Learning How to Lead in IT: A Deeper Dive into Information Technology Management 705 with Amber Leibundgut-Peterson

Tiffany Stronghart November 21, 2023
photo of an information technology team working

Are you a tech-savvy professional who wants to build your soft skills? Whether you’ve worked in a management position for many years or you’re just starting out, you can always  improve your leadership skills – including how to communicate more effectively with others, manage difficult situations, and pivot.

Amber Leibundgut-Peterson, who teaches ITM 705: Leading the IT Function in the University of Wisconsin Master of Science in Information Technology degree program, helps a wide variety of students build their soft skills. While some students enrolled in the master’s degree program to prepare for leadership roles, some have already worked as managers for quite some time. Others are in new management roles – some were even blindsided by the promotions. In every case, students learn how to adjust to their environment with tools from Amber that they can immediately apply on the job. 

“I’ve had people who are just starting in management. They got this role, and are very overwhelmed,” she says. “[Through the course] they get ways to deal with conflict. They have practical ways to communicate in meetings. There are things that they’re intended to practice based on the prompts that I give them.”

Some students embrace new leadership roles and how to work with others right away, while others may be in new roles at a new employer, which presents another set of challenges.

“People who go to a new company, and it’s their first time managing, or they’ve managed before, you must try to figure out the culture of that place. How do you deal with those uncomfortable situations? Does it make sense to come in and change everything right away? Has that worked for people? No? Interesting. Look how everyone in the class says, don’t come in saying you have the solution to a culture that already exists. It’s very interesting to see the patterns now that it’s been taught,” she said.

Amber, who has a background in sociology and library science, uses her own soft skills to help tech-savvy professionals develop theirs. It’s common for many professionals in the IT field to have worked so hard to advance their tech skills that they haven’t had the time or opportunity to build their soft skills.

“It’s self-identified,” Amber says. “They say, ‘I struggle with this. I know it.’” And because her course is built upon self-reflection, students have an opportunity to literally look in the mirror to see how things are working for them. If things aren’t working out, they learn tools to address it.

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Amber creates a safe space for students to share their struggles not only with her, but with other students through self-reflection assignments and course discussions. These types of assignments are key for students who may not be comfortable sharing their thoughts because one of the most challenging things about leadership is learning to accept uncomfortable situations and experiences.

“For those uncomfortable things, they practice with me first. They’ll be telling me things about themselves in a reflection rather than on a discussion board right away. It’s a little bit hard to put yourself out there and tell your classmates what you don’t do well,” she says.

However, some of her students will immediately disclose to the group what they struggle with, which invites other students to share their experiences and discuss what they want to work on. Students offer feedback in a productive way that can ultimately be applied at work. It’s a very collaborative environment that offers students the opportunity to practice what they’ve learned and hear from others who may be experiencing similar situations.

“The more you practice it, the more normal it feels,” Amber says. “Will [soft skills] ever  be that person’s forte? Probably not. And that’s ok. That doesn’t make you a poor leader; it doesn’t make you a poor manager. It’s recognizing how to flex in those situations where you need to.”

An example of this “flex” might be in the workplace where a manager is running a meeting and quickly realizes the way they’ve usually conducted meetings is not working for that situation. While it might be uncomfortable to change directions, the manager’s ability to pivot while still running a successful meeting is an example of leadership.

And good leadership will vary by person and their management style. 

“You don’t always have to be the loud leader who’s out in front,” Amber says. “You could be that collaborative kind of leader that inspires others because you know more about the company.”

Students in Information Technology Management 705 complete weekly self-reflection assignments and participate in discussions. There’s a big focus on applied learning; lectures are short and no tests are required. Students also put together a leadership portfolio at the end of the course with an action plan, such as where they hope to be in five years after completing the course or degree program.

With ITM 705, students learn concepts based in theory and in practice while developing skills that will always be relevant. “It’s not one where you’re like, OK, well, I’m never going to use that again, or I’ll rarely use it. If you are going into IT management, you are going to use [the skills from] this course. Some more than others. But there’s going to be something you get out of it that’s going to be applicable to your job as a manager,” Amber says.

Are you interested in building your leadership skills to advance your career in technology? ITM 705 is part of the Graduate Certificate in IT Leadership, which can be completed on its own or stacked with the Graduate Certificate in Enterprise Infrastructure and the Graduate Certificate in IT Operations, along with a capstone project, to earn the master’s degree. No matter which route you choose, you’ll build skills and learn tools you can apply immediately to your daily work. To learn more about the Master of Science in Information Technology Management and whether it’s right for you, click here. 

Programs: IT Management