Best Practices & Trends / article

5 ‘soft’ skills for ‘hard-nosed’ IT professionals

If you’ve worked in the IT industry for any length of time, the idea that IT ‘does what it is told’ won’t come as a huge surprise. It’s a way of life in many organizations.  

There is an imbalance in the relationship between the IT organization and its business partners – the internal or external departments and individuals that use its services. Sadly, IT is not regularly seen as an ‘equal’, but rather a subservient service provider that basically takes orders. Like a commodity salesman visiting grocery shops, IT is only able to respond to demands for more, newer, faster, cheaper, bigger and better systems.

IT staffers have no real influence on trends, opportunities, and potential areas where technology could actually deliver more value. Instead, IT is simply expected to respond rather than contribute; act, rather than advise.

Is it just me? Or is this notion – this lack of credibility – archaic?

New Skills for IT professionals

Times, they are a changin'

It really is archaic, and it’s changing… slowly but surely. Many enlightened organizations realize the value of a partnership with IT, beyond just executing contractual obligation. But there are many organizations have ways to go when it comes to improving the strategic standing of technology and IT.  

One of the big problems is the traditional image of IT and IT workers, which doesn’t always help when arguing for a bigger and more strategic seat at the table. In fact, many people who work in technology still don’t demonstrate enough of the ‘professional’ and ‘soft’ skills that are needed to carry out mature relationships.  

As examples, there are many instances in which technology-focused staff forget that they are dealing with ‘people’. And that those living, breathing people need appropriate levels of interaction, communication and engagement.

The DON’Ts for IT staffers looking to up their cred

I’m sure we all recognize these types of scenarios that landed us with the title of ‘doers’ not ‘thinkers’. So “don’t’ make these mistakes: 

  • The IT guy who doesn’t listen, going into solution mode before you’ve even described your problem
  • The support person who works on your computer, then tells you it’s fixed but doesn’t wait for you to check and confirm
  • The project team who tells you what you need without having asked you about your requirements and challenges
  • The project analyst who simply says ‘no, our tool can’t do that’ without trying to find common ground or another approach – the binary response  

I’m sure many of these situations are recognizable – as are many more. The IT industry still has a tendency to fall short when it comes to understanding the people, business and how to work together productively.

New image, new partnership

So, what can we do to improve our image and become trusted business ‘partners’? In short, we need to clarify our role. We support people and businesses, not just technology. We use technology, of course. And, yes, the focus of our expertise is technology. But this skill is of no value if we can’t also communicate and collaborate successfully with other people—especially the people that need it.  

In reality, we need to call out a wider set of skills as part of the IT job. There is no use in being a technical genius if you can’t exchange key information with other human beings. We should recognize these ‘soft’ skills – communications, business knowledge, influencing skills, management and motivational skills, emotional intelligence – as part of our job descriptions, role and competency requirements. And those soft skills must be with equable levels of importance to technical skills. It’s a cliché, but really ‘soft’ skills are the ‘hard’ part of our jobs.

The DO’s to take you from good to great

What things make a great Service Professional? It’s the softer skills that turn the tables from good to great. So try doing these:

  • Maintaining customer focus – above our own technical areas of interest
  • Honing great communications skills – active listening, appropriate language and tone, summary writing skills
  • Demonstrating market skills and knowledge – knowing your market and your customers’ place in it
  • Understanding and managing risk – taking personal responsibility
  • Demonstrating positive and resourceful behaviors – not just following ‘process’
  • Being able to prioritize work in line with business and customer needs
  • Working and collaborating with – even influencing – different types of people
  • Focusing on results and outcomes rather than activities and work volume  

It’s essential that we recognize and develop our skills in these areas of ‘professionalism’. After all, it will be these skills (mostly) that distinguish us from the robots that are going to take all our jobs, right?  

Not everyone possess these skills as natural capabilities, but all of us must appreciate the importance and work to improve own levels of ‘soft’ competence.   Only once we do this and start demonstrating improved levels of engagement and success with our customers can we really expect to be seen as true ‘strategic partners’.

About the author

Barclay Rae

CEO for ITSMF UK

Barclay Rae, an experienced ITSM consultant, analyst and writer. He has worked on approximately 500 ITSM projects over the last 25 years, and writes blogs, research and white papers on ITSM topics for a variety of industry organisations and vendors.

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