One of the best ways to move ahead in technology without changing employers is to move into management, a transition that can be challenging. Many of the skills required for a technical role are opposite of what's required to lead a project or department, says Kevin Kaiser, program director of the Transition to General Management program at INSEAD Business School. "There's a whole collection of soft skills, which technically minded people tend to not have in abundance," says Kaiser.
Related: The Soft Skills You Need to Succeed in Tech
Nonetheless, there are a number of ways get these skills. Once you've got them, you will become increasingly valuable to your organization as a manager who also understands the intricacies of the technology. Here are some ways to grow as a manager.
Work Across Departments
Understanding cross-functional problems and the specific culture of other departments is a key part of moving into a leadership role. Find natural ways to meet others across the company and get involved. For example, help plan the holiday party or a company retreat, or take part in the company volunteer initiatives, says Eric Kramer, founder of Innovative Career Services, a career management firm that often works with technology clients. "You just have to look for the opportunities," he says. Chatting with people in marketing or accounting can give you a better idea of various initiatives going on.
Practice Soft Skills Outside of Work
Seek out opportunities to hone your communications, listening and leadership skills by participating in trade association events, networking panels or even volunteering for a tech-related nonprofit. "These groups are where you start to learn about other people," Kramer says.
Understand Senior Leadership
Since those working in technology functions don't often participate in discussions about what's being prioritized across the entire company, they tend to think about their own department and role, says Kaiser. Instead, take time to hear what the senior leadership is saying about annual company goals in annual reports, at company town hall meetings and in official memos. Also stay up-to-date on what's going on in the industry. "Look for opportunities to see the other perspective," he says. Company leaders need to see that "you are visibly curious to understand the bigger picture and how things are being prioritized," Kaiser says.
Take on Extra Assignments
Demonstrating that you can go beyond your everyday job is a powerful way to show you're ready for a transition. If means staying at work late, leading an optional project or putting together a presentation about the new upgrades to company email, for example, do it. One of the biggest challenges to moving up is finding a way of "increasing visibility across the organization and developing a presence," says Bob Hewes, a senior partner at Camden Consulting Group, a talent management and leadership development firm
Skip the Tech Terms
Communicating "at the level of the audience" is key when dealing with people outside of the IT function, says Hewes. Instead of using terms or acronyms that are familiar to those in the technology department, describe concepts to help others in the company get on the same page. "Limit the use of your jargon speak," he suggests.
Have an Open Mind
INSEAD's Kaiser says that many in tech have specific processes to solve problems and are used to being the expert. "They tend to orient themselves around the idea that there is an answer and are used to having problems that are well defined," he says. But if you're looking move into a managerial role, be prepared to not have all the answers. The complexities of management make issues less clear-cut, and understanding the different sides can be a great way to demonstrate that you're up for the challenge. With so many unique challenges, managers must get used to making tough decisions.
No matter how you navigate your career, it's important to understand that companies are eager to have general managers who can also understand what's going on at a technical level. Many are supportive of promoting those who have worked in a technical function. Additionally, your previous math and quantitative experience is a big plus for those entering general management, says Kaiser. "Business is a data-driven job, too many people think it's about instinct," he says.