Among all the elements that make for a successful QA organization — and there are many — quality leadership is among the most important, particularly when it comes to retaining top talent.
Consider a recent Herman Group study, which found that 75 percent of people who voluntarily leave a job do so because of poor leadership and bad managers.
With that in mind, as you build out your leadership team, where should you look? One of the best places to start is with your own testers (or those with testing experience outside your organization), as testers have several qualities that make them strong leaders. Specifically, testers make great leaders because:
1) They’re naturally inquisitive
One of the most important traits a leader can have is curiosity. This type of inquisitive nature propels leaders to ask “why” and dive into that question until they find the root of the answer. This trait not only helps leaders constantly expand their perspective, but it also allows them to be upfront and learn about what they don’t know. Most testers got into the testing field because of their inquisitive nature, a quality that primes them to be both great testers and great leaders.
2) They like to dig in and understand what makes something or someone tick
Building on the need for an inquisitive nature, leaders must take the time to understand their team. Understanding what makes people tick both personally and professionally can help leaders understand the best ways to motivate employees (e.g. through project assignments and rewards). In turn, this understanding can help increase employee morale and improve output. While testers are typically accustomed to digging in to understand what makes a certain technology tick, making the leap from something to someone is not all that difficult.
3) They’re highly critical thinkers
Leaders must also be able to think critically, as this mindset can help with decision making. For example, highly critical thinkers have a much easier time determining what’s relevant and what’s not, connecting disparate ideas and identifying contradictions. In turn, those critical thinking skills help leaders make reasonable and objective decisions. Much like leaders, testers must apply critical thinking at all times as they evaluate software looking for defects and collaborate with both testers and developers to solve complex problems in logical ways.
4) They’re eager problem solvers
When a problem crops up, most often it falls on those in a leadership position to identify, diagnose and resolve it. This type of problem solving also sits at the core of software testing, as testers come into work every day with the intention of identifying problems in a piece of software and diving in to solve them. In fact, the best testers are eager problem solvers who can pinpoint and dig deep into unusual software behavior, think about potential fixes and create a well-rounded defect report for developers.
5) They have experience on the ground
Having credibility with your team and earning their respect are essential ingredients for successful leadership. One way for leaders to build both credibility and respect is to take the time to learn what their people do on a day-to-day basis. When testers first become leaders, their on the ground experience helps them achieve this goal. In the long term, their naturally inquisitive nature should keep them asking their team questions to maintain that understanding of what testers do each day, even as testing practices and tools evolve.
6) They know the importance of adaptability
Change is a fact of life and a constant for any growing, successful business. As a result, leaders must be highly adaptable so that they can respond to change — both the expected and the unexpected — quickly and help their team embrace that change with ease. Along the same lines, today’s testers must be highly adaptable, as the ever-evolving testing environment requires them to acclimate to change often. Furthermore, modern testers are often tasked with handling various types of testing, making it important for them to adapt from one situation to the next easily.
7) They have strong communication skills
When it comes to motivating team members, getting them on board for new projects and sharing overall goals and objectives, strong communication skills are key. Quite simply, communication skills are critical to every aspect of effective leadership. Likewise, testers must have strong communication skills so they can clearly articulate any defects they come across. The need for strong communication skills in testing has only increased over the past few years with the rise of DevOps, since testers now work hand-in-hand with people in various roles, including developers and business analysts. This setup means testers must often communicate highly technical concepts to people with limited knowledge of those concepts, forcing testers to further strengthen their communication skills.
8) They’re effective planners
Finally, leaders must be planners. The responsibility falls on leaders to develop clear and thoughtful plans in order to set expectations, confirm available resources and hold people accountable. Without proper planning, organizations often waste time and money as projects get continually pushed. This type of planning is also critical in the software testing world, as testers must have a clear plan for any test strategy that covers details like timeline, coverage requirements and pass/fail criteria.
Making the Transition from Tester to Leader
It’s clear that testers have many qualities that make them great leaders, but how do you make the transition from tester to leader? It all starts with taking on a leadership mindset, which is the willingness to step up and lead, even if you’re not in a leadership position.
The most important piece of advice for anyone who wants to become a leader is this: When the opportunity presents itself, take it (within the appropriate boundaries of when and how you can act). Don’t wait for someone to tell you it’s time to be a leader, because if you wait, the opportunity will pass you by.