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3 Essential Non-Technical Skills to Advance Your IT Career
Law Technology News
As your IT career evolves, there are three essential non-technical skills you must develop to advance from a pure technologist role to a senior member of your organization: team development, relationship management, and financial management. Although they are not the only necessary skills for career advancement, these three skills are often overlooked and underappreciated by technologists trying to move into leadership roles.
Responsibility for developing a team is not limited to supervisors, managers, or directors. Whether you are a contributor at a staff level or have a traditional management role, consider how you can help with team development. The foundation for any successful, high-performing team is ensuring that information and ideas are exchanged freely, efficiently, and effectively.
Constructive discussion should be encouraged; team members should feel their voices are heard, not ignored. Too often, the best ideas are overlooked because an individual holds back, due to fear or dysfunctional team dynamics. By holding back ideas, you artificially handicap the team by limiting input needed for constructive discussion.
Present your thoughts in a timely manner delaying can cost valuable time when course corrections could have easily been made earlier. As the saying goes, "No one appreciates a Monday morning quarterback" especially someone who hedges his or her bets (i.e., insights and opinions) waiting on the ultimate outcome before weighing in.
Be concise and constructive when contributing, and present both problems and solutions. Depending on team personalities, ground rules may be necessary so that team members are not intimidated by more aggressive personalities.
Rules can include not allowing interruptions until the person speaking has completed his or her thoughts, limiting distracting side conversations, and directly discouraging mean-spirited or unproductive behaviors. This does not contrain lively, intense debate constructive conflict is actually good.
Rather, be sure the team understands the rules and process so that all creditable information, data, ideas, opinions, etc. are processed and properly vetted to arrive at an optimal plan. A team cannot succeed in the long term if it does not interact in a professional manner and encourage timely information exchange among all members.
Good relationship management is critical, and it starts within your department team. Directors, managers, and individual staff members need solid relationships with peers within their own department. It is tempting to passively participate in your own departmental meetings and believe that you and your peers are on the same page (just because you are within the same department or meet regularly), but this is a false sense of cooperation. Reach out individually to your peers, whether new or longtime colleagues, and actively engage them, through formal or informal channels, in discussions about each person's departmental projects, goals, challenges, etc. This will lead to a better understanding of potential issues, synergies, and opportunities.
Equally critical is your relationship with your peers across departments and with the customers you support (or that support you) outside of your department. This helps assure successful results for projects that involve multiple departments, as well as the ability to identify potential synergies across departments.
It is very easy for IT professionals to become isolated within their own department when managing projects and developing technology. When this happens, projects that started with clear business objectives can slowly run off the track.
Project management provides controls to ensure business requirements and technology projects align, but project managers by themselves are not a replacement for overall relationship management with other teams, your client, or those that you support. By building and managing relationships outside of traditional reporting lines, you will better understand the continuously changing needs and priorities of other departmental leads and customers. This will give you continuous insight into potential issues with existing projects as well as new projects that haven't officially started. Early involvement at the beginning of (or throughout) a project allows you time to proactively manage relationships, priorities, and resources across departments to deliver efficient and effective delivery of services.
In addition to improvements in project and service delivery, relationship management can promote increased synergies between departments and opportunities for business improvements. Therefore, directors should think of their teams not only as the people who report to them, but also their peers in other parts of the organization. If the CIO primarily focuses on communication and relationship management within her or his organization and does not spend a considerable amount of time building relationships with the chief operating, finance, and marketing officers as well as the client base they are limiting the value and potential synergies that IT can bring to the organization.
This is true for managers and staff as well. Challenge yourself to think of your team not just as members of your department, but also think of the extended team and how you can build and manage the extended relationships.
By increasing your knowledge about other areas of the business you become more valuable to the organization as you are able to identify opportunities for improvement and then have the relationships in place to act on those opportunities for everyone's benefit. Learning more about the departments that you support and the ultimate clients that drive your company's revenue will provide everyone from the highest level executive to the mid-level staff more insight and help them perform their current and future jobs better. Never bypass direct reporting lines or protocols, but truly progressive companies and leaders want individuals to show interest in and contribute across the organization.
How does your company generate revenue? What are its significant costs? How does your department contribute to the revenue or cost side of your company's profit model? How can you improve your company's performance? These are basic questions that every employee should be able to answer at some level, regardless of position.
Even today, many IT professionals think that financial management is the role of accountants. Nothing is further from the truth and more upsetting to business leaders when technologists believe accounting should not be a core competency of IT leaders. Obviously the magnitude of your direct impact in raw dollars may vary, but at the end of the day all companies are in the business to make money. Technologists that purely think in terms of bits and bytes without understanding how they contribute to the bottom line of an organization are not thinking like business people.
This does not imply that technologists do not have to be technical that is a given. To enhance your career and value to the organization, understand the basic financial model of your company so that you can make technology decisions based on how the company operates. The next generation of IT leaders will still need deep technical skills, but will also need strong financial and business skills, as companies continue to expect more and more from their leaders.
Although team development, relationship management, and financial management are not the only important skills for future leaders, they can be overlooked as you develop your career plan. However, they are important assessment criteria by executive leadership when they search for tomorrow's leaders. Continuing to increase your technical knowledge, as well as focusing on these non-technical skills, will make you the well-rounded business and technical professional who can move the company forward.
Consultant David Otte is the former CIO of Sidley Austin, and preveously served as a consultant with Baker Robbins. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.