How to move into a senior manager role in tech

Christine Wright, Senior Vice President, Hays US

Senior manager jobs are in high demand and it’s no surprise. Such roles can do wonders for your salary – but making the transition from a team player, such as a senior developer, to a team leader is often easier said than done.
 
Your current role may require a high level of technical expertise, but a managerial role calls for a more diverse skillset. You can’t rely on your IT acumen alone. To succeed as a senior people manager in tech, you must be competent across a broad range of technical, business and human skills.
 
A couple of ways to build up your experience could be taking on more projects, finding a mentor or pursuing an extra-curricular course. But where should you start and what skills should you target? Here are some areas to consider to help you apply for your first senior management job, and stand out during the interview process.
 

1. Understand staff motivation 

Many businesses are adopting flat organisational structures - which is something you’re probably used to if you work in tech. According to McKinsey, this way of working can unlock “massive value” for businesses thanks to the resulting agility and boost to their decision-making capabilities. But when you switch from working in a flat structure to managing in one, staff motivation is a major factor to consider. 
 
To keep staff motivated and maintain the benefits of a flat organisational structure is a difficult balancing act – and one only the best managers can achieve by understanding how to keep different employees motivated. There are many ways you can achieve this, namely by:
  • Clearly communicating and practising transparency to build team trust
  • Developing goal-based incentives to help you meet your targets and innovate
  • Cheerleading your team’s work and communicating its impact to the wider business 
  • Empowering team members to take ownership on specific projects and tasks
  • Use dedicated one-to-one meetings to understand how specific goals and challenges motivate each individual

2. Think strategically 

Tech managers are one part of the wider organisational structure – whether that’s a flat or hierarchical one. They need to work with other teams and departments, while managing their own team. And doing this successfully requires you to understand the inner workings of your organisation, not just its technical aspects.
 
So, you may want to look beyond your individual contribution to your organisation and think a little bigger. Good managers will ask themselves:
  • How does my team deliver value to the organisation?
  • What other teams do we work with? How does this collaboration help us succeed at a team and organisational level?
  • Overall, how is our organisation performing? Is the brand strong? Are we continuing to innovate?
  • Who is our competition? How does our organisation compare to others in the marketplace? 
An individual tech professional tends to focus on their personal responsibilities and goals. A manager, however, concentrates on the health of the wider business.
 

3. Pursue management courses 

Good management is one such skill that needs continuous development, requiring you to understand how to successfully transition from focusing on your own technical work to managing a team of people.
 
When he started his role as CEO at Shopify, Tobias Lütke said that he was “not good”. He joked that, “the wonderful thing about computers is when you tell them what to do, they’ll keep doing it and they’ll do it until you tell them to stop. It turns out humans are not like that.”
 
In other words, people management is not easy. But it is a skill you can learn and courses in everything from conflict resolution to strategic leadership, negotiation and organisational behaviour can help. 
 
Some companies provide financial support for staff who want to focus on their professional development. Twitter, for example, even runs its own university to help staff build their business acumen and leadership skills. But if your organisation doesn’t do this, write a business case and present it to your manager. 
 

4. Network and build a support group 

When you start a role as a senior manager, it can help to network with fellow senior managers - introducing yourself to different teams and making connections with the wider business. This not only helps you gain visibility in the organisation and build confidence in your skills, but you also get valuable insights into how the business operates.
 
Also, see if your organisation offers a mentorship programme that pairs new managers with established executives. This is a brilliant way to get one-to-one support and candid advice from someone with management experience. What’s more, this can help you to gain exposure from an influential person at your organisation.
 
You may also want to network with professionals outside of your organisation. This is a savvy move for your future career. It can help to have industry connections, if you ever decide to move on, maximising your chances of landing the best tech management jobs going now, and in the years ahead.
 

Author

Christine Wright
Senior Vice President, Hays US

Christine Wright is responsible for the growth and expansion of the Central and West US Region and leading national strategic projects. This is the latest function in her extensive 25-year career with Hays where she has lead the establishment, turnaround and management of high performing businesses across 4 continents. Prior to her current role Christine was the Managing Director of the Asia region where she was responsible for the day to day operational management and significant growth of Hays in Japan, China, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and India. Christine has also played key roles in the management of Hays’ business in Australia and in the United Kingdom. She holds a Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Statistics and Computing, has attended business programs at IMD, Ashridge, De Ruwenburg business schools and is a member of the Director Institute of Australia. Christine lives in Denver with her husband and is an executive mentor in her spare time. 

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