Most government workers pride themselves on the experience and knowledge they bring to their jobs.
IT leaders are no different. We strive to stay current on the latest advances in technology. One way is by obtaining and maintaining certifications.
The Certification Quandary
There are many advantages to obtaining certifications. One is learning a standard vocabulary. This helps ensure when leaders use phrases such as process improvement or strategy, there is a universal understanding of the meaning of those terms. Certification holders also learn the recommended guidelines or procedures for conducting business within their area of expertise. Most designations also require hands-on experience and continuing education.
And for IT managers, there's one type of certification that has nothing to do with technology — but can be quite beneficial. It's leadership certification. There are hundreds of certificates available about leadership, and there are societies and clubs. Even so, more is needed. There isn't a national, nonprofit association for leaders or a leadership institute that has set the standard for the qualities and character a good leader in technology should possess.
What qualifications should CIOs come with? How do agencies know if they have the vision, the passion and the ability to make sound decisions? IT directors in government have a tough job. We have restrictive budgets, limited personnel and often have to struggle to keep ancient technology functioning from day to day. Yet many IT folks have pulled off miracles with a handful of team members and outdated technology because of their leadership skills. A leadership certification would help determine whether the IT leader you are about to hire is one who is capable of pulling off miracles.
Many IT leaders, because of the nature of the position they hold, tend to focus on technology rather than process or people. They sometimes make decisions in the interest of being the first on the block with the newest tools, but don't consider the impact to the business or to the people who are implementing and caring for the new technology. A leadership certification would help determine if IT leaders have a balanced approach to technology, process and people.
Successful IT leaders have a heart. They care so deeply about their customers and staff that their team members will go above and beyond to make the impossible possible. They understand their customers' pain points and try to see things from their perspective. They ask their customers how IT can add value to their departments, and they genuinely listen to the answers.
Leadership is about seeing what's possible when no one else sees it, and formulating that into a vision. Getting others to buy into the vision requires empathy, courage and passion. All are essential qualities in IT leaders. I believe succeeding in the government IT arena requires a few more qualities, such as flexibility, resourcefulness and good motivational skills.
Flexibility may be needed when your funding request doesn't go through or your project is put on the back burner in favor of buying new maintenance equipment. Resourcefulness is needed when the auditors are requiring you to implement a solution that doesn't seem possible and there's no funding to support it. Good motivational skills are needed when you have to ask your team to work through a weekend because the system is mission critical.
It would benefit the IT profession to create a certification process that tests for leadership qualities and requires recertification on an annual basis. That way, we know we're getting the heart, passion and courage the position requires.