Are Soft Skills Becoming More Important Than Tech For IT & Cyber Pros?

Soft Skills for IT

It wasn’t that long ago that IT professionals were hired for their IT knowledge and specialisation. The so-called hard skills they learned through education, training, certification, and on-the-job experience were all that was important. 

Now we see a shift in what organisations are expecting from cyber professionals in particular. The most prevalent trend for new IT roles is a large emphasis that’s placed on soft skills. 

The Shift Towards Soft Skills

The inclusion of soft skills to the list of wanted skills for IT and cybersecurity roles shows that the field is maturing. 

The West Monroe Partners study “Closing the Technology Leadership Gap” reveals that 98 per cent of HR leaders confirmed they place high importance on soft skills for getting a technology position, and a staggering 67 per cent didn’t offer a job to a candidate with all hard skills because of lack of soft skills: 

Soft skills are an integral part of the individual’s personality. They determine how an individual will respond to pressure and different circumstances in the workplace, how they will adapt to changes and interact with others. 

This shift in requirements is partly due to changes happening to the role of IT and cyber professionals within organisations now—they aren’t an isolated unit that just keeps things running. 

They are becoming an integral part of the C-suite, with CIO, CSO, CISO, CTO, CDO roles helping IT contribute to business success. 

Recently, IT and cyber pros are in more and more contact with the board or key decision-makers. They must have a proactive approach, and they must ensure that IT is in sync with the organisation’s long-term goals. 

Most important of all, they must be able to develop strategies that will help achieve such goals and have the means to explain these strategies and complex subjects from their field to stakeholders who do NOT possess hard IT skills and won’t understand the technical focus that will make it possible. 

The Soft Skills Gap Is Driving the IT Talent Gap

And while there are cybersecurity and IT talent shortages across the globe, organisations are demanding that IT and cyber pros have a good set of soft skills,  and opting to leave the role vacant for longer if necessary.  

Their reasoning? It’s easier to teach hard skills than soft skills. 

While this might be true, teaching soft skills will yield good ROI as well, as was demonstrated at MIT. It will take a while for organisations to offer professional development in soft skills, so IT and cyber pros might want to focus on developing these on their own. Doing so means being able to command a much higher salary and benefits. 

What Soft Skills Are the Most Important? 

Whenever an IT or cyber pro can’t use their vast knowledge and experience to get an approval for new solutions or strategies, a soft skills gap might be the culprit for it—communication skills, in that particular case. 

In the digital era, IT and cyber pros have become a go-to source to help with crucial business decisions. By using the right tools and language, IT and cyber specialists can make the board understand the impact of new IT and cybersecurity developments in a way that matters most—the financial impact on the company bottom line. 

IT pros who are well-versed in soft skills and know their way around business terms will have an easier time presenting their findings in front of the board. The most important soft skills for the IT field will be: 

  • Communication and negotiation skills – The ability to effectively communicate and explain your findings, risks, solutions, and strategies to the board and other stakeholders.
  • Presentation skills – Oftentimes, IT pros will find themselves in a position where they must present their findings to those who don’t have a technical background or leading a course on cybersecurity threats and new IT solutions to in-house staff. Knowing how to shape the presentation will decide whether the subject is clearly understood or not. 
  • Adaptability and problem-solving skills – The IT and cyber landscape is in a state of constant change, with new issues and threats being revealed each day. A professional with  well-developed creative thinking skills will have an easier time troubleshooting and solving IT and cyber issues, and have no issues with being an early adopter of new tech solutions. 
  • Teamwork and conflict resolution – IT and cybersecurity professionals now work side by side with other departments, so being a good team player who knows how to defuse tense situations when working towards a common business goal takes priority over being a solo player focused on their own success. 

What soft skills play the most important role depends on the IT role within the company. 

  • Managerial positions require communicating changes, leading meetings, make presentations, and explain problems and issues. 
  • Leadership roles require communication, active listening and analytical skills, translating technical requirements to terms that are understood by all, breaking down complex concepts, and documenting issues and actions. 

The biggest issue with soft skills is that it’s hard to teach and learn them, but it is not an impossible task. 

Developing Soft Skills as an IT and Cybersecurity Professional

The only way to get better at soft skills is to practice using them. The first thing you must do is to identify areas that you struggle with. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, so find out what yours are and then improve. 

Here are a few tips on improving your soft skills: 

  • Ask for feedback – Sometimes, self-assessment is not enough, so ask for feedback to become aware of areas you might have to work with. 
  • Learn from those with good soft skills – When you identify the skill you are lacking, don’t hesitate to take pointers from those who are good with a specific skill. If your colleague is great with explaining complex subjects, ask them to become your coach.
  • Do not shy away from challenges – Be proactive in getting a lead position on tasks and projects, as this helps you hone your interpersonal skills, especially communication, management, and conflict resolution.

Stay Ahead

Most important of all, always be willing to continue learning and improving your skills. The IT and cybersecurity landscape is changing rapidly and will continue to do so. So professionals in the industry need to keep up. 

Cyber and IT pros must be willing to update their knowledge and share their insights and strategies with everybody else in the company and work on improving their soft skills to make communication and presentation efficient and easy to understand.

Align with the board

Explain why/how your solutions work, to a non-techy audience. 

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