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The Soft Skills Gap Is Real; Nontechnical Skills Needed By Every Federal IT Pro

Level 13

Omar Rafik, SolarWinds Senior Manager, Federal Sales Engineering

Here’s an interesting article by my colleague Mav Turner about the need for federal employees to develop soft skills like communication and adaptability. I agree if folks want to get ahead in their careers today, they need strong skills like these.

Today’s federal IT pro has a broad range of responsibilities and corresponding talents. The need for a multidisciplinary skillset is only increasing. As environments get more complex and teams grow, federal IT pros will need a broader range of skills—specifically, “soft skills” or “people skills.” These types of additional skills have the potential to help solidify job security and help make the federal IT pro more invaluable.

Soft skill requirements

Communication, collaboration, and adaptability are the cornerstones of a strong, productive team—hence, three of the most desirable “soft skills” the federal IT pro can develop and grow.

Communication

When a project is created—and must be planned, tested, and executed—it’s critically important to have the ability to communicate project goals, strategy, planning, timelines, testing, implementation, and ongoing maintenance to everyone on the team, regardless of technical specialty.

Each group within the team should have an understanding of the criticality of the project, as well as its nontechnical goals as it relates to the agency’s mission. Communication is the key to achieving this goal. Federal IT pros must be able to communicate not only within the team but to others within the organization as well.

Most agencies have some combination of technical folks and business folks. A technical staffer who can explain how a technical project will help drive agency mission or business goals will likely have a successful career. Additionally, a technical staffer who can also explain the financial impact—ideally, the long-term cost-savings impact of many of today’s leading-edge technology projects—is likely to have an even more successful career.

Collaboration

Different agency groups will need to work together to ensure project success. According to the 2019 SolarWinds® Federal Cybersecurity Survey Report, a majority of security issues are born of user error. In fact, 56% of respondents say careless untrained insiders are a significant source of IT security threats in their agencies.

Based on those statistics, if an agency wants to enhance its security posture, collaborating with the rest of the agency will likely be a critical component of the project’s success.

The federal IT team can work with the agency’s internal communications team to implement an awareness or education program to ensure all agency personnel are informed—and are doing their part in the broader agency effort.

Adaptability

As every federal IT pro knows, change is constant. Whether the change is related to budget issues, administration changes, technology advancements, or a combination of all three, the ability to function in this type of changing environment is becoming increasingly important.

Critical thinking skills are a significant part of adaptability. As things change, federal IT pros must be able to shift thinking quickly and effectively. Critical thinking skills include problem identification, research, objective analysis, and the ability to draw conclusions and make decisions.

The final piece of adaptability is the willingness to change. It’s important to embrace change and thrive in this type of environment. A willingness—even eagerness—to learn new technologies, take on new challenges, and think differently will almost certainly ensure a long, successful career in the federal IT workforce.

Conclusion

Gone are the days of silo-based IT skills. Communication, collaboration, and adaptability will soon be job requirements within the federal IT workforce, even for the most technical staffers.

Find the full article on Government Technology Insider.

The SolarWinds trademarks, service marks, and logos are the exclusive property of SolarWinds Worldwide, LLC or its affiliates. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

16 Comments
Level 12

I thought communication was a soft skill that IT people always needed. Telling someone that keeping their username and password on a Post-It stuck to their monitor is stupid doesn't go over well; we need to be a bit more tactful in how we tell them to not be stupid.

Maybe some other peope don't have to fill in and help out end users, but this has been a part of every IT job I have ever had.

Level 14

Thanks for the article.  Good info here....and I agree. 

Level 15

Thanks for posting.  Always a good refresher to review the basics.  Gone are the days of tech in the basement; the expectation is to be fully immersed with our users/customers.  Engaging with them also builds the most important item that I have found -- Trust.  To solve issues we IT need all relevant information and if the users/customers don't trust they won't provide all the details.

Level 13

Thanks for the article.

Level 16

Thanks for the write up!

I really liked "Gone are the days of silo-based IT skills."

I would be toss in Patience here and not just Federal IT but ALL IT.   Everyone - no matter if you are doing Cisco ACI work or dealing with printer issues or anything else that end users can come up with you need to have Patience or people will stop contacting you or think IT does not care.  So instead of contacting you when say their PC starts doing little things you get a red alert that the PC is down and cannot come back up. 

MVP
MVP

Thanks for the article!

Level 12

The best soft skill is "It's always the computers fault not the users fault" and it happens to be the user's own stupidity have their supervisors handle the issue to keep it from happening again.

Level 13

So true.  There are way too many people out there that are trying to get by with just tech chops.  If you don't get this stuff right you're growth potential is very limited.

Level 20

All these skills are helpful for sure!

MVP
MVP

Back in 2000 (remember that date, you survived didn't you? Some of us did)

I worked with a guy that really, really lacked these soft skills. Tech wise he had all of the certificates. He was making $30000 with the state and started looking for a job. He looked for 6 months before finally a new position with an increase of - are you sitting down - No really sit down - Yes a huge increase of $2000 (yup 3 0's) Why? He should have been easily making $100,000 + he had the certs and the skills to go with it. But with NO, 0, zilch, nada, people skills he kept himself down. Of course he blamed a ton of things, everything except himself.

I'm a big proponent of self examination.

Level 14

Soft skills have always been required in all sectors.  Nothing has changed.  I'm the SysAdmin so am expected to be the go to guy when everyone else gets stuck.  That means I need to have all their skills but to a greater extent.  I also have to be patient with them, mentor them and help them to progress.  I also have to be nice to the stupidest of users and managers.  I spend about 70% of my time doing non technical stuff and have far too many meetings.  I have to deal with users who have already "designed" their new service, explain to them that it's good but have they considered a different approach (you know, the one that will actually work) and then convince them that my approach is the correct one.  I have to stop IT management from really messing things up and still keep them sweet as I really would like a pay rise (and / or keep my job).  I have to smile and be nice when all I really want to do is rip their heads off. 

In other words, people skills are key and technical skills are nice to have but can always be googled.

This list of soft skills is something I wish could be enforced on our politicians and corporations.  So much more can be done with great communication and excellent listening than is being done today with that "my way or the highway" attitude that puts profits and growth above quality and reducing stress.

Level 11

Thanks for the article. 

MVP
MVP

I always seem to fall down … communication … inevitably there is someone that does not understand what I am doing!!! 

Level 12

thanks for the post