IT professionals are always in something of a balancing act in the workplace. On the one hand, they need to foster and cultivate skills in tools, technologies and platforms that let them do their jobs. On the other hand, they need to be able to communicate with others, both verbally and in writing, about what they’re doing. They might even need to be able to package and present their ideas or plans in presentation form to convince management or backers to invest in their vision. They must also be able to organize their work assignments, juggle priorities, understand or work with budgets, and see their abilities and IT’s capabilities in light of what their organization seeks to accomplish.
All of these general skills and abilities are part of any job in any field. Thus, even though they don’t strictly fall within the realm of IT, they are still important in the workplace. Areas of professional activity, such as communication, organization, presentation and management, are called soft skills because they lack the hard technical focus necessary to achieve mastery in some technical subject, such as storage, cybersecurity or cloud computing. But soft skills are arguably just as important to long-term personal and professional success in IT as hard skills.
Making the Case for Cultivating Soft Skills
Just recently, I worked on the Global Knowledge 2016 IT Skills and Salary Report, which highlights the results of the company’s survey of over 10,000 respondents around the world from both inside and outside IT job roles. The mix of respondents included managers and individual contributors and covered a broad range of backgrounds, job roles and job tenure. The entire respondent population was unanimous in only a few topic areas, and one of those areas was IT professionals’ need for training to develop soft skills.
The most common soft skills cited as likely to benefit from training included the ability to:
- Communicate clearly and effectively with co-workers (characterized as “internal communications”) in both verbal and written forms.
- Lead others without necessarily taking on a management role (characterized as “an ability to lead without authority”).
- Collaborate well with others and persuade them to undertake and deliver on specific courses of action, deliverables and so forth.
In general, key soft skills must include people management skills to address the topics of collaboration, persuasion and achievement of objectives. Process and project management are also implicit in being able to formulate, specify, assign and track actions and deliverables. Leadership skills are also essential to any kind of activity where input and action from other contributors is required to complete task or project objectives and where individuals must be identified, instructed, monitored and managed as workflows progress, milestones are achieved and deliverables generated.
Training for Soft Skills
Human resources organizations and both in-house and external training organizations can sometimes struggle to understand requirements and appropriate courses or courseware for hard IT skills and knowledge. They are under no such disadvantage when it comes to training on soft skills. Because of soft skills’ general applicability and utility across the board, such organizations understand the value of teaching them and the returns on investment that training and practice in these areas can deliver. That’s why IT managers and professionals can turn to these organizations for training with a high degree of confidence in obtaining useful outcomes.
Global Knowledge offers a substantial soft skills curriculum under the general heading of business skills training. This is further subdivided into communication skills, leadership, management, negotiation, team building, time management and more.
There’s No Disputing the Value of Soft Skills in IT
There’s a certain stereotype in IT of the hard-bitten technologist who desires nothing more than to be left alone to pursue the intricacies and inner workings of tools and technologies. But even the most obsessively focused IT pros must recognize that, ultimately, their skills and knowledge aren’t worth much unless they can communicate them to others and collaborate with others to put those tech skills to work. That’s where soft skills really come into play and where they truly pay off. Building soft skills isn’t just a good career move; it’s absolutely essential to long-term employability and to opening doors to future success.
Read more on the importance of soft skills in this white paper, Bridging IT Skills Gaps to Transform Your Business.