Importance of Management Skills to CTO Training

Andrew Weaver
May 17, 2024

What should a CTO management training course look like?

What management skills do you require to become a high value CTO?

With most c-suite roles, progression through the ranks involves a natural and ongoing development of skills that equip the ambitious to reach the top.

The CTO career path requires a more jagged turn as developers, focused primarily on technology, require a new set of management and softer skills to deal with the challenges at senior level.

Market demand for good quality CTO’s is high, market demand for good quality CTO’s with an understanding of wider business skills is intense.

So what skills should a developer be looking to build? What issues are most commonly sought after by companies, investors and CEOs and which are

This article looks at the skills viewed as pretty important if you want to achieve and deliver as an effective (and well remunerated) Chief Technology Officer.

Communication skills are often what makes the CTO

Often one of the main challenges for people taking the leap from a developer who is one of the team, to an executive who is leading the team, is communication. Not just communication within a team that shares a common language but within the wider business where collaboration with other departments is increasingly business critical and where an awareness or understanding of your technology challenges might be thin.

Absolutely key will an ability to communicate very technical issues to non technical people, particularly important when explaining what can’t be done, as well as what can.

Communication is also about listening and body language.

Have the board understood fully what you’ve explained to them or were they just nodding dogs?

What is really behind the drop off in performance of a top developer?

Strategic vision and some roadmap planning

Technical skills will have been learnt early in your career and if you’re going to effective as a Chief Technology Officer, you will need to move away from day to day operational issues, and focus much more of your time and intellectual energy towards strategy and helping the company create and implement their long term vision. As technology is likely to play the pivotal part in a strategic roadmap, you will be super critical to the process.

This means shaping and understanding that ultimate vision, aligning operational goals to that vision, communicating and getting buy-in from your team to that vision, and being accountable for delivering the technology element.

And as you follow your IT career path and pursue the right CTO jobs for your career, understanding the strategic vision of your target companies, the companies you want to work for, should be part of your own due diligence when looking for and taking a new role.

Financials and learning the basics

You won’t be expected to get into the weeds of management accounts or high finance, any half decent business will have a CFO on board to handle most financial issues however, a basic understanding of what a balance sheet tells you, what financial reports should be saying, what might be your role in shaping forecasts and budgets and importantly, how they might intrude on the operational life of a Chief Technology Officer and team, will make a big difference particularly as a CTO is the main communication channel conduit between board level messages about budgets, forecasts, metrics, expectations and, the development team.

Team Building and Leadership, could define you

Another key challenge with the move from team player to team leader, is knowing when to step away from the day to day operational and how to start building a team. What are the component parts in building a successful team and if (as you should be) you’re recruiting a team of superstars, how do you get the most our of them both individually and collectively?

How do you learn to step away, to delegate to not worry that others will be doing an inferior job? Without creating the necessary space to manage, you will struggle to handle the softer less technical skills inherent in the CTO role and to build sufficient time into the schedule for some “me’ time that includes reading, learning and following market movements.

CTO responsibilities and job description must include an acute understanding of where the market is going.  Any of leading CTO jobs, demanding the best CTO salary, will expect an acute and advance awareness of macro technology factors that could impact the business.

Also, how you handle a team crisis, the process to remove toxic employees, and motivation when morale is low or affected by other aspects of the business, will play a role in defining your performance as a CTO.

But remember that leadership is not about the virtues promoted on reality TV programmes … top down instruction, never showing weakness, highlighting errors. It’s about you recruiting well, understanding the individual motivations of your team and aligning everyone to that collective vision.  It’s about understanding that some people in your team (however strong they look on the outside) might have weaknesses and real lives and sometimes, performance will be affected by them.  It will be your job to learn how to manage these external human factors.

Ideas are easy to come up with but how your team performs and executes, will be primarily down to your leadership and management skills.

Time Management aka keeping your head above water

Programming is a science in that it is truth. Being a CTO is not.

There are many fuzzy skills with one of the main ones required, being the development of judgment about when something is good enough, applying the 80/20 rule about your time and the output required. It’s particularly an issue because within the CTO job description will be accountability to multiple different stakeholders, CEO, board, investors, team.

Badly managed businesses and/or disorganised CTOs will find themselves swamped by demands on their time … people, reports, meetings, deadlines. Very few days will be predictable and therefore a simple but absolutely essential ingredient in CTO training and how to become a CTO, should be … good time management.

Commercial Understanding, at least about value

We include within this catch-all title topics like valuation.

How can you value a business and fundamentally, where is the value for a business being created. Is it within the technology, the people, the customer base, strategic partnerships?

Valuations (particularly in the start up world) can be nebulous things but however a valuation figure is arrived at or negotiated from, the executive team need to have a clear understanding of their USP and where that value is being driven, can be increased or indeed is vulnerable.

Most early stage companies will be working towards a funding round and/or exit strategy. A savvy CTO needs to be a key part of an executive team that is completely focused on what will can deliver that vision as quickly as possible. Any CTO training process and understanding of how to become a CTO, needs to include some key basics about what drives value and valuations.

Which type of partnerships works best or alternatively, which type can burn a lot of time for little return?

Sales & Marketing are cool

You wouldn’t expect CTO responsibilities or CTO job description to include the words ‘sales’ or ‘marketing’ and yet increasingly the cross pollination between these departments and the technology team is amongst the most important.

Today the CMO can have a larger technology budget than the CTO.   Analytics and data play a big part in how a company understands its customer and key channels to market.

With the increasing adoption of lean start up and validated learning, most successful products are built as a direct result of market feedback requiring your team to intimately understand the customer. Without understanding the customer needs, how can you create the ideal product:market fit.

…. and finally

Let’s be honest about this, not everyone can become a great CTO, the stage isn’t big enough for everyone to take the lead role and there are reasons why it might not happen for some, we’ve written an article illustrating 9 good reasons why.

As we move deeper into the 21st century, the most successful IT career path that leads to the best CTO jobs and CTO salary will require an understanding of the wider business skills and how they impact on the technology.

Because the skills required to leap from a developer role to senior management are so significant, it almost requires a mini MBA.  A CTO training course focused on developing the management skills required to propel talented developers to the top.

If interested in developing your management skills and turbocharging your career, explore our Digital MBA for Technology Leaders or simply Book a Call with our CEO.

“The mentoring I receive from CTO Academy is worth my membership alone before I access the courses. An invaluable career resource.”

Andre Louca, CTO & Head of Data Science

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90 Things You Need To Know To Become an Effective CTO

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