Beyond Coding: Why Leadership Skills are Key for IT Professionals

It’s always beneficial to diversify and deepen your career skills, especially in a competitive job market. Many IT professionals solely focus on their technical knowledge and specific skillset, such as coding and programming, but often overlook the advantages of non-technical leadership skills. As reliance increases on IT resources who understand how to meet the complications of both evolving technical and operational demands, those with a healthy combination of both technical and leadership skills become even more valuable for organizations.

“We’re currently witnessing a significant shift in the market,” says Jessica Gary, QED National’s Recruiting Operations Manager, “organizations are looking for technical resources who have qualities that go beyond their technical expertise – qualities that demonstrate more people skills and leadership ability.”

Skillsets of particular interest which professionals can develop to best assist the growing demands of business organizations include:

Project Management

A highly sought-after skill for many organizations is project management, seeking professionals who have the ability to drive the timely completion of important projects which are of significant impact to their business. Projects involving system integration, software implementation, cloud migrations, etc. require exceptional resources who have both technical skillset and project management understanding to ensure they can assist in leading teams, effectively communicate with key IT and business stakeholders, and maintain scheduling and budgeting requirements.

To develop project management skills familiarize yourself with Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) guidelines and approaches such as Waterfall and Agile. Furthermore, you can also participate in training and certification courses with entities such as Project Management Institute (PMI) to further your knowledge and understanding. With this strong foundation, and working experience in project lead roles, you may greatly enhance your project management and leadership qualities.

People (“Soft”) Skills

While soft skills can be difficult to demonstrate via a resume, they can be of notable importance in advancing your career as an IT professional. According to Forbes, most important intangible skills include but are not limited to: communication, critical thinking, empathy, organization, adaptability, etc. In addition to your specific technical expertise, honing these soft skills may set you apart as a well-rounded professional able to work effectively with a team and navigate varying personalities.

Communication: Strong verbal, written and nonverbal communication skills are integral to success when working with others. Presenting complex ideas with proper accuracy, efficiency, and tonality helps simplify messaging and lessen the prevalence of misunderstandings. Ultimately, this helps save valuable time and effort, and ensures everyone is on the same page.

Become more vocal in meetings, sharing your ideas with colleagues and management. Edit your email and memo correspondence for clarity and precision. Expand your vocabulary, discovering the meanings of words unfamiliar to you. Think of joining groups such as Toastmasters to increase your skills in public and impromptu speaking. Become an avid reader, which greatly helps overall with both oral and written communications. And last but certainly not least, be mindful of the impact of your body language: making eye contact when someone is speaking to you, giving a firm handshake, respecting the boundaries of personal space. Knowing how to properly communicate is an invaluable skill to develop towards career advancement and beyond.

Critical Thinking: Thinking beyond the surface level helps get to the root of what’s presented and better navigate issues which may arise. In tech, issues constantly arise whether it’s application bugs, websites crashing, system errors, etc. so being able to think critically paves a way for important problem solving to thrive.

Critical thinking teaches you how to read through both simple and complex situations and gain an accurate portrait of what’s underpinning the presented issue. A simple first step is to ask yourself why, and then keep asking why from multiple perspectives until logical answers reveal themselves. Eventually you’ll be able to support reasoning with factual evidence and with that insight will be able to push forward accordingly.

As a professional, issues may occur in dealing with coworker personalities or the work itself which may provoke immediate reaction, but when you are able to take a moment and think critically, digging deeper than surface, it becomes easier to reach positive resolutions.

Adaptability: The world is everchanging and so is technology. In many ways, technology shapes the world. From steam power to electricity, rotary phones to smart devices, snail mail to high-speed internet; the technology of our world continues to advance. As an IT professional, you must be able to adjust to change more than most, making adaptability a key attribute for success.

It’s easy to get left behind if you refuse to learn and immerse yourself into new technologies and improve upon your skills. Keep an open mind to new processes, technologies and patterns which are being adopted or may be on the horizon. As the pandemic has shown, adapting to new technologies and methods of doing business can lead to great opportunity, while refusing or being unable to change can be detrimental. Embrace change as it comes and learn discernment to decide what’s worth keeping versus casting aside.

Business Management

Another key differentiator that can move your career to the next level is overall business knowledge and business management expertise. As an IT professional being able to understand and articulate how the IT organization impacts business operations is a tremendous benefit. Gaining support for much needed IT initiatives such as cybersecurity can be easier if business leaders understand the benefit of hiring dedicated cyber resources or establishing security posture and framework from a business value perspective, in comparison to the potential cost associated with cyberattacks and ransomware.

IT professionals who understand how their business functions and trends within their respective industries can uniquely identify and communicate how IT initiatives may impact bottom line, workforce productivity, growth expectations, etc. IT organizations cannot operate within a silo, as the success of the IT department must align with the overall success of the business.

As an IT professional, understand the ins and outs of the business/industry you’re serving. Study changes within the business and how the IT organization impacts the business as a whole. This includes fundamental areas such as people management, operations, accounting, business strategy, data analytics and marketing. You don’t have to be an expert in any of these areas but having a working knowledge of its relationship to the IT organization goes a long way.

Focus on Meeting Evolving Demands

All in all, hiring managers in the IT industry are increasingly seeking individuals with diversified skillsets that go beyond standard technical expertise. Of course, technical skills are still needed but competition is growing and job demands are evolving to meet needs in architecture, design, analytics, leadership, etc. To effectively stand out you need to develop leadership qualities, especially when looking for advanced, or senior IT roles.

Keep learning, identifying appropriate training courses, certifications, professional work groups and on-the-job opportunities you can leverage to upskill and become a more well-rounded IT professional. Be open to growth, development, evolution and creativity, resisting the comforts of status quo which can hold back your career advancement.

Join our Team

QED National has a deep understanding of the changing needs of IT industry and is committed to working with customers to help them build effective IT capabilities. QED National always seeks the best and the brightest IT talent in the market and the firm has many job openings to explore. If you are interested in learning more about open positions, please visit our job board.