It Turns Out That Personal Skills ARE Important For IT Leaders

by drjim on January 28, 2010

Sure We’re Nerds, But We Still Need To Have Social Skills

Sure We’re Nerds, But We Still Need To Have Social Skills

Why Does Hacking Still Work So Well?

So here’s an interesting question for you: in this day and age, why is it still so easy to hack into a corporate computer system? I mean we’ve had years to invest in sophisticated encryption systems and multi-step identity verification systems. The answer is surprisingly simple – the weakest link remains the people who use the systems and a smooth talking criminal always seems to be able to get the info that he / she needs out of these people.

What this realization means is that no matter how sophisticated we make security technology, it’s always going to be personal skills that we’ll be battling against. This leads to another interesting point: just exactly what personal skills do IT Leaders need to have in order to do their (non-hacking) jobs well?

IT Leaders Don’t Know What They Don’t Know

I can almost see you grimacing when you read the words “personal skills”. Technical professionals have a tendency to poo-poo these types of discussions because we view these skills as being something that can’t be measured. This means that we don’t really value them – why bother if you can’t become Cisco certified in personal skills (would that be CCPS?)

Times they are a changing and IT Leaders are going to have to change along with them. Luis Fernandez-Sanz?” href=” http://www.computer.org/portal/web/csdl/doi/10.1109/MC.2009.329”>Luis Fernandez-Sanz has been taking a close look at what employers are looking for in IT Leaders and he’s detected a change in the requirements.

This all starts by taking a look at what skills IT Leaders often don’t bring to the table. Sure, we’re skilled technical professionals, but that doesn’t mean that we have all of the skills that will be needed to lead a team. Here’s where we often come up short:

  • Organizational abilities
  • Political skills
  • Public speaking
  • Understanding of business language and jargon

Fernandez-Sanz has found that IT Leaders are often viewed by the rest of the company as being good at what we do – solving technical problems. However, since we often work remotely from the rest of the business, we are also viewed as needing to improve our interpersonal skills.

What Social Skills Do We Need To Have?

When we sit down and try to determine just exactly what skills IT Leaders need to be working to acquire, we find some good news. Fernandez-Sanz has found that the needed skills are not unique to IT Leaders – they are the same skills that any business professional needs to develop.

Analysis of job postings for IT jobs has revealed a wealth of data. The first discovery should come as no surprise to any of us: IT is still a rapidly developing field and new types of jobs are constantly being created. Additionally, IT jobs can be classified into over 250 different areas that run from software development jobs to systems engineering jobs.

Studies of IT job postings over the past 16 years has revealed that not only is IT a growing field, it is also dynamic. It has been noted that the languages, tools, and technologies that are called for have changed dramatically over that time. Clearly this means that by entering into the IT field we have all signed up to a lifetime of constant learning.

In the area of IT leadership, the studies have revealed the top 5 personal skills that IT Leaders need to have. These results have been culled from descriptions of the skill sets that CIOs are asked to have:

  • Proactive behavior
  • Team management
  • Leadership
  • Teamwork
  • Communication skills

What All Of This Means For You

As an IT Leader, you will always be expected to be working to improve your skills. The challenge is to determine just exactly what skills you need to be working on. The technical skills that you’ll need to maintain will be constantly changing as IT moves forward.

Your real challenge will come in identifying the personal skills that you’ll need to be able to bring to the table. Although it is much more difficult to measure these skills, they are just as if not more important than your technical skills.

It turns out that the personal skills that you need to hone are the same skills that ever other business professional is working on. This won’t make your task any easier, but it certainly means that you’ll be in good company!

What do you think the most important personal skill for an IT Leader to have is?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Times of change can be difficult for everyone, including IT Leaders. We all know how hard it can be to lose your job. What this means is that we all have a basic understanding of what to do if it happens. But what if you don’t lose you job, it just changes on you. What do you do then?

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

IPL September 25, 2013 at 1:47 am

An IT leader should work hard to improve the knowledge as there is a challenge that the technical skills you’ll need will be changing constantly as IT moves forward. So the real challenge is to maintain the personal skills as this is not changing as the IT does.

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drjim September 27, 2013 at 8:38 am

IPL: you are 100% correct. That’s why skills like public speaking are so important for an IT leader to develop — they will last for your entire career…

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