Leadership

IT soft skills are in as much demand as ever

Soft skills in IT are more important than ever. Here are several key areas where CIOs want to see soft skills from their managers and their new hires.

"On the average, it takes about three years to develop a new hire into a seasoned technology professional in our environment," said Anthony Dolan, an IT Director at Depository Trust Clearing Corporation (DTCC). "We look for students that come to us very well prepared - not only in technology, but in the "soft skills" that you need to be successful."

Virtually every CIO I speak with agrees. People and other "soft" skills are needed in IT.

I saw this early in my career, when I was given a shot at a project management position I wanted-but only because everyone else on staff had said "no." The project was sinking. It was already one million dollars over budget, and had a customer who was threatening to sue the company and throw the project manager off a building! I knew this might be my only chance to prove that I could manage a project, so I took a deep breath and said I would do it.

I immediately saw that most of the project deliverables had been badly overpromised and that what had been delivered wasn't working. The only thing I could think to do was to level with the end user on the "true" state of the project and rebuild from there. The project's "new" beginning was shaky-but it was still a beginning.

I learned from the experience how important open communications, visibility and trust were. And that even if you couldn't deliver an immediate IT solution-if you could at least deliver information that gave your user the ability to show his management that he understood what was going on and what it was going to take to complete the project, there was value.

Today, these human interaction and soft skills areas are as much in demand in IT as they were ten years ago. It is why, when I talk with CIOs, that they point to several key areas where they want to see soft skills from their managers and their new hires. These skills areas are:

The ability to read, write, listen and speak-Most of us see these as "givens" when it comes to workplace professionals and college graduates-but they aren't. Especially in the technical disciplines like IT, there is a tendency to assume people always know what you're talking about, or to speak in technical jargon. Neither practice works well with end users and customers-and even with other IT staff members. The ability to always remember the human elements of any project--If you are tasked with managing a project, it is not enough to manage task charts and milestones. There is always a tendency for your top performers to overextend themselves to where they are physically and mentally exhausted.  End users might tell you that they are "alright" with project plans and schedules, but their body langue might reveal frustration that is not expressed. A perceptive project manager "reads" these signals and takes appropriate actions. The ability to collaborate-People need to feel that they are part of a solution. IT'ers who are able to cross-communicate with each other, and to make those they interact with feel like they are part of the team are an invaluable asset to their CIOs. Down the line, they often become CIOs themselves. This is why IT'ers who aspire to become CIOs should take career development courses in areas like team building and interpersonal interactions. The ability to provide visibility-Whether you are a junior member on an IT work team or a project manager, great communication and total visibility of what you are working on enhances the work and trust of everyone around you.

About

Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President o...

28 comments
HypnoToad72
HypnoToad72

and support... Pity BYOD and other new philosophies being pushed are saying end users are (or need to be) more self-reliant... Soft and hard skills are both needed... But the reality is, the companies want wages lower to artificially inflate "profit". Even getting everyone to work for free, since we apparently have no need whatsoever for money, will backfire, and if we - hyperbole but not impossible - have to pay to get work (and not just in the form of overpriced college education where the instructors hardly see a pittance of what we pay)... Mess. Big mess...

brianddale
brianddale

3-4 years of soft-skill development for young talent (fresh out of college) is not realistic. These type of resources do not stay with their first company that long, it is drilled into them that their first job is a 2 year resume builder. Hire young college talent with a realistic view, their 2 year contribution to your company must be the return you are interested in, otherwise you are training them for someone else.

saisriorl
saisriorl

Thanks for writing in a candid, honest and genuine article. This is amazing and good one. Really appreciate the gesture. Good one Sri

MrBackroomGuy
MrBackroomGuy

So, we want marketing attitudes in IT positions? We want bright, perky accountants, and dishwashers who whistle while they work. As an IT tech who has endured both perceptions of a 'nice guy' and an abrasive tech, I would say a lot depends on what you demand of your employees and how you interact with them. If I am being attacked because the users I am trying to support are 'know-it-all' smart mouths, then I tend to get a little defensive. If I am trying to help someone who genuinely wants and appreciates my efforts to bring them solutions (usually to problems they generated) then I tend to be more concerned about them and am willing to go extra miles for them.

RMSx32767
RMSx32767

making certain your boss likes, or at least does not actively dislike, you personally. You might be technically brilliant, or simply excellent, and you might have an excellent working relationship with co-workers, managers, executives and clients, but if your boss views your "soft skills" as a brighter light than his/her own, you might be toast. It takes a confident manager to see the potential in a subordinate who might ultimately rise to a higher level than the boss. It takes an insecure git full of self esteem to eliminate the person with the "very much in demand" excellent soft skills.

thehcasboi
thehcasboi

It is too bad when you work for a company that does not realize your potential only to prove it else where. I really rooted for this one company I worked for. I liked the owner and most of the staff but was totally unappreciated in my skills and what I offered. What I am saying is that even if you have those skills the senior staff as well as the owners and such need to take their blinders off and look at a persons additional worth. It is all to often this happens.

reisen55
reisen55

The comment that employers want STUDENTS means they want CHEAP. Seasoned professionals are never cheap. It takes years to develope people skills and students have neither those skills nor accumulated tech skills unless you count a diploma and a piece of Microsoft paper as real skills which also accounts for our continuing reliance on India as another resource of high IT tech and skill sets. I love reading the job postings for STUDENT DESIRED with a LONG LIST OF MICROSOFT and ORACLE and JAVA and APPLE subsets. You have to KNOW this stuff and students monkeying around in their dorms rarely touch it. Some do, a few, but the vast majority do not. Employers want cheap, pure and simple. Just ask IBM.

Matthew Moran
Matthew Moran

I've been saying that business acumen and soft-skill are the Next Not Technology for many years. The sad truth is that there is so much kick-back on such a simple concept.. ie: like the comment above about soft skills being the ability to "kiss up." I'm not sure what that means.. If it means the ability to get along with people, understand the needs of managers, users, clients, peers, etc.- and be empathetic to those needs and concerns, I guess so... Is that a bad thing? The truth is, we live in a competitive world. As the owner of a consulting company, I new technologists who I would NEVER put in front of clients. Even with great technical skills. It isn't a either/or, it is a both/and. I would find technology professionals who had a grasp of soft skills. If you have two professionals - mostly equal in technical skill set - but one is abrasive, difficult, and struggles with human interaction and the other does not.. it is a pretty simple decision. Develop both - technical and human/business acumen. It is what makes for the most dynamic, profitable, and rewarding career.

Channel ICT
Channel ICT

This is a good article, its just a shame it had to be written. Companies who support clients properly will find it much easier to retain clients and grow profitably. Sadly there are too many ICT technicians that believe their innate knowledge is vital or key to success without realising that unless the customer receives what they need, their contribution is virtually zero. Providing good service is not 'kissing up' but a positive, collaborative process that builds success for all sides.

MyopicOne
MyopicOne

"The only thing I could think to do was to level with the end user on the “true” state of the project and rebuild from there. The project’s “new” beginning was shaky-but it was still a beginning." At some places I have worked you would have been fired on one of two grounds - both for telling the customer the truth but from different sides.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

instead of self-esteem? As I learned the terms, self-esteem implies confidence; ego does not. It's a very fine line, but there is a difference.

Channel ICT
Channel ICT

I read the term 'ability to kiss up' as derogatory and insincere. Perhaps its the age old question of trying to provide what the customer 'needs' rather than what they 'want' - there is often a very real difference and identifying the first requires the ability to understand and communicate with care. Thankfully there is a place for us all!

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

I think it's the high esteem in which I hold myself giving me a huge ego, or perhaps vice versa. :D

RMSx32767
RMSx32767

No. Ego means I, or self. To "esteem" means to hold in high regard. Therefore, "self esteem" is to hold yourself in high regard. Ergo, self esteem is effectively your boosting your own ego (versus some else doing it). Sadly we live in a culture that encourages the belief "you are great" even if you aren't; that you can do anything and everything, even if you can't. The best leaders have little ego but tremendous confidence, and they regard the talents and abilities of subordinates as assets rather than threats.

RMSx32767
RMSx32767

too frequently the customer receives what IT decided was needed even if it was neither what the customer wanted or needed.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

is on terminology, not result. I'm probably not differentiating finely enough between self-esteem and self-confidence.

RMSx32767
RMSx32767

Esteeming others is good. Self confidence, and esteeming others, leads to encouragement of those others. SELF esteem leads to (seeking constant) encouragement of self and placing your needs above those of others.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Self-esteem can be good or bad. Too high a self-esteem is bad, leading to inflated egos, so you get Enron, Tyco, Donald Trump, etc. A healthy self-esteem leads to the confidence to encourage and promote those who might turn out to be better than you are. It's also called self-respect.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Not the common definition. As for our cultural encouragement, that comes from parents who don't want little Johnny's feelings hurt, so they do everything they can to tell him he's great, even when he isn't.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Some people just don't have the stones, do they.

The_Real_BSAFH
The_Real_BSAFH

They get what you give em when you're good and ready to do it. If they complain, show them how your 'earth leakage detector' works.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

What they want might not be profitable would be nearer the mark. Usre requirements should be clarified, not interpreted.

RMSx32767
RMSx32767

It's been my experience that too many in IT have no understanding of the business, only IT. If they listen, and ask appropriate questions, the end user will likely tell them what is needed by them to do their job more effectively. Sometimes the IT person simply needs to educate the end user about the tools already at their disposal. Sadly, training for users tends to suffer at the expense of "more toys" for IT. I know a CIO/CSO/CTO who knew nothing of the company business but successfully talked executives into spending tens of thousands of dollars on a tool that was never used. He kept his job because he was the darling of the CAO.

Pawandev
Pawandev

If you were to give what customer wanted, they better hire a procurement specialist. As IT one need to evaluate what customer wants and what is actually needed, you are the expert paid for deciding what is best for business and fits the bill. A Senior Director who was an old time techy by passed IT and ordered equipments required for a project and it costed him his job as he overshot the budget and lot of equpment are still lying unused.