge aspect of project management. “Bridging the gap between IT and the rest of the business separates a project manager from a technician,” she explains.
"Innovation helps you to stay ahead of the game."
The best IT project managers are also extremely goal-oriented, according to Sean Vogt, director of operations at Greenview Data. He explains that specific, achievable goals go much further than abstract business goals. For example, “We aim for every customer support call to be acknowledged within five minutes” is a more effective objective than “We want to keep customers happy.” It’s the PM’s job to set goals for their team and ensure they are met.
Vogt adds that PMs should be very people-focused. Whether with the members of your team, the customer or anyone else involved in a project, managers need to communicate, motivate and sometimes persuade others.
Bisson specifies that this communication often involves translating complicated technical jargon into layman’s terms that business stakeholders can comprehend. She believes a strong candidate will not only have strong communication skills, but also public speaking and presentation abilities. Confidence in these areas is a must for project managers.
What skills do you need to become an IT project manager?
IT project managers must possess a unique blend of business and technology skills. They don’t necessarily need to know all of the deep technical details of a technology, but Bisson explains they need an excellent understanding of how the technology works.
“This skill enables them to properly communicate with the technical team and the key business decision makers,” Bisson says. Think of the IT project manager as the line connecting all of the dots between everyone’s specialized tasks.
We used real-time job analysis software from Burning-Glass.com to examine nearly 113,000 IT project manager job postings from the past year.* This data helped us identify the top ten skills employers are seeking in IT project manager prospects.
Here’s what we found:
- Business process
- Systems development life cycle (SDLC)
- Contract management
As you can see, a healthy balance of management skills and technical skills needed to be successful in this position. But don’t let this list of skills deter you from pursuing the profession. Keep reading to learn about the education and training that will help you acquire these abilities.
What education, training & experience do you need to become an IT project manager?
Our analysis revealed that 87 percent of employers prefer their IT project manager candidates to have a bachelor’s degree. A majority of those also require prospects to hold the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification.
About a fourth of the job listings call for 1-5 years of experience, while nearly half of the listings ask for 5-8 years. This emphasis on experience is to ensure candidates have a solid understanding of the business of IT. The good news for you is you have already started acquiring experience in your current IT role.
Advice from IT project management pros
“To become a manager from a technical background, I would recommend asking for more responsibility in your current role: tech lead, QA lead or communicating with the customer,” says Konstantin Mirin, CEO of IQRIA. This will help you gain valuable leadership experience and also send a signal to your employer that you’re motivated to advance your career.
This suggestion is echoed by Ben Brearly, manager of uCareerStrategy. He says being proactive and familiarizing yourself with project management with help you gain experience working with the business side of projects. He also recommends earning any type of business qualification you can to remove the purely “technical stigma” from your resume.
And while you are on the road to project management, do what you can to demonstrate your goodwill and sincerity to fellow employees and supervisors. Vogt says a vital aspect of managing and developing an awesome IT team is establishing yourself as a trustworthy and collaborative person.
“Good techs are incredibly smart, unique and often have a distaste for conformity. As an IT leader you'll have to work with each unique employee by being genuine and keeping their best interests in mind,” Vogt explains.
Do you have some of the skills and attributes described above? Now that you have a game plan for how to become an IT project manager, it’s time to execute it.
Start implementing some of the expert advice shared as you work to qualify yourself to climb the ranks as an IT project manager. Learn how you can earn your IT management degree online so you don’t miss a beat while honing the technical and leadership skills you need to succeed.
*Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 112,989 IT project manager job postings, Sep. 01, 2014 – Aug. 31, 2015)