If a tree falls in the forest and no one's around to hear it, does it make a sound?
If by "tree" you mean "you," and by "fall" you mean "achieve," then no, there's no sound. It's nice to think recognition will naturally follow the good work you do. Unfortunately, the world doesn't work this way. High-performing IT leaders must know how to tout their successes. As CIO coach Jim Andersen says, "It's like [the movie] Field of Dreams: ‘If you build it they will come.' If you do good work people will recognize it. Actually, no -- if you do good work, they'll say, ‘That's fantastic! Here's more work.'"
Executive recruiter Kristen Lamoreaux agrees, noting it's not easy for all IT managers. "For [IT leaders] on their way up the ranks, it's a challenge," she says. "It's not something they get coached on." There's also a fine line between making your achievements known and coming off as arrogantly boasting. After all, says Lamoreaux, "A key aspect in a leader is humility." There are ways to promote yourself to your advantage -- that is, without being off-putting to the listener.
To start, make a point of documenting the good work you do. "So little gets written down that when it does, it stands out," Andersen notes. If you've completed an implementation project successfully and on time, send an e-mail announcing it. While you're at it, make your e-mail search-friendly to ensure you come up in a busy executive's search of his overcrowded inbox by loading the message with key words. The key here is to bring information (that the project was successfully finished) to others' attention. Conveying the facts puts your work on the radar without your bragging about it.
In a similar vein, forward to your boss any e-mails you get from appreciative beneficiaries of IT. If someone in sales sends you a note saying the new information system you put in makes identifying new customers much easier, forward it to your boss saying, "It looks like the new system is working out." Again, you're simply pointing out facts from which the reader can make the direct connection to you and your work. Moreover, you can't get better proof of success than a laudatory e-mail from an IT customer.
Andersen also recommends being on the lookout for colleagues throughout your company who might benefit from an IT product. Then offer a solution. This is a great opportunity to bring up a previous success to show you have experience dealing with a similar situation: "I can help you with that. I did something similar for payroll and it's working well for them." When you're offering help, and stating matter-of-factly that you've had success in the area before would be appropriate. Notice how you're also planting the seed for word-of-mouth; the colleague may ask the payroll manager about the solution you provided. Now you're a conversation topic.
For recognition on a grander scale, Lamoreaux suggests nominating your team for an industry award. If you even make third place, you've achieved visibility, with your name attached as the leader on the project.
Responsibility for your career advancement is yours alone. Forget field of dreams -- you're dreaming if recognition naturally follows your successes. Unless you tout your own work, your value will remain a secret. As Lamoreaux warns, "Don't be a best-kept secret."