Soft skills are sexy

10 soft skills techies need -- and five ways to get them

Communication skills and empathy are just two soft skills that IT workers must master.

Communication skills and empathy are just two soft skills that IT workers must master.

Ten must-have soft skills for IT staff

1) Listening

According to Lindner, listening is the most important soft skill of them all, but it's also the most difficult skill to learn.

It's easy to think you're listening, but hearing someone speak doesn't mean you understand the message behind what they are saying, said Wray. "When you are working on a team, you need to focus," he said.

2) Communication

Clear communication is a definite must, according to Wray, largely because technology is so complicated. "It's very easy to fall into acronyms and jargon and buzzwords that only select people understand. If you're dealing with clients who might not have the same degree of technical understanding, it's very important to speak and write clearly," he said.

At global companies like IBM, communication is especially important, he added. "English isn't everyone's first language, so speaking and writing clearly becomes even more important if you're dealing with a Russian or Chinese team," he said.

Communications skills are at the top of the list for Abramovitch. This includes not only verbal communication, but also the ability to communicate remotely and online, he pointed out. "A lot of IT teams are distributed and not necessarily sitting in one room or office," he said.

Interpersonal and customer service skills go hand in hand with communication, according to Perrier-Knox. "IT is a service that is delivered to the rest of the organization and a lot of IT departments are re-organizing themselves around a service-oriented delivery model, so having communication, interpersonal and customer service skills and the mindset to be outward thinking like that is a really important soft skill," she said.

3) Confidence

Personal confidence and self-assertiveness are very valuable, according to Wray. They give you the ability to get into a group, share your ideas and take a risk, he said.

4) Project and time management

"Most of IT is project-based," said Perrier-Knox. "Business is keeping a really sharp eagle eye on IT to make sure projects are coming in on time and on budget." The ability to appropriately identify milestones and provide status reports that indicate when milestones are being met throughout the course of the project is becoming a "really big thing," she said.

Time management and the ability to prioritize are critical skills, according to Abramovitch. Businesses are now looking for IT staff who can manage their time and inter-office relationships to make sure projects are completed on time and the business is supported, he said. "IT departments are doing more," said Abramovitch. "They are expected to understand the business."

5) Teamwork

With IT juggling multiple projects and taking on a lot more work with less full-time staff, teamwork skills improve the ability to work well with temporary contract staff brought in during peak work loads, Abramovitch explained.

6) Empathy

It's also important to understand where the other person is coming from, said Lindner.

7) Appreciation

Appreciation and respect are the soft skills most lacking in organizations, according to Lindner, but they are sorely needed in the workplace. Showing appreciation is an easy thing to do, she pointed out. "If somebody helps you with a task, just give them a simple thank you," she said.

8) Leadership

As teams are shrinking in size and middle management is let go, there are fewer managers for more people, said Perrier-Knox. "Leadership responsibilities are becoming overwhelming, so those people need to task those responsibilities down under the ranks," she said.

9) Public speaking

Public speaking is the soft skill everyone would like to have, according to Wray, but it's also often their No. 1 fear. Public speaking often ranks higher than the fear of death, he pointed out.

But in his experience, public speaking is the easiest soft skill to learn. "It surprises people because they tend to say, 'I'm not a public speaker,' but with a little work, it can improve the most dramatically," he said.

10) Business knowledge

Knowledge of business operations and processes is "hands down" the most important soft skill, according to Perrier-Knox. "IT people that know about business issues, financial issues, they're the ones that are going to rise to the top. That's been the case for the past couple years now because IT has a reputation of not knowing about the business," she said.

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Jennifer Kavur

ComputerWorld Canada
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