Don't Ignore The Vital Soft Skills In Career Management

Whether it's moving up in management or over into new business divisions, your focus should be on shoring up vital soft skills that many don't realize are critical when it

May 15, 2006

5 Min Read
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Are you an IT professional looking to climb the career ladder? Whether it's moving up in management or over into new business divisions, your focus should be on shoring up vital soft skills that many don't realize are critical when it comes to job advancement.

The ability to communicate clearly, conduct an insightful and comprehensible presentation, and interact well in both semi-social and social environments with peers and colleagues are just a few business skill essentials for tech professionals, says Beverly Langford, author of the "The Etiquette Edge: The Unspoken Rules for Business Success."

Langford, who teaches managerial communication at Georgia State University's Robin College of Business, is also president of LMA Communication.

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"I call them business survival skills instead of technology skills," says Langford, who offered up the following advice on boosting soft skills:

  1. Get familiar with the company's business issues. "This includes getting familiar with the whole company rather than just the IT area. Technology professionals tend to have a silo mentality where they stay within the department and speak their own language. To move ahead IT leaders have to move out of that," says Langford.

  2. Bone up on those presentation skills. Team leaders and project managers are often called on to present new ideas, projects-in-progress reports and communicate what IT is doing to support the business. "To do this, IT leaders have to make sure they don't talk over people's heads, use jargon or IT terms that their audiences aren't familiar with. You have to make the presentation relevant and comprehensive to the audience and so you have to know who the audience is before the presentations," says Langford. A good tips, she notes, is to practice a presentation before a small focus group before addressing a large group. "In this day and age companies are much more multinational as well so you have to make sure your message is clearly understood across any language barriers," she adds.

  3. Increase social interaction within the company. "Every manager, whether they're in IT or not, needs to have the ability to interact in both quasi social situations and outside the office social situations. A good way is to start initiating business lunches with key people in different departments and spending time talking to other business unit leaders to learn more about their departments and their role. It's about mastering the art of small talk, conversation and socialization," says Langford, who says a good ice breaker is reaching out to non-IT leaders and asking for their insight or help on a shared issue, such as budgeting. "The goal is to understand how each other operates and how you can help each other as part of life learning," she explains.

  4. Spread a consistent message from IT. In this case that means making sure that the overall IT philosophy is one of help and support, says Langford. "The goal should be constantly asking other businesses within the company how IT can help them to do their jobs better and easier." On the flip side, it's good to consistently ask other business leaders how IT is doing and how it is impacting the organization. "Get feedback; find out what can be improved. Everyone in an organization is typically in a stressed situation but you have to make time to interact and get valuable insight from your users and customers."

  5. Keep up appearances. While it might sound trite, even a bit elementary, Langford says many tech professionals fail to realize that outward appearance in terms of dress and hygiene can have a lasting impact on their careers within a company. "Unfortunately we all make snap judgments about each other and we form opinions in the first few seconds of interacting. If that initial impression is negative because of appearance it can take seven to eight more personal interactions for the negativity to fade from the relationship," she says. The goal is to present a professional demeanor and appearance on each encounter.

  6. Sharpen your communication skills. Not only is personal verbal interaction critical to forming good inter-organizational relationships, so is the ability to communicate on paper, in an email and on the phone. "You need to be able to write well with clarity and a clear perspective," says Langford, who recommends shying away from email when possible as it can easily be misinterpreted or misread. "If it's something more than a short update or quick response, take the time to write a short report or share the information in person," she advises. Yet, she notes, doing so can also prove tricky as many people don't realize how negative body language can cause an important message to be misconstrued. From the obvious of crossing your arms or avoiding eye contact when talking with someone, both which send a negative message, you need to align your body posture and response to your message, explains the communications expert.

"Interpersonal skills such as talking, interacting, speaking in front of audiences, and communicating through various means are a huge aspect of career advancement. The ability to relate in a respectful manner and deliver a confident and clear message can't be overestimated," says Langford.

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