As the title says ...

Are there core management skills that every manager must have in IT development regardless of the size of team ?

Also, is there any authoritative source I could use as a reference to these core skills for management while talking to a friend of mine who happens to be a manager ?

  • 1
    Management in IT development is not my area of expertise, but I enjoyed reading The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering by Fred Brooks. You can get a good summary of the ideas on Wikipedia: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mythical_Man-Month
    – user27483
    Commented Apr 1, 2016 at 10:46
  • Best skills my old boss had were communication skills. Biggest lack he had was his lack of trust that new blood knew more about current best practices than his outdated knowledge from his programming days 20 years ago. Commented Apr 1, 2016 at 15:51

5 Answers 5


An IT manager's job is largely to buffer the team from administrivia and mis-prioritized requests so they can be most productive, to keep them aware of deadlines and help adjust priorities so those deadlines can be met or negotiated, and to keep them aware of how they are being evaluated and what they could be doing to improve their evaluations and advance their career.

Technology and domain expertise definitely help. But you don't have to be an expert on all of it; you need to understand enough to know whether folks are giving and getting good advice and making good progress toward the organization's share goals.

Engineer's respect expertise, and being an expert manager (interpreted as helping them produce the best and most valuable work they can) is a legitimate specialty.


Managing IT workers is equivalent to herding cats. They will do whatever the hell they want to do at the end of the day. It may look like they are following a guideline, but to the point that they can get away with.

Consider this: IT workers are generally highly educated with analytical skills. Management wants strict control. Two can not coexists in the same place. Instead of managing IT personnel, my philosophy for IT line managers is to be more of project managers. You can explain these people (i.e. myself and my coworkers) that, if the deadline is not met, there will be no funding and they might not have jobs come next month. They understand the cause and the consequence. But if you approach like "you work for me and I say you will do it like that, so we can make the deadline" they will laugh at your face and probably do the opposite, just to spite you.

There is a manager's dilemma here: you can only manage people (forcefully if necessary) who are less capable than you are, but you want to work with people who are much smarter than you are, for your project's success. You can not have both. You can not have your cake and eat it too.

  • Here's the other side of the coin. We work for managers who don't know what we do, don't know what we face, don't know the dependencies of the processes, are often ignorant of the laws or ignore them (especially licensing and copyright) and then presume to tell us what a reasonable amount of time is to perform a task. Yes, the creates resentment. Tell us what you need and when, then back off and you get the best results. Commented Apr 1, 2016 at 15:26
  • And yet, many developers are not as good as they think they are. It's a tough one.
    – gazzz0x2z
    Commented Apr 3, 2016 at 8:59

"authoritative source": I could point you to "Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams", an amazon.co.uk link here. Something more recent/popular that many people are talking about is the lean movement so you might want to check "The Lean Startup".

I suppose that you are interested in the dissection of IT manager minus "generic" manager. From my experience:

  • It is an ever changing field, so the management is different from "industrial" management (compliance, copying what works) towards managing for change, innovation etc
  • IT people more than others resort to reason, it is more difficult to accept and communicate emotional or authoritative decisions, just because it is not part of how they think in order to get to the IT field in the first place. Transparency is more important for example.
  • For the foreseeable future IT personnel demand is far higher than supply, it is easier for an IT worker to move to another company if they do not like/approve you as your manager or the company compared to other more saturated professions. You have to provide something more than say a paycheck (growth, learning, autonomy, work flexibility) because that paycheck is not that hard to find elsewhere. This creates different dynamics which I honestly believe are hard for a traditional organization to tackle.

Good luck, hope I helped.


Agile methodologies are very common in IT/Software development. If your company uses Agile, the main management skill you'll need is 'servant leadership'. Your main role is to remove impediments and resolve conflicts (if the team is unable to do so). You want a self-organizing team, but may need to step in on occasion as your team evolves (goes through storming-norming-forming-performing phases).

Soft skills are typically needed to be successful in servant leadership (the people doing the work need the technical skills), but it would be useful to have speaking/passing knowledge on the technology stack, and a basic understanding of the business rules of the projects your team is working on.

The following is more specific to SCRUM (a single Agile methodology) but has some decent information: https://www.mountaingoatsoftware.com/agile/agile-project-management


The old adage about managing IT people is like herding cats is 100% accurate.

We are very much like cats in many ways: We are intelligent, independent, easily riled, and/or disturbed. If you're demanding you get nowhere, but if you are patient, you can have a real asset.

Strong (as in Herculean) interpersonal skills are a must. In many cases people who are drawn to IT, or are skilled in it do not have much in that department, so you're dealing with people who are easily offended, and quick to anger who work in a high-stress environment which exacerbates those traits. If you have those strong skills and get the IT folks to believe you have their back, they will work their backsides off for you.

Chances are, when you call a meeting, you will be the dumbest person in the room, which is as it should be. This is not a problem until you try to explain the business's position to them. Ironically, despite being quite intelligent, they won't understand the perspective of the business, so no small degree of patience is required as well. If you have a good relationship with your team, they'll complain, but meet or exceed your expectations, but you need to be patient. Just like a cat, IT workers won't be too eager to do things they don't understand or don't feel like are in their best interests.

Leadership skills: Be an expediter, not a commander. Have a clear path and a cat will follow you room to room, maybe not taking the path you expect, but the cat will follow. Try to push the cat from room to room, and you'll get scratched and bitten. IT workers will not be pushed around. Many of us grew up as geeks and nerds and have a visceral reaction to anyone we feel is trying to bully us.

  • couldn't have said it better myself
    – MelBurslan
    Commented Apr 1, 2016 at 22:02

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