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The best leadership conferences in 2019

Are you ready to devote a few days to up-leveling your interpersonal and management skills? These upcoming conferences have plenty to offer IT staff who want to get better at driving innovation, team building, and cultural improvement and become better bosses.

Football coach Vince Lombardi once said, “Leaders are made; they are not born.” That's good news for software development team members and others who work in enterprise IT departments, because we need to make a lot of leaders to tackle computing’s rapidly growing and changing business demands.

The traditional model of promoting employees and hoping for the best is not always a successful strategy for building a competent workforce. As Laurence J. Peter proposed in his famous book, "The Peter Principle," people tend to rise in an organization through promotions until they reach their level of incompetence, and then they get stuck in a job they cannot do with excellence.

No manager should automatically expect that a given employee will be a successful leader without some help. Even individuals with the right instincts and basic skills can benefit from training and exposure to best-in-class leadership concepts.

How to make those leaders? Often, it means taking time away from the office to learn from people who are smarter and more experienced than we are. Fortunately, there are dozens—if not hundreds—of opportunities to gain and expand leadership skills.

Training wheels

Leadership encompasses many soft skills, such as the ability to develop a healthy team culture, provide mentoring, encourage genuine collaboration, and guide culture change. You might benefit by coming up to speed with development methodologies, too, such as continuous improvement or agile practices and philosophies. CIOs and other IT execs benefit from this sort of knowledge as well, but in this conference list, I focus on IT staff who could call themselves “tech leads.”

The premise in this conference collection is that the attendee is a technologist who is on an upward career path. Perhaps you were recently promoted and need new management skills, or maybe you’ve been in your job for a while and recognize your weaknesses.

For this article, I limit the scope to conferences and other general industry meetings. I did not include training courses and certificate programs. If that is a better fit, relevant training events range from your local community college to dedicated companies such as Plucky.

Nor do I claim that the following list is comprehensive. I did my best to locate relevant conferences both in the United States and worldwide, but I am certain to miss some. Note, too, that the organizers of many 2018 conferences have not announced when (or if) there will be a 2019 version. And, given the nature of conference tracks, I may have missed industry events that have leadership content embedded in their programs.

I included conferences scheduled for the last quarter of 2018 and throughout 2019; the events are presented in date order. It may be too late for you to attend the 2018 events, but in general, their 2019 information is not yet available. If these 2018 conferences appeal to you, contact the organizers to find out about next year (though you probably should wait until after this year’s event).

Why should you take the time to go to a conference to become a better leader? Keep these points in mind when it comes time to write a proposal to explain why your manager should pay for you to attend:

  • Expect to learn skills and practical techniques that make you a better manager right away, avoiding the trial-and-error approach. In many cases, you learn from current case studies and active current developments. The conference information is up to date, from authoritative speakers; you don’t need to spend time with some coach who doesn’t know the difference between waterfall and agile.
  • You get to learn alongside your peers from other companies. This builds your professional network and creates an instant support group to help you once you return to the real world.
  • Many of these conferences offer additional forms of professional development at the same time. Most of those workshops cost less than a dedicated course, which can make them an excellent value.

One other important point: Women are earning increased responsibilities in the workplace, especially in IT. Some women still experience special challenges, however. Many conferences I include here are dedicated to the specific needs and interests of women in leadership roles. Depending on your gender and mindset, you may find these events to be particularly appropriate.

Finally, to help make your choices a little easier, I flagged a handful of conferences with a gold star. In my opinion, these merit an extra look, based on recommendations in social media channels, details from current and past programs, and my own informed though unscientific intuition.

Business of Software Conference

Twitter account: @The_BLN


Date: October 1-3, 2018

Location: Boston, MA

Cost: $1,874

Discounts: Alumni

The Business of Software Conference is a three-day event aimed at C-level executives and “emerging leaders” from software companies. It is smaller than some—about 300 participants—and has a single-track program so that everyone gets to see everything. The conference has plenty of leadership content; the 2018 program kicks off with “How to manage your badass team.” Plenty of networking time is built in so you can get to know the speakers and other participants. One of the most attractive features is that you can view almost all the talks from prior years at no cost, meaning you can preview the quality of the experience before you register.

Women Advance IT

Twitter account: @NebraskaITS


Date: October 2-3, 2018

Location: Lincoln, NE

Cost: $150

Discounts: Student, bulk registrations

The subtitle of this annual conference, hosted by the University of Nebraska, is “Women Advancing the Future of Information Technology in Higher Education,” indicating the content leans toward academia. But many of the lessons should be transferable to other settings. The program agenda has four tracks including Leadership, but the Women in IT and Diversity tracks might also be valuable to new managers. You can sample the flavor of the conference by viewing the videos of past keynotes and presentations.

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2018 SHRM Leadership Development Forum 

Twitter account: @SHRM


Date: October 2-3, 2018

Location: Boston, MA

Cost: $1,790

Discounts: Early registration, SHRM member, join SHRM

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) is not an IT industry organization. Still, it is perhaps the leading professional group for managing employees. Its Leadership Development Forum is a two-day conference that aims to “equip you with the skills and strategies you need to take the next step forward in your career.” Among this year’s sessions are “Build a culture of resilience: Tools for leadership, innovation, and empowerment” and “Decision-making: Doing it well even in the midst of chaos.” There are no tracks, but the conference has many concurrent sessions. While there is definitely content dedicated to HR issues, you will likely find a wealth of information that translates to your own situation. 

Leadercast Women

Twitter account: @leadercast

Date: October 12, 2018

Location: Atlanta, GA

Cost: $399

Discounts: Early registration, group registration

This event will also be simulcast live in other locations around the country, so you don’t necessarily have to travel to Atlanta to participate. And while the conference name indicates the focus is on women, the program description describes the participants as “like-minded women and men who are committed to self-improvement and eager to lead.” The speakers are not limited to the IT industry; this year’s presenters include Jenna Bush Hager, founding chair of UNICEF Next Generation and Champion NASCAR driver Julia Landauer. Leadercast also hosts a general event (see May 10, 2019), as well as “hundreds” of local events throughout the year.

re: develop

Twitter account: @redevelopconf


Date: October 12, 2018

Location: Bournemouth, UK 

Cost: US$235, £150 + £30 VAT

Discounts: Early registration

This one-day event describes itself as “an affordable conference for developers and managers.” The agenda includes several presentations that are focused on team building and leadership issues, making this a productive opportunity for new and aspiring team leaders to learn practical information.

Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2018

Twitter account: @Gartner_inc


Date: October 14-18, 2018

Location: Orlando, FL

Cost: $6,000

Discounts: Public sector, group registration

This program is pitched for “CIOs and senior IT executives” and priced accordingly. However, one of its four tracks is Leadership. While this may not be aimed directly at development teams, it could provide relevant training that help managers take a broader view of their company’s success and how they can play a part. For those seeking career advancement, it may also present unique opportunities for networking with senior executives at other companies.

DevOps Enterprise Summit 

Twitter account: @DOES_USA


Date: October 22-24, 2018

Location: Las Vegas, NV

Cost: $1,975

Discounts: Early registration (sold out for 2018), groups

DevOps Enterprise Summit was one of the top events mentioned as a “must attend” by the IT people I reached on social media channels because its program is so focused on the needs and interests of DevOps managers. In the mix of major presentations and breakout sessions, you will find lots of leadership content—such as “Diary of a servant leader” or “Lean coffee” (to improve meetings)—as well as practical and inspiring talks about other aspects of your work. And if you want to test drive before you buy, there is a YouTube channel with free access to many presentations from prior years.

5th Women in Software & Applications Leadership Summit

Twitter account: @LiquidLearning

Date: October 23-26, 2018

Location: Sydney, Australia

Cost: US$3,327, AU$4,614.50

Discounts: Early registration, group registration, limited days

Billed as an event for “current, aspiring, and future leaders,” this conference is a two-day event wrapped inside one-day workshops. You can register for all four days or as little as one day. The list of session speakers draws on experienced talents from major companies including IBM, Dell EMC, Microsoft, SAP, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Google, Adobe, and Amazon Web Services. The theme of this year’s event is “The Next Step,” which focuses on how to take your career to the next level and which skills you’ll need to get there. A sampling of this year’s presentations: “Skills and strategies to supercharge your leadership” and “The art of confident communication.” The single-track program includes a mix of presentations and panel discussions.

Educause Annual Conference 

Twitter account: @educause


Date: October 29-November 2, 2018

Location: Denver, CO

Cost: $1,409

Discounts: Early registration, member, single-day

The Educause Annual Conference is a three-day event with pre-conference workshops and other sessions taking place on the day before the official start. It is intended for IT workers from higher education, so its sessions are tailored to those needs. However, it also has leadership content. There is one program specifically for new IT managers (for an additional registration fee) that could be a good source of information, as could the track on “Leading and partnering across the institution.” In all, you will find more than 300 sessions with more than 700 presenters as well as 275 exhibitors.

Web Directions Culture 2018 

Twitter account: @webdirections


Date: October 31, 2018

Location: Sydney, Australia

Cost: US$645, AU$ 895 

Discounts: Early registration

According to the organizers, Web Directions Culture is a one-day event designed to help managers “build, nurture, and get the most from your design and engineering teams.” The program relies on a combination of presentations, workshops, and role-playing to provide hands-on practical ideas and approaches for team leaders. Among the sessions: “The art and science of onboarding” and “Beware of the mono-culture monster.” The stand-alone event is held the day before the two-day Web Directions Summit that covers the latest in development, providing the option of a soup-to-nuts learning experience for those involved in web development.

12th Annual HIGHER Ground Women's Leadership Conference

Twitter account: @VCU_GEHLI

Date: November 2, 2018


Location: Richmond, VA

Cost: $185

Discounts: Early registration

This smaller event that draws about 300 participants is not aimed specifically at IT leaders. Instead, its goal is to share innovative leadership practices that can be applied at work, at home, and in the community. Presentations and concurrent sessions offer a wide range of topics, from “Leading first in the second position” to “7 lenses of leadership: Honoring self, others and the greater good.” Given its relatively low cost, it might be a good opportunity to send a team of leaders so that they can attend more of the sessions and compare notes.

Insights Leadership Conference

Twitter account@InsightsMRX

Date: November 5-7, 2018

Location: San Diego, CA

Cost: $2,499

Discounts: Early registration, member

Hosted by the Insights Association, this event targets C-level executives from market research and analytics companies. While this overlaps with traditional IT interests, it may not be the best match for all team leaders. And while the single-track program does include sessions about leadership and corporate culture (“Navigating the new data privacy paradigm” or “Building the new corporate research department”), it is not as focused on team leadership as some of the other choices. If it’s convenient, it may be worth your time.

Simmons Leadership Conference

Twitter account@SimmonsLeads


Date: November 13-14, 2018

Location: Dublin, Ireland

Cost: US$1,745, €1,500

Discounts: Unknown

Hosted by Simmons University in Boston, the two-day event is the international version of the annual Boston conference. It will be held in Dublin, Ireland, this year and is expected to draw more than 500 participants. The single-track program covers a wide range of leadership and diversity topics (“Turning barriers into bridges by disrupting bias” and “The power of women's storytelling”) and ends with a panel discussion including Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani woman who has become an outspoken leader for women’s education.

Grace Hopper Celebration India 

Twitter account: @AnitaBorg_India


Date: November 14-16, 2018

Location: Bangalore, India

Cost: US$237, 17,000 INR

Discounts: Student, single-day pass, group registrations

According to the event website, this is the “largest gathering of women technologists” in India. Hosted in partnership with the India Association for Computing Machinery, it is designed to help women succeed in the technology workforce. (Note that the same organizations host the Grace Hopper Celebration in the U.S. every year. The 2018 event was in September in Houston, Texas; dates and details for the 2019 event are not yet available.)

Tech Leader Summit 

Twitter account: @nofluff


Date: December 5-7, 2018

Location: Clearwater, FL

Cost: $3,750

Discounts: Early registration, bring-your-boss

The Tech Leader Summit aims to give software engineering team leaders information about the latest technologies and practices to make your organization a success. The program focuses on leadership as well as three other topics: software engineering management, talent acquisition and training, and agile methods. Among them: “When are you? Managing engineering across multiple time zones” and “Engineering at scale: Scaling yourself as a leader when supporting a 100+ person team.”

The Lead Developer Austin 

Twitter account@theleaddev


Date: December 6, 2018

Location: Austin, TX

Cost: $685

Discounts: Early registration (sold out for 2018)

The conference's subtitle, “Be a better team leader,” may be the reason I got so many endorsements for this event on social media. It is designed around three key themes: team, tech, and tools. The technology audience ranges from tech leads to CTOs and everyone in between. There is content aimed at new team leaders and those seeking to advance into a tech lead position. Consider “Code reviews, for the culture” and “Navigating team friction.” In addition to the presentations, a separate workshop called “Demystifying management” will be held on December 5 (additional fee required). The hosts also hold annual events in London and New York, and have a YouTube channel where you can watch previous presentations.

Association of Management Development Institutions International HR Conference

Twitter account: @amdisa_org

Date: February 1-2, 2019

Location: Mumbai, India

Cost: US$350

Discounts: Early registration, student, academic, spouse/guest

This program’s focus is on the topics of team composition, team functioning, and team process. The presentations will include academic research papers as well as white papers, literature reviews, and case studies. While it is not specifically for IT leaders, the focus on teams in the workplace make it a likely source for practical information.

Women's Leadership and Empowerment Conference 2019

Twitter account: @TomorrowPeopleO


Date: March 1-3, 2019

Location: Bangkok, Thailand

Cost: US$400, €345

Discounts: Early registration, non-presenters, students

Any conference that is happening for its 10th year has to have something going for it. In this case, it’s a three-day program designed to help participants build leadership skills and expand their knowledge. The conference is conducted in English, which should make it accessible to the widest audience. It is not aimed at IT companies specifically but rather takes a broad view of leadership across a range of public and private organizations.

UW–Madison’s Information & Technology Leadership Conference

Twitter account: @UWdoIT


Date: April 9, 2019

Location: Madison, WI

Cost: TBD

Discounts: Unknown

If you’re looking for a leadership conference for information and technology, this one has it right in the title. While some of the presentations and concurrent sessions tend to lean toward higher education IT, there are speakers from industry sources as well. Current and aspiring team leaders are likely to find valuable information in this affordable one-day event, with sessions including, “Rebooting in safe mode: How to survive and thrive after failure” and “Now that you’re innovating, which initiatives should you implement?” The 2018 conference was held in April, and the registration fee was $50.

Simmons Leadership Conference 


Date: April 1-2, 2019

Location: Boston, MA

Cost: $699

Billed as “the premier women’s leadership conference in the world,” the Boston event has been hosted by Simmons University for the past 39 years and will have more than 3,400 participants. The one-day conference has presentations from a former Australian prime minister and a Pakistani woman who lived as a boy to pursue her goal of becoming a world-class squash athlete; the keynote for the 2018 conference was Michelle Obama. The program includes concurrent skill-building workshops and panel discussions. This content-rich event provides both practical information and inspiration. The event website indicates that tickets go on sale on October 3, 2018, and have sold out quickly in the past.


Twitter account: @leadercast

Date: May 10, 2019

Location: Atlanta, GA

Cost: $399

Discounts: Early registration, student (extra fee for Executive Experience)

This one-day conference will have more than 100,000 attendees. While that may seem like an extraordinary number, consider that the main event in Atlanta will also be simulcast to more than 700 locations in 20 countries. The program is designed to deliver practical takeaways to help you become a more effective leader. It is also an excellent opportunity for networking, especially if you attend the main event in Atlanta. Unlike many other conferences, this program is focused solely on leadership topics.

ICAN Women's Leadership Conference


Date: May 15, 2019

Location: Omaha, NE

Cost: TBD

Discounts: Early registration, group registration

This is one of the longest running conferences of its kind, run by the Institute for Career Advancement Needs, a nonprofit organization that “develops inspired business leaders who transform the communities they serve.” The 2018 event was its 25th year with more than 2,700 attendees. The one-day program is a mix of single-track presentations and two sets of breakout sessions. The focus is on providing knowledge and inspiration to help individuals develop their leadership skills. A sample: “Leading with emotional intelligence: If you think these are soft skills, think again!” and “Wired for authenticity: Lead adaptively in times of change and ambiguity.”


Twitter account: @collisionHQ


Date: May 20-23, 2019

Location: Toronto, Canada

Cost: US$758, CAD $995

Discounts: Two for one

According to Forbes, this is “North America’s fastest growing tech conference.” With more than 25,000 attendees, it is moving from New Orleans to Toronto. Collision covers a wide range of topics, from sustainability to automotive technology, but it has programs specifically for software development issues. It’s also an opportunity to hear from C-level executives from many of the fastest growing and most exciting tech companies from around the world. In 2018, that included Al Gore; Susan Herman, president of the ACLU; John Zimmer, co-founder of Lyft; and Elie Seidman, CEO of Tinder.

2019 IEEE Women in Engineering International Leadership Conference 

Twitter account: @wieilc


Date: May 23-24, 2019

Location: Austin, TX

Cost: Pricing depends on membership type; one-day passes $255 to $395, full registration $550 to $775

Discounts: Early bird

The 2019 agenda is not yet available for this conference, but based on the 2018 program, this should be a rewarding experience. Its agenda included an “Executive Leadership” track that had content pitched toward C-level executives (and those hoping to become one), but many of the sessions had content with broader application. The Workshop track included sessions on emotional intelligence, introversion in the workplace, and leading with Influence. If 2019 is similar, you should get a rich and practical experience packed into two days.

2019 Summer Global Symposium on Women's Leadership

Twitter account@UofRiverside

Date: June 6-7, 2019

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Cost: $500

Discounts: Early registration, attendee (not presenting)

This academic symposium covers a wide range of topics about women, from economics to reproductive politics. Women’s leadership development is one of 18 focus topics listed in the call for papers. Note also that this is a “pay to play” event; the registration for a participant to present a paper is higher than that for a participant who is there only to listen. As a result, it may be difficult to predict just how relevant the event will be until the organizers have settled on the program of papers to be presented.

Mount St. Mary’s Women's Leadership Conference

Twitter account: @MSMU_LA

Date: September 21, 2019

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Cost: $150 for general public; $125 for nonprofits and MSMU alums, faculty, and staff; $75 for non-MSMU students; complimentary for MSMU students

Discounts: Early registration, nonprofit, MSMU graduates, students

This annual conference draws more than 450 professional women from a range of industries with a focus on women and leadership issues—not necessarily IT. The 2018 conference had three tracks: personal leadership, professional leadership, and community leadership. For instance, the speakers at one panel on “Implicit bias: Tackling taboo topics for women at work” were Bettina Bush, editor of Working Mother magazine; Kimberly Freeman, associate dean and chief of diversity, USC Dornsife; and Diane Reichenberger, vice president of consumer products global strategy at Mattel. The 2018 registration fee was $150 (before any discounts), making it one of the more affordable options, especially for participants in the Los Angeles area who would not have any extra travel costs for this one-day event.

It is likely that we will update this list through the year. Send your recommendations for leadership conferences to us on Twitter at @enterprisenxt.

Happy learning!

This article/content was written by the individual writer identified and does not necessarily reflect the view of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company.