Why Soft Skills?
Technical skills have little value if you have poor soft skills. Don’t get me wrong, your tech expertise matters. But don’t be fooled by your tech skills. King of Linux, champion of Oracle? You’ve got it made, right? Give me a break! Tech skills alone are no guarantee of success.
You’ve got all the hot technical certifications with solid work experience. You’re the programming guru or the 900-pound gorilla of Network administration. You’re on your way to becoming an outstanding IT achiever? Don’t make me laugh! Excellent tech activities, rapid knowledge acquisition, tons of certificates are not the same thing as growth.
Tech skills alone don’t lead to recognition, promotion and most importantly opportunity. Tech skills are important but so are your soft skills. How well do you communicate with your colleagues, management, clients or your employer? Are you perceived as a contributor or just another techie?
Tech skills matter. In fact to succeed in IT you definitely need to have solid technical skills with a good grasp of the fundamentals. To make any headway you need to be solid on the ground with hard tech know-how. And the IT industry requires you to fortify yourself on a continuous basis with up-to-date tech knowledge and concepts. Training, certification, the Internet, books, are all opportunities available for lifelong learning. But what about your soft skills? As you build up your tech expertise, what effort are you making to develop your non-tech abilities? Certification is not an end in itself. You need soft skills to create opportunity for yourself. What is the use of tech skills if nobody knows you’ve got such skills? The essence of education is opportunity. The essence of your technical ability is opportunity. Use soft skills to cultivate opportunity. Use soft skills to grab opportunity with both hands. It’s wakeup time – keep the right perspective: your value, not just your technical expertise, is your power.
Soft skills help
Let’s look at specific ways in which soft skills can help IT professionals advance their careers.
To bring value to organization and clients, IT staff are getting more involved in many non-tech activities to carry out their IT tasks. Your interpersonal skills should be top notch to deliver results with your colleagues and people in non-IT areas you must work with. As a project manager how do you motivate other members of your team? You may need to work and interact with accountants and customer service staff to develop the company’s new business software. Network professionals have to enlighten other staff on the applications of the new wireless network and the implications of the company’s security policies. The server room is no longer a hiding place. And no matter how “good” you think you are you will not get the marks you feel you deserve if can’t communicate well with colleagues or clients. In fact the perception might be that you aren’t competent. But when you interact better with people you have to work with, your performance tends to improve and they go away with a positive impression. And the meaning of positive impression is more opportunity, more responsibility. Full stop.
In my opinion the main benefit of soft skills is empowerment. How does your tech skill translate to value? How do you create opportunity? Soft skills are useful for creating and taking advantage, of opportunities – jobs, career and business. No matter how great your tech skills are, when job hunting, your marketing skills should be first-class. Otherwise others who may not be as capable as you, but who have better marketing skills might beat you to the jobs or work you want. There are opportunities in IT. But there are also challenges and competition. In such a competitive environment, perception often reigns supreme. If your technical competencies are similar to those of other candidates how do you differentiate yourself? You claim to be a technical wizard. The problem however, and this is a big however, is how do I know if you are good if you can’t sell what you have – yourself or your ideas? Your certifications and previous work experience are important. But the issue at stake is this: can you convince the interviewer or clients that you will solve their problems and deliver value?
Not just for your career
Interestingly the acquisition of soft skills also empowers you by allowing you to build flexibility into your future IT career plans. How? Most soft skills are regarded as transferable skills, e.g. communication, project management, business and team work, which are needed in nearly all aspects of life, not just for your career alone. You need to grow not just as a techie but as a person.
More skills than sense?
As an IT professional, you have confidence in your technical abilities. But is your technical masterpiece built to last? Tech skills are important, but such abilities are no guarantee of career fulfillment. There is no way you can sustain an IT career with just tech skills. You get the job done but what is your impact and influence? What really is your aim in acquiring that certification? Is certification an end in itself? No it’s for opportunity, for career growth. It’s good to acquire skills but please be sensible. Unfortunately, many of us seem to emphasize having more skills than sense.
Key skills that make a difference include communication, leadership, teamwork, problem solving, project management and business. Having the required interpersonal skills provides a must-have foundation for career growth. They give you the ability to take advantage of challenges and opportunities that will come your way. When you empower yourself, you stay ahead of the crowd.
Tech skills matter. But get rid of the tech-only approach. How serious are you about your influence, impact and career growth? Your technical expertise doesn’t stop you from developing leadership and motivational skills. And how far can you go without a positive, can-do, can-bounce-back mindset? When facing challenges, stop being a moaner, instead develop some backbone. Grow beyond money motivation. You can be self-motivated and also motivate everyone around you. Oracle superstar, what really is the big deal in understanding how the business works and how you can enhance value? Cisco authority, it is myopic to be selfish when it comes to sharing knowledge with colleagues. Uncaring attitudes don’t encourage teambuilding. Java expert you don’t have to turn nasty simply because the client is difficult.
Stop negative conduct whether deliberate, due to ignorance, or because of an unsupportive environment. No matter your environment, you can’t afford to be ignorant, insensitive or unprofessional simply because you feel you are a technical guru. IT “Hot stuff”, swallow your pride, dig deep and identify your soft skills gap. Then make a conscious effort to close the gap. Nobody is perfect. But that’s no excuse to empower your weaknesses. Developing your tech skills while actively cultivating poor soft skills is akin to moving one step forward, two steps backwards. It burns and wastes what you hold dear -time, money and resources. Poor soft skills devalue. Period!
If you are perceived as being difficult and unfriendly, of what value are your Linux skills when no one is ready to work with you? Are you doing your best in your area of specialization? But to people that interact with you – colleagues, clients, instructors, managers – what is their perception of you? A great asset, a fantastic contributor, just someone who does IT stuff or the techie from hell? It’s a hard fact of life, but this book will often be judged by its cover. Most importantly, it’s not just about succeeding in work or business. What is the essence? To grow as a professional, to grow in business, you must also grow as a person.
Why soft skills? Why not soft skills? Does a tech professional need soft skills? Is the Pope Catholic?
Jide Awe is the Founder/CEO of Jidaw.com (http://www.jidaw.com)