Political Skills Critical for IT

Political savvy is a critical skill for IT executives, who must compete against other business unit leaders when they lobby for project prioritization and budget allocations.

But IT professionals often overlook the need to establish effective strategies to determine how best to thwart a nemesis or influence the CEO, according to panelists and attendees at the Summit 2005 IT management conference last week.

"It can kill you" if you're not politically savvy, said Christine Davis, a former business executive at Texas Instruments and Raytheon Co who is currently a consultant at Cutter Consortium, the sponsor of the conference.

To survive in politically charged organizations, said Davis, it's imperative to have support not only from your boss but also from the people who are lower down on the corporate organizational chart.

A good starting point: IT managers should learn their strengths and weaknesses and take steps to address any shortcomings in their ability to lead and influence people, said Robina Chatham, a Cutter consultant who is a visiting fellow at the Cranfield University School of Management in Cranfield, England.

The most effective way to influence other managers is through collaboration, said Chris Avery, a Cutter consultant. "Research shows that we're doing more decision-making in groups," said Avery, noting that such models can help IT managers in gaining peer support for initiatives.

Still, he advised IT professionals to "be sharper than the sharks that are out there to gun you down."

A consensus-building approach to decision-making doesn't always work, said Lou Mazzucchelli, a Cutter consultant and a venture partner at Ridgewood Capital Management.

Some companies that make decisions by consensus, such as Hewlett-Packard, take so much time to reach agreements that the process "has been a detriment to those organizations," said Mazzucchelli.

Whatever tack IT leaders take, it's essential that they be able to influence business decisions -- especially within companies that are heavily dependent upon IT, said Berit Svendsen, chief technology officer at Telenor ASA, a telecommunications company in Norway.

"If the CIO or CTO doesn't have influence, it's a risk to the business," said Svendsen.

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