5 November 2020
The 10 ‘Soft’ Skills Every IT Manager Needs
It goes without saying that IT managers must be across a broad range of technology skills, able to quickly step between discussions about devices, and making decisions about cloud. The most productive IT managers, though, have other soft, or non-technical, abilities that are equally important. Here’s our top 10:
Technology is essential to any organisation, but communication gaps happen frequently between IT and the rest of the business. As an IT expert, it is usual to spend a lot of time on maintaining IT skills, but few venture into training in complementary areas. Strong communication skills can help to set expectations, deal better with colleagues, and even raise adoption levels when introducing new technology. Communication is a necessary skill for IT managers, so why not sign up for a little extra training in the new year?
IT teams tend to report to a lot of departments, each with different ways of working. The right leadership skills help to adapt to working alongside many different people. Less technically minded colleagues can find dealing with IT especially daunting, so an inclusive, coaching approach that emphasises motivation, rather than an authoritative style, can pay dividends.
It can be very easy to jump to conclusions and think we know what someone is saying, but assumptions are often wrong. It is worth listening carefully, and repeating back what you have heard, before jumping in to solve a problem. A few moments of careful attention can save a lot of time and money down the track.
People have been under more pressure than ever before. Your team, and your wider network, have been juggling home schooling, isolation, and family worries with completely changed work practices. It is important to recognise where things aren’t working out and support people to work more effectively. A strong manager will also remember to give a (virtual, socially distanced) pat on the back for a job well done.
Burn-out is a very real danger for IT managers. It can be very easy to become attached to a problem, and determined to solve it no matter what – even if it takes all day, or week. We quite often encounter situations where a highly skilled resource has been wrestling with something outside their usual area of expertise, when one of our specialists can fix it in minutes. Your time is valuable to your organisation, and sometimes delegating frees you up to focus on the more strategic matters that need your attention. Having clear lines of responsibility can help make delegation more effective, whether with your own team or external providers. You don’t have to go it alone.
6. Time management
It is worth planning out your daily tasks in your calendar, allocating time for everything from answering emails to tackling quarterly or yearly planning. Not only does it help to avoid distraction, the recording of your time can be very useful data to justify requests for additional resources. And if you weren’t already convinced, the Stress Management Society says that time management ‘helps you to reduce long-term stress by giving you direction when you have too much work to do’.
A good IT plan can help you to be more strategic, and more productive. It gives you the chance to address time-critical actions, like contract renewals or end-of-life of equipment proactively; you can research alternatives, and check whether another option would be better aligned to your business direction. There are many planning tools and methods available – we use EOS with Microsoft 365 to plan our business activities, because it fits beautifully with tools we already use, like Teams and SharePoint.
8. Problem solving
IT managers face new challenges daily, so it helps to be adept at listening, analysing, and then working out logical steps to solve them. It helps to have strong self-awareness, and recognise your personal capabilities and weaknesses, as well as those of your team. Sharing problems by bringing in staff or external resources can get you to a solution sooner, so that you can get on with your day.
9. Presentation skills
IT leaders frequently have to seek approval, whether for increased budget, specific projects, or long-term plans. This means educating stakeholders about your proposed action and explaining the expected return on investment. Without strong presentation skills, it can be tough to get your message across and secure buy-in, whether from the board or from another line of business. There are many training opportunities and workshops that can help you to make the right impression and persuade people to listen.
From emails to texts to reports, IT managers spend a lot of time writing, and strength in this area can open a lot of doors. It is worth making sure your spelling, grammar and punctuation are up to scratch, because mistakes can create a poor impression. Write Better by Amanda Van Elderen and Everyone Can Write: A Guide to Get You Started are copywriter recommendations for anyone keen to improve their writing skills.
While our list is by no means exhaustive, putting some effort into these soft skills will repay you in more effective work practices, and a more attractive CV. Got a suggestion to add to the list? Let us know.
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