6 Soft Skills that Drive Technical Success
Guest Author: Eric P. Bloom
I have analyzed various technical certifications, methodologies, and frameworks. As expected, it was very obvious that the technical information and skills learned by studying them were of great value to both the individuals who gained this knowledge and the organizations they served.
For example, Project Managers, via the PMP (Project Management Professional), enhanced their project leadership capabilities. Business Analysts, via the CCBA (Certification of Capability in Business Analysis), increased the number of Business Analysis arrows in their technical quiver regarding the tools, techniques and concepts of the business analysis function. Those certified in Lean Six Sigma can better measure and enhance the quality of all they touch. Lastly, those who studied ITIL, Agile, A++ and others all enhancing their craft, increasing their professional credentials and truly enhanced their ability to serve their business partners, stakeholders and systems users.
Soft Skills Magnify Effectiveness of Technical Knowledge
Additionally, however, I learned that the value and effectiveness of this technical knowledge and skill are dramatically magnified, when combined with softer skills, such as interpersonal communication, conflict resolution, negotiation, influence and others. It has also been my experience that this is also very true for those working in highly technical jobs, such as programming in Java, Python, and C#, as well as those in heads-down roles in computer security, database design and big data administration and analytics.
Many of the organizations that sponsor these certifications have recognized the importance of these supplemental skills. For example, PMI, which sponsors the PMP, has the "PMI Skills Triangle, which in addition to describing the technical skills associated with project management, also greatly emphasizes the value of "Leadership" and "Strategic and Business Management". The IIBA (International Institute of Business Analysis) describes the importance of various soft skills as "Underlying Competencies" within their official "Business Analysis Book of Knowledge (BABOK).
From my analysis, I've identified six specific categories of soft skills that can enhance your professional effectiveness, increase the value you provide to your company, and position you for professional growth:
1. Interpersonal Communication
Interpersonal communication refers to your ability to relate to people on a one-one basis. It includes topics such as emotional intelligence, conflict resolution, active listening and others. This allows you to form better ongoing business relationships, better understand work requirements, and better articulate your business needs and direction to others.
2. Leadership Characteristics
Your leadership characteristics refers to who you are a person and is divided into three basic subgroups; Professionalism, Activism, and Tenacity. Professionalism is your trustworthiness, respect for others, personal confidence, and open- mindedness. Activism is your ability to define a future vision and utilize a proactive nature to influence and motivate other to follow your direction. This combination defines your professional brand and the willingness of others to trust you, work with you and provide you with future professional opportunities and growth.
3. Analytical Skills
This refers to your ability to identify problems and opportunities, theorizing what can/should be done, define potential plans of action and devise innovative solutions. It's these skills that allow you to solve business problems and facilitate the conception, design, creation, and implementation of new products, technologies, processes, revenue streams, and even potential new markets.
4. Business Skills
Business skills refers to both outline your ability to thrive both individually and as part of a team within a business environment. Personal skills include areas such as goal setting, negotiation, and time management. Team skills are team building, running meetings, mentoring, and vendor management. It's this category of skills that will distinguish you as both a manager and future leader.
5. Management Tasks
Management tasks are not just for managers; they are for anyone leading a task of any type that requires delegation, giving constructive feedback, having difficult conversations, leading change or trying to reduce stress. These skills allow you get things done through others as a technical lead, project manager, IT manager or IT executive.
6. Business Knowledge
Lastly, business knowledge refers to your understanding of your industry, company, department, and related technologies. Ideally, this knowledge would also include the current trends and future directions within all of these areas. This combination of where things are now and where business and technology is headed, perfectly positions you to take on a thought leadership role within your department, company and/or industry.
In closing, I joined the workforce as a programmer working in everything for COBOL, to C++ to other programming languages that have faded away with the passage of time. During these years, I totally discounted the soft skill training as unneeded and irrelevant. Later in my career I realized that my earlier opinion of non-technical training was 100% wrong. Had I studied these areas earlier in my career, it would have allowed me to move up professionally more quickly, with less frustration for me and others, and with fewer setbacks.
Don't make the same mistake I almost did. Certainly, still take as much technical training as your time and budget allows, but remember that augmenting this training with soft skills in the above six categories can greatly enhance your ability to maximize the value of the technical skills you have acquired and position you for future professional success.
About the Author
Eric P. Bloom is the President of Manager Mechanics (ManagerMechanics.com) and the Executive Director of The IT Management &Leadership Institute (ITMLInstitute.org), a #1 Amazon bestselling author and keynote speaker.
Eric also keeps a pulse on the IT industry, especially current and evolving IT megatrends such as cloud computing and virtualization, and provides insights on how these will affect IT management and individual careers.
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