Project management provides controls to ensure business requirements and technology projects align, but project managers by themselves are not a replacement for overall relationship management with other teams, your client, or those that you support. By building and managing relationships outside of traditional reporting lines, you will better understand the continuously changing needs and priorities of other departmental leads and customers. This will give you continuous insight into potential issues with existing projects as well as new projects that haven't officially started. Early involvement at the beginning of (or throughout) a project allows you time to proactively manage relationships, priorities, and resources across departments to deliver efficient and effective delivery of services.
In addition to improvements in project and service delivery, relationship management can promote increased synergies between departments and opportunities for business improvements. Therefore, directors should think of their teams not only as the people who report to them, but also their peers in other parts of the organization. If the CIO primarily focuses on communication and relationship management within her or his organization and does not spend a considerable amount of time building relationships with the chief operating, finance, and marketing officers as well as the client base they are limiting the value and potential synergies that IT can bring to the organization.
This is true for managers and staff as well. Challenge yourself to think of your team not just as members of your department, but also think of the extended team and how you can build and manage the extended relationships.
By increasing your knowledge about other areas of the business you become more valuable to the organization as you are able to identify opportunities for improvement and then have the relationships in place to act on those opportunities for everyone's benefit. Learning more about the departments that you support and the ultimate clients that drive your company's revenue will provide everyone from the highest level executive to the mid-level staff more insight and help them perform their current and future jobs better. Never bypass direct reporting lines or protocols, but truly progressive companies and leaders want individuals to show interest in and contribute across the organization.
How does your company generate revenue? What are its significant costs? How does your department contribute to the revenue or cost side of your company's profit model? How can you improve your company's performance? These are basic questions that every employee should be able to answer at some level, regardless of position.
Even today, many IT professionals think that financial management is the role of accountants. Nothing is further from the truth and more upsetting to business leaders when technologists believe accounting should not be a core competency of IT leaders. Obviously the magnitude of your direct impact in raw dollars may vary, but at the end of the day all companies are in the business to make money. Technologists that purely think in terms of bits and bytes without understanding how they contribute to the bottom line of an organization are not thinking like business people.
This does not imply that technologists do not have to be technical that is a given. To enhance your career and value to the organization, understand the basic financial model of your company so that you can make technology decisions based on how the company operates. The next generation of IT leaders will still need deep technical skills, but will also need strong financial and business skills, as companies continue to expect more and more from their leaders.
Although team development, relationship management, and financial management are not the only important skills for future leaders, they can be overlooked as you develop your career plan. However, they are important assessment criteria by executive leadership when they search for tomorrow's leaders. Continuing to increase your technical knowledge, as well as focusing on these non-technical skills, will make you the well-rounded business and technical professional who can move the company forward.
Consultant David Otte is the former CIO of Sidley Austin, and preveously served as a consultant with Baker Robbins. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.