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Transforming the Art of IT Leadership

Finally the day has come where we recognise that those who shout loudest don’t always get heard – that should make for a more comfortable working environment for most. Recognising that soft skills are what is needed in the changing pace of office structure is leading to a whole new skills gap of its own.

Ireland is viewed as a highly viable option for senior IT personnel. Techies, sometimes by nature, might not be natural managers or leaders. While somebody can be a great tech person, for that person to grow into management you have to support that development.

You have to look at, do they have the right attitude? Are they positive individuals? What are their communication skills like? Time management skills? Problem solving skills?

You have to train people to have the softer skills to get them to management level, particularly techies so they have the skills to share what they know with their new subordinates but also to navigate the new challenges that being a leader brings.

ICS through the advice of our Advisory Board recognises the need to implement these softer skills into the tech-focused workforce through the Leadership Development Programme which focuses on upskilling future leaders in IT.

“We are starting to see the change now, the future leaders, a lot more women are starting to step up a little bit more because there is a willingness now, we’ve moved from muscle now to hearts and minds,” said Ashling Cunningham, CIO of Ervia, who has been working with ICS to develop our leadership courses.

“I volunteer on the CIO Advisory Board which is where a number of CIOs meet on a regular basis. We get together and look at the work of the ICS and look at how we can be proactive in the whole area of STEM and getting more and more people into it and working with ICS on the profile of the organisation, the brand of technology and really using it to channel a network for our people to get together.”

Cunningham also teaches elements of the Leadership Development Programme directly to course participants.

“I got involved with ICS about two or three years ago and I’ve been working with them on the Leadership Development Programme, which is really for aspiring leaders. 

“It’s a three day workshop. I was working with them today, we were just doing a piece around four areas; it’s around resource management, how will you manage your resources going forward. How you manage conflict resolution, what good teams look like, what are the characteristics of good teams, and how do you get your team behind you on a particular initiative, strategy, objective or project.

“The second element is about building your resilience. When it goes wrong, and it will go wrong, what do you do? When you are on that tree on your own, who are you pulling off, who are you getting guidance or coaching from, how are you managing yourself, your person, your profile? And how are you keeping yourself safe during that emotional period?

“Emotional intelligence and how that looks for you and your team and then the whole area of respecting the team, diversity and inclusion. Why it’s important as a leader what you say, what you do and how you act because people are looking at you all the time and if you do it they can feel that they can do it as well,” said Cunningham. 

“The second part is then on security and risk, very important for any technology organisation at this moment in time. GDPR came in last year so there are significant requirements on businesses now to be compliant in that whole area of data protection and of course we have the ever increasing cyber-security agenda which is getting more and more sophisticated every day.

“What you need to do to be compliant in this space, what you need to protect your organisation, not just its people but also its assets and customers and everybody that is impacted by the organisation. 

“We do a bit on vendor and contract management – who are the vendors that you are partnering with, the role they have, how you manage them, how you gauge the relationship and what that will look like in the future. Particularly as a lot more companies offshore some of the more commercial, non-core or commoditised applications and delivery elements.

“We finish off with Finance 101, very important. My background is finance, but in IT what I found when I went in was IT has obviously got very high OPEX and CAPEX  budgets but unless you understand the return on investment, unless you understand the ratios that go with why we would invest in a particular business case or not. If you don’t understand that well then you are doing a disservice to the organisation.

“You need to understand the funding model, where the funding comes from and what you are contributing to the organisation, so are you an expense or are you revenue-generating?

“We do a kind of finance 101 so people can understand basic debits, credits, balance sheets and operating expenses so when it comes down to budgeting they can understand, they can have better control of their respective budgets in their own areas, and understand how that feeds into the health and success of the overall organisation.

“We do a day on strategy and it finishes up with a session where we go off-site in October as part of the ICS Leaders Conference and they go and sit in on that. It’s a day directly aimed at CIOs and we talk about different topics and different and they get to sit with us and talk about the programme and what they found beneficial so the part I talk about is probably more the softer side than the technical side,” said Cunningham.

Elements of this article originally appeared in the Sunday Business Post, 02/06/19 by Fiona Alston.

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