Why soft skills in technology-sector management applicants and a willing to develop them will give applicants a head start in their career, writes Stefan Beglinger
Late last year, a panel of experts at Microsoft’s Future Decoded event concluded that the tech-skills shortage was not the only issue plaguing recruitment in our industry – so too was a dearth of soft skills.
Soft skills are attributes that help people work together more effectively. Basically, they help the world of work go round and include good communication, leadership, networking and getting on with people. When starting out on a career in technology, they are down the list of desirable attributes – well below good technical knowledge. But as a career progresses, they become increasingly important.
For anyone with ambitions of management, these soft skills will help them stand out.
Clear communication is vital, but this doesn’t just come down to speaking – listening is equally important. As is understanding what someone means, which can be quite different from what they’re actually saying.
Having a common language and vocabulary is a good start. But skilled communicators do more than that. They can anticipate gaps in understanding and knowledge and structure responses accordingly.
Working on technical projects, it’s common to come across people who know what the desired outcome is but don’t understand the technology and hurdles involved in achieving it. This can cause problems. Key to overcoming them is listening carefully and thinking intelligently about the situation from their point of view. Spouting technical specifications or even project-management jargon will win no one over. It’s about making sure the situation is communicated in a way that engenders empathy, understanding and trust. That’s the only way to ensure everyone gets to, and stays, on the same page.
Managing a team or being a stream lead on a project involves motivating people to get the job done effectively and efficiently. Some need more motivating than others. For example, it’s common to find that staff prioritise interesting tasks. They need to be encouraged to get on with the humdrum, too – it makes for an efficient workplace and helps maintain morale across the whole group. But it’s important to be seen to be treating everyone the same, so motivation can’t involve special treatment. It has to be done with charm and reasoning. Should you get push-back, it’s important to stand firm – which can be hard.
Leaders also need to shield the team, to be a shock-absorber for stressful situations whenever necessary. This demands broad shoulders, discretion and the ability to inspire the team during periods of uncertainty and turbulence, providing team members with guidance. Additionally empathy gives employees the confidence to perform but also seek help when it is needed.
Networking and internal lobbying
Implementation projects often have multiple streams operating simultaneously. This means stream leaders will have their own priorities that must be managed carefully and meshed for the best outcome.
People good at this are adept at seeing the bigger picture, finding champions for their cause and encouraging people to compromise by gaining their trust. But equally important is knowing when to fight your corner – internally and externally. The more senior the role, the more positions there are to keep in balance – from the client to the trainee to the different stream leaders and the experienced team members. This takes enormous skill, which is hard to teach. It comes down to the ability to get, and keep, people onside. Again, it’s really about trust. Perhaps the best way to learn is to watch and absorb from those who get it right.
Creating the right environment at work has a lot to do with chemistry and how skilled people are at managing the mix. It often comes with maturity and experience. But given the acknowledged scarcity of the soft skills required, it’s worth spending time actively cultivating them.
Stefan Beglinger is an Associate Director for Technology Services at Orbium