Best IT Certifications for the Management Track 2017
IT Pros on the management track should take a serious look at project management, enterprise architect and IT governance certifications, as well as higher education programs.
Credit: ShutterstockSome IT professionals are total tech-heads. They want to bury themselves in the details and revel in the minutiae of new tools, technologies, software platforms and so forth. But others may be interested in a mid-to-late career shift into management. Such folks often wonder if IT certification or additional education can help them to make such a move.
The short answer to this implicit question is "Yes." It turns out there are numerous avenues available to lead interested IT pros in a management direction.
IT Certifications with Management Value or Potential
There are lots of different areas of certification that are valuable and useful for aspiring managers. My colleagues and I have written about most of them in the Tom's IT Pro "Best IT Certifications" series. Topics with management impact include the following:
- Project management certifications: Managing projects is about working with requirements analysis, project design and delivery, schedules, budget and people. All of these things are important for managing projects, but they're equally important for managing businesses and/or business units such as project teams, functional groups, departments and so forth. Most of what you have to know and be able to do to earn the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) or Project Management Professional (PMP) plays directly into many entry-to-mid-level management jobs, too.
- Enterprise architect certifications: The ability to use technology to meet business or organizational goals sits at the heart of IT architecture, just as it sits at the heart of IT management. The leadership, communication and people skills so important to developing and maintaining IT architecture skills and knowledge are likewise essential in any kind of management role. There's a profound overlap at work here, even though the day-to-day details may differ. Useful architect certifications include The Open Group's TOGAF 9 certification, and IASA's Certified IT Architect — Professional (CITA-P) credential.
- IT governance certifications: IT governance may be defined by the processes that enable IT to be used efficiently and effectively in helping an organization to meet its goals. That makes it a critical discipline for managers to understand and apply, as well as for those who design, maintain, or audit such processes and procedures. There's a lot of overlap here, too. ITIL and Certified in the Governance of Enterprise IT (CGEIT) are particularly valuable credentials (or sets of credentials) within this discipline.
To achieve a certification "hat trick" with maximum management potential, think about pursuing one or more of the top certs in each of these three categories, as stepping stones on your path into a corner office.
The Education Trail from IT to Management
If there's anything close to a silver bullet for making the transition from working as an individual contributor in IT to working as a manager, it has to be the MBA degree. Short for master of business administration, an MBA has turned into something of a catch-all for many different walks of management work and activity. These days, it's possible to obtain an MBA that focuses directly on information systems, as this Google search will quickly illustrate. (Check out this "Best 20 Online MBA in MIS…" item, as one particularly pointed example.) Other areas of MBA focus that are of great potential interest and relevance to IT professionals, and directly relevant to the preceding certifications, include:
- IT and corporate governance
- ITIL and business process management
- Program and portfolio management
The important thing about pursuing an MBA and then putting it to work as a transition vehicle is to be clear with your managers (and HR, and anybody else who's involved in performance evaluations or career planning in your workplace) that you're seriously interested in moving into management. If you can volunteer or talk your way into tasks or responsibilities that give you a chance to assume some management roles and perform some management tasks to help you gain experience beforehand, so much the better. If you have to assume an in-between role (such as team lead, project lead or something similar) to prove your interest, that's a good thing, too.
Don't Forget Soft Skills, Either!
There's a lot of truth in the contention that the higher one climbs any career ladder, the less important the mastery of detail (or technology) becomes, and the more important soft skills loom. At many levels, management is mostly about soft skills. It requires constant and careful communication, in both written and oral forms. It requires massive people skills to lead, motivate and care for the human assets who actually do the real work.
If you want to possess a set of well-developed and capable soft skills by the time you make the management transition, you'd best get started building and improving that set right away.
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Putting All the Pieces Together
A strong combination of education, certification and soft skills will ensure that IT professionals who aspire to a management position can actually do the job. Along the way to acquiring these things, most IT pros will also have the chance to chew over this topic thoroughly and decide if that's what they really want to do with themselves and their working lives. For many people in IT, this might not be a best-fit situation. But for those who dig in and find themselves further inspired to pursue this avocation, it will soon become clear that they really, really want this for themselves, and for their personal and professional development. For those chosen few, putting the right combination of training, skills and experience should provide the ticket to take them where they want to go. It's a lot of work that takes time, money and effort, but that should ultimately provide a good return on that investmen
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