10 Skills Every IT Professional Should Develop
Leadership skills often transcend the boundaries of industry or department, but for rising IT leaders, it's necessary to consider what important skills contribute to your growth beyond traditional leadership skills. Read on for five skills that every IT professional should develop, ranging from very technical to very people-oriented. Check out part two here!
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In the art world, there is a distinct difference between the making of art and the business of selling art. Think of your IT department the same way.
As an emerging IT leader, you've spent a lot of your career making things work and putting in the physical and mental labor behind each project. You mostly focused on your craft and perfecting it, only pivoting when a manager or leader gave you updated instructions.
You're now a rising leader. You may be leading the team you once were a part of. How do you know when your people need to pivot and when? Practice going beyond the task-based nature of IT operations and think about the business and efficiency requirements behind those projects. Is a particular task contributing significantly to the bottom line? How are resources being used to create value for the company?
You need to know what your IT team is doing and how that contributes to the bottom line or bigger picture of the company's growth trajectory. If you struggle in this area of leadership, spend time cultivating peer groups of fellow leaders who can help you strategize.
In your previous roles on the team, you probably spent most of your time communicating with your peers in similar roles. As a rising leader, you're now expected to communicate with more audiences of varying professional expertise. Whether you find yourself in a group chat or a board room, here are a few tips for speaking with nuanced audiences:
Fellow IT Teammates and Direct Reports
How do you communicate with fellow IT staff in different roles and from different professional backgrounds? As a rising leader on the team, it's important for you to keep a few things in mind:
- Be knowledgeable. Your communication style should reflect your knowledge so that your teammates can trust your expertise.
- Teach your teammates how to communicate with non-IT people. It can be difficult to translate technical jargon, so as someone who interfaces outside of the department often, help your team learn how to explain what they are doing and why it's important for the company as a whole.
- Be transparent but confident about results. Leaders who are confident in their abilities, their teams, and their projects give their teams the boost they need to perform well in all circumstances. When your team gets bad news or results, your transparency will let them know that there's work to be done and your confidence will help them to recover quickly and get back to work.
- Provide context. Your teammates will often hear about company and client news directly from you and other leaders. What can you do to make sure that that news, good or bad, is communicated clearly and appropriately? According to Tommy Whited, Software Engineering Manager at TechnologyAdvice, giving context for the decisions you and the leadership team make is crucial.
"Learn to give good context for decisions. Your team is not in the room where the decision was made."
Asking the tough questions of your teams is also important. Is someone not performing or meeting their goals? When you're having regular dialogue with individuals on your team and your team as a whole, always ask "how?" and "why?" something is happening a certain way. You may be able to avoid performance issue discussions down the road.
Hold people accountable and ask them to lead discussion on projects or subtasks that they're working on. Don't step in just because you know what they should say or should be doing. After they've spoken, make sure they get respectful, constructive feedback if they're heading in the wrong direction.
Non-IT Coworkers, Customers, and Partners
Just because your colleagues are not in the IT department doesn’t mean they don't need to know what's happening with your team's projects. When communicating about IT team projects with others, be knowledgeable, but know how to translate what you're saying to a non-IT crowd. Your communication style should be simple and direct; most importantly, it should clearly delineate what's happening and how other teams can help.
Your customers and partners likely have even less knowledge of what you're doing and why, but transparency on your part helps them understand how your team or project impacts the business as a whole.
Not only are you translating your work for a non-IT crowd, but you may also need to explain how what you’re working on relates to your company's other products and services. Relatability and even a sense of humor are key so that they feel comfortable communicating with you about what they want and need from the outset of a project.
As an IT leader, you are a teacher of both technical skills and soft skills for your team. How can you coach your team members to a higher level of performance, perhaps good enough to step into your role one day? What advice, mentorship, and training will it take to get them there?
Part of being a leader is finding opportunities that challenge your team's current skills and encourage them to grow into future skill sets. Don’t hesitate to seek out expertise beyond your own. This may look like finding a paid training platform or LMS, a workshop, a conference, or a guest speaker who can build your team up in their technical knowledge and leadership skills.
Check out this Master of Project Academy online course series to improve your project management skills, and learn how these courses can help your team grow into their current and future leadership roles.
Bottom line: know your stuff. Engineers and other IT staff will know if you're faking your expertise. Whether you’re a veteran of the IT space or a newly minted manager from another industry, stay on top of new developments in your particular IT specialty.
At the same time, seek to understand the impact of a project’s details rather than just the details themselves. This ability to understand the "why" behind a particular project or issue is critical so that you can appropriately communicate about what's happening in your department.
However, don't expect yourself to know absolutely everything. Be honest if you're not sure about something or hand it off to someone who is an expert in that area. Feigning knowledge diminishes your credibility as a leader.
You know from experience that issues arise every day. As an emerging leader, learn how to be the calm in the storm. In a leadership role, you'll be expected to provide perspective and guidance, but you won’t necessarily be responsible for solving those small daily issues.
Be a support system for your project managers and others on your team, providing them the resources that help them solve the problem. One of the most powerful questions you can ask is, “What do you think is the best way to solve this?”
Something awesome happens when you start distributing the problem-solving load: your team gets better at problem-solving. Don't forget that your team likely spends more time in the nitty-gritty of the project at hand, and most importantly, they all think differently than you do. That means somebody will often come up with a different or better solution than you would have ever considered. Mastering the skill of problem-solving handoff helps you and your team, as it cultivates their problem-solving skills, autonomy, and individual leadership skills.
Personal Development Matters for Rising IT Leaders
All of these important skills share one common thread: a focus on merging the technical skills you already possess with a focus on personal growth and development. It feels counterintuitive to spend much time on your personal growth when your goal is to lead other people, but building a strong foundation of knowledge and confidence in your own abilities is the first step in that direction. Are you interested in learning more about the interpersonal and soft skills that rising IT leaders need to develop for success?
This article was originally published on 04-22-2021