What Separates an IT Manager from an IT Director?


Tech Insights for ProfessionalsThe latest thought leadership for IT pros

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

One of the most testing transitions within an IT career is the promotion from IT Manager to Director.

Article 5 Minutes
IT director sharing a professional development plan with the IT manager to help them earn promotion

This promotion takes an IT professional to the top of their game, and unlike promotions that might predate it, actual hands-on IT skills will not be the only factor to consider for progression.

An IT Manager has a more practical and applied role, whereas a promotion to IT Director would see an individual concentrating beyond day-to-day activities. They will focus on the strategic organization of the company and projections for the future, primarily of course focusing on what can be done within the realm of IT and technology.

An IT Director will typically direct the use of technology throughout an organization, including its maturity and application. Recruitment specialist Ranstad advise that, “the Director will work closely with staff, especially Managers, to assess the needs of users within the context of their business environment.”

Within a Director’s remit will sit the management of all IT staff, which will include your replacement should you obtain a promotion within the same organization. An IT Director will also need to work closely with CEOs and other heads of departments.

What separates the two roles?

The IT Manager will typically supervise employees and possess the proficiencies for maintaining the company IT infrastructure. Although a managerial position, it is usual practice that this job is still directed by higher management and as a result, has limited influence over the overall running of the company.

Of course, the role of the IT Manager differs within organizations, and is dependent on the overall company management style, but it is generally accepted that an IT Manager will oversee other IT staff and report to the Directors. The role will typically include a degree of decision making that doesn’t have to be elevated to the C-Suite for approval. However, influence is likely to be limited.

An IT Director on the other hand will create the plans that the IT Manager will execute. An IT Manager new to the Director role, would therefore be likely to be familiar with putting procedures in place, but will probably need additional training and support in establishing a business-wide strategy.

An IT Director should possess the same high level understanding of IT systems and implementation as was previously expected at managerial level. However, a promotion would also entail the need for increased familiarity with broader business strategy as well as an understanding of additional projects being handled by other departments.

This is how you get promoted to an IT Director:

Thinking like a CIO

Perhaps this piece of advice seems simplistic, but it will help you to develop your outlook and aid you to gain a greater understanding of IT and how it impacts your company as a whole.

Heather Mattheson, Managing Director at Kingston Smith says that as a Director;

You are required to promote and act in the best interests of the business as a whole; ensure the business is solvent; exercise reasonable skill and care in your actions; not to use your position to make private profits at the organization’s expense or take advantage of confidential information or opportunities that arise.


Within your everyday tasks in the run up to a potential promotion opportunity, start to think about how your actions comply with health & safety legislation, data protection and a myriad of employment laws. This is no mean feat and is perhaps the largest hurdle to overcome when taking this career leap.

Professional Development

Consume as much content as you can about leadership and management. Books, articles and podcasts delivered by experts will help you to grow as an IT leader. Ian Gausden, chief operating officer at Vocalink, told CIO magazine that his best piece of advice for landing a CIO job involved “challenging yourself academically.” Adding that while professional development might not be right for everyone, “qualifications will give you the confidence and credibility to make decisions on behalf of the business at a senior level.”

Reed Global suggest that depending on the structure of your organization, “seek out the people who are most likely to be able to assist you in your career development” and that might be your current Manager or Director. Book one to one time in with them, being honest about what you want to discuss and your hopes for career advancement.

Showcasing your skills

Ensure that your desire to progress, your expertise and also commitment is observed by those in management positions above you.

One way to guarantee that your work and achievements are seen is to habitually create and then share reports on activity. Within these reports, highlight thinking that goes above and beyond your current ‘hands-on’ role as a manger. Perhaps by outlining overall business cost- or time-savings that have been made due to the implementation or streamlining of a process ‘owned’ by the current IT team. Maybe your hard work and expertise has decreased down time? Or increased customer conversion rates? The specifics will vary from industry to industry of course, however it is thinking like this that will contribute to your case for a promotion. This practice will also build a written record of your strengths and will also demonstrate your capability to communicate well.

Learn more: 5 Traits You Need to Be a Strong IT Leader

How can the transition be successfully managed?

Often the primary challenge that newly appointed Directors face is the shift from leading a single function to supervising a wide variety of activities. This change can knock a new Director’s confidence, often resulting in a natural inclination to over manage areas of existing expertise and under manage those that feel more alien.

Michael Watkins, writing for the Harvard Business Review, says that Directors need to “learn to move from specialist to generalist, analyst to integrator, tactician to strategist, bricklayer to architect, problem solver to agenda setter, warrior to diplomat, and supporting cast member to lead role.”

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