Can Techies be leaders too? (Pt 2)

Can Techies be leaders too? (Pt 2)

What makes a good technical leader? In part I of this article I argued that a unique balance of attributes between technical skill, emotional intelligence and business acumen was required for techies to become leaders. This article will suggest some of the ways that organisations can build this leadership capability, which as you can imagine, is going to need to be different from the standardised leadership training delivered to other leaders, due to their specific development needs.

It’s not for everyone

Firstly, it’s important to acknowledge that the pool of techies who will become successful leaders is likely to be small. This is not only because the lack of capability in some, but also because many just don’t want to. We have seen many highly technical people actually fear being promoted into leadership or management positions, with people leaving for fear of having to take on a leadership role against their will. For example, PA is currently helping to redesign an information management function where a number roles previously occupied by information specialists are being broadened to include leading change and managing a team – and applications for jobs from those currently in the roles were far lower than expected. Organisations need to distinguish between those who are techies for life and those who will put their hand up for leading in the future. This should then be followed by an assessment programme that identifies what the latter group will need to become a successful leader.

Start early

Organisations must find ways to bring the business and technology closer together earlier on in an individual’s career. Doing this subtly, and integrating it into every day ways of working, will encourage the right behaviours and mind-sets to evolve over time. For example, PA is currently working as a business change partner for an organisation-wide systems rollout and the business has many non-negotiable requirements of the technology being built. Tensions between business and the technology teams have surfaced, with leaders of the technical design failing to see or take accountability for the consequences of design decisions. Upskilling techies to better grasp business impacts, and strengthening relationships with future business leaders from the outset, would reduce the risk of these challenges emerging in the future. PA has supported the improved integration of business and technical areas by introducing regular communications (both formal and informal) between everyone working on the programme, as well as offsite events to strengthen relationships between leaders. For emerging leaders, other examples could include business-focussed objectives into performance reviews, such as periodically translating a technical delivery into digestible content for the business, or simply ensuring regular opportunities for relationship-building between potential technical leaders and other areas of the organisation.

The ‘Agile’ way

These days technical workforces tend to be comfortable working together in small, agile teams and consistently learning ‘on the job’. Some of the best training courses on offer for technical companies replicate these ways of working in their leadership and management traini ng. Over several years PA has supported BAE systems to rollout a change leadership training programme across its entire leader and manager base. The training took place in a series of phases over several months and focussed on practical changes that could be made to put the techniques into practice and reflect on these changes in small, focussed groups. Another trend in IT training is taking inspiration from the innovative, digital environment that they work in to develop online delivery channels. has described how gamification, cloud based e-learning and green screen technology is engaging the next generation of IT professionals. IT training company CBT Nuggets has even replicated the Netflix subscription model to offer IT training online and on the go. Organisations should consider how to keeping training experiential, encourage working between small groups and use new, digital approaches to have most impact on their workforce.

My previous article argued that Techies can become successful leaders; this one has given organisations ideas for how they can support their staff to do so. It will be important to find the group of individuals who have the potential and desire to become leaders early on in careers and then use a combination of subtle, integrated techniques and innovative, agile delivery mechanisms to upskill the next generation of leaders. Because it is absolutely possible for techies to be leaders –– but they are likely to need extra support to get there.


Tara Jones is a director in PA Consulting’s London office, where Dennis Layton is a principal.

The authors would like to thank Andrea Alexander, Mauricio Arnau, Lori Dobeus, Kirill Dushkin, Lauren Miller, and Katie Smith for their contributions to this report.

Author 1


Job role

Author 1


Job role

our services

  • Building Capability

    Organisations don’t have the luxury of standing still. To grow successfully, they need to evolve and innovate constantly.

  • Embracing Change

    Change is a dynamic force with many rational and irrational dimensions, and getting it right can be a significant challenge.

  • Workforce Futures

    Understand and anticipate the changes that will impact your future resource requirements.

  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
  • Youtube

Thank you for subscribing to Talent and Change