Professional development is something that everyone should consider throughout their career. In the IT world, keeping up with the latest technology, hardware and software is a constant struggle – it’s a fast changing environment with upgrades and innovations coming out all the time. But there is more that matters to being successful in business than just keeping up with the latest tech developments.

The recent IT Skills and Salary Report from Global Knowledge shows the importance of general business knowledge to the overall success and compensation of an IT professional, and they also suggest a path to advancement and long term career success.

Their chart, “Skills Areas Impacting Compensation by Tenure” (page 8), shows the top 5 most frequently mentioned skills include “business skills” and “leadership and professional skills.” (IT security, network operations and IT architecture are the others.) The percentage of respondents who reported these as important increases as they become more senior in their positions and responsibilities. For example, for people in the first 5 years of their career 32% noted business skills; by the time someone has 20+ years of experience that number is 54%.

The study acknowledges that the numbers skew that way in part because of the many IT professionals in management and tenured positions included in the survey population. But that just makes the point: if you want to advance in IT, taking on positions of increasing responsibility, relevance, and contribution, you will need to develop these skills. If you are in the beginning stages of your career, or really at any point where you are considering what kinds of training to pursue, what skills to improve or add to your toolbox, business and professional skills should be on that list, maybe even at or near the top.

What are business and professional skills?

Well, they include:

  1. Managing people and departments: the ability to inspire, develop and lead others

  2. Understanding the company overall: the ability to read financial statements and other reports, to deeply know the product or service of the company (especially if you are in an IT department as opposed to an IT firm), and to understand the business processes involved in running the business day to day

  3. Communicating clearly: the ability to speak to colleagues and clients in non-IT terms, without jargon and acronyms

  4. Building relationships: the ability to work well with others, clients and colleagues – especially in other departments

  5. Managing projects: the ability to think strategically and plan carefully to keep any project, large or small, on time and on budget

  6. Good basic writing skills: the ability to write clear, professional emails, memos, instructions, manuals, etc., using proper grammar and spelling

  7. Seeing the big picture: the ability to see how you, your project, your department, your tasks, fit into the larger picture and to see things from the other’s viewpoint

  8. Being flexible: the ability to deal with unexpected problems, delays or simply changes to the schedule

Whether it is business acumen, interpersonal abilities, or foundational speaking and writing aptitude – these skills can be critical to becoming a great IT professional, instead of just a great technical IT person. But this is probably still only a partial list.

One good way to add to it is to ask people you know or work with what business skills they think are important. Talk to people in leadership positions or whom you admire in your company, and not just the head of IT. Professionals outside of your company are also a good source and will bring a different perspective.

How do you get these skills?

  1. Take advantage of internal training.  This is a great idea.  It’s free and shows people that you have initiative and drive.  When those messages about webinars or seminars the company is offering come through, sign up!  Make time for at least some of them – they are just as important in many ways as the actual work you do. 

  2. Volunteer.  Simply volunteering can also be a good path.  The next time they are looking for someone to manage a project, no matter how small, volunteer.  You’ll gain valuable hands on experience.  Offer to write or draft the memo or report; with writing it really is true that practice makes perfect, certainly better.  Volunteer to make presentations or speeches to gain experience and confidence.

  3. Take external classes. If your writing needs improvement take a class on business writing or a refresher on grammar and punctuation at the local college or online.  Seek out a business or financial management course.  Check out the offerings for their IT degrees, many colleges have developed these kinds of courses specifically for IT people.

  4. Join a professional/industry group.  Very often they will have learning opportunities in so called “soft” and business skills for their members. 

Everyone hopes to be successful in their career, not just to make more money (although that’s always good!) but also because we generally want to take on more interesting work and do things that matter and have an impact, in our company and the world. Don’t just hope though. Keep in mind all the skills you’ll need to be truly successful and be proactive about developing them throughout your career.


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