Critical Success Factors for Effective IT Leadership

The growth of the Information Technology (IT) industry has placed unique challenges on IT professionals. In addition to this, the explosive growth of IT has created many expectations in numerous organisations for IT to be the one-stop solution and miracle ‘saviour’ to any business problem. This has increased the pressure on IT professionals and executives to deliver on often unrealistic expectations and promises. A proposition is put forward by McKeen and Smith (2003:295) who state that despite the increasing importance of IT products and systems within organisations, there is still a great lack of representation or understanding of IT within the executive and boards of most organisations. The lack of support for IT in organisations, coupled with the complexity and pressure of the environment surrounding IT, has led to an increasing outcry for strong and effective leadership within IT. Many researchers, including Tae-In Fom (2003:3291) have found that the only way for the IT industry to counter the negative factors faced by IT professionals is to develop strong leadership within the professionals. In order for IT professionals to succeed in developing systems that create value and that correctly identify and address the business needs of the firms that they work for, they require knowledge and experience of effective leadership skills.
This research explores the definitions and Critical Success Factors (CSFs) that influence the effectiveness of general leadership and IT leadership in particular. The research further analyses the impact that effective IT has on the IT department and on organisational success, and a relationship between them was found. The research also investigates what competencies are required of IT professionals in order for them to be effective IT leaders. Finally, these Critical Success Factors were integrated into a framework that can be used to develop effective IT leaders.
The research is conducted using a qualitative approach through the review of various existing literature covering the topics of leadership and IT leadership. A comparison and analysis of current models culminated in the proposal of two new unique models displaying the CSFs of effective IT leadership within the operational, tactical and strategic levels of the business.
The proposed models suggest that a leader needs to shift his/her skills and focus within each of the business levels, from the teams’ skills, to individual skills and ambition or drive of the firm respectively.

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