The path from IT director to technology leader

Tobin Conley | 01.21.15
Topics: Association Management - Leadership, CIO - Digital Transformation - IT Maturity

The role of association IT directors has shifted as the maintenance and management of technology systems and network infrastructure are increasingly handled by SaaS and cloud hosting providers. No longer confined solely to an operational role, IT directors now focus on managing relationships with the vendors who provide these services, and serving as in-house technology advisors, ambassadors, and strategic planners.

However, as I suggested to IT directors in my last post, if you want to earn a seat at the strategic planning table, you must start seeing yourselves as positive change agents, not merely hardware custodians. You need to hone your strategic chops and change your own perception about your role and the value you can deliver before you can change the perceptions of others – and ultimately earn a seat at the decision-making table.

Move beyond technology support to become a technology leader.

If fellow staff members, senior management staff, and volunteer leaders still see you merely as the “fix-it” guy or gal, you’ve got some work to do. However, by employing savvy people skills, you can successfully change your image. Instead of being only hardware- or app-centric, work on becoming more staff- and member-centric. A good place to start is by understanding not only the mix of products and services offered by your association, but also their effect on members – focusing on the value delivered to them.


Being a technology leader also means holding people accountable for following IT policies and procedures. For example, with the heightened use of technology in all departments comes the need to document key processes – something that is not the responsibility of IT. You must also effectively make the case for why it’s in the staff’s best interest to adhere to clear and straightforward IT policies, lest you continue to be viewed as responsible for all things plugged in and blinking.

You (and your organization) will benefit in the long-run if you coach staff to take their share of responsibility for technology. For example, it’s in the association’s best interest that staff members comply with security procedures and mobile device management policies you put in place. Compliance is more likely if staff members understand how these policies benefit the organization and how they can easily comply. If you understand their perspective and concerns, you will be more successful in gaining their trust and compliance.

Develop a better understanding of member needs and association goals.

To become (and to become viewed as) more member- and staff-centric, dedicate time to discussing the big picture – your organization’s mission, goals, and plans for achieving those goals – with senior staff. Learn about the association’s strengths, weaknesses, and resources. Where is your association the leader? Where does it need help?

After you have a solid understanding of organizational issues, meet with department heads to discuss their goals, problems, processes, needs, and wants. How can IT help them achieve those goals or solve those problems? 

To make sure you understand the member and attendee perspectives, sit down with membership, education, and conference staff to talk about the needs and aspirations of members and other market segments. Find out what type of data is being collected, where it resides, and how it’s being used. Ask if you can sit in on focus groups or have access to survey results so you can better understand members, their needs, and the interaction between them and the association.

One of them

If you want to be accepted as “one of them” by senior staff, you must understand the association’s goals, programs, products, and members as well as they do. And, you must become more strategic in your thoughts and actions – a topic I’ll cover in my next post. Only then will others see you as a strategic solution provider and partner.


What's in your organization's IT Bag?   Make sure you have the people, processes, tools, and talents to advance your  association or nonprofit. Get Our Free Checklist

Flickr photo by Jocelyn Kinghorn

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