Mar 10 2022

3 Nontechnical Skills Crucial to Advancing Careers in Federal IT

Collaboration, creative problem solving and clear communication skills are all critical “soft skills” to master.

Today’s federal IT professionals have been at the forefront of sweeping modernization efforts, from virtualization and mobility to cloud computing and digital transformation — and there’s no sign of things slowing down. Couple these responsibilities with the ongoing demands of remote and hybrid work, and IT pros are responsible for mission success now more than ever.

However, as the SolarWinds IT Pro Day 2021 Survey: Bring IT On revealed, strong performance is about more than IT skills. The need for multidisciplinary skill sets is only increasing. Indeed, nontechnical or “soft skills” are critical as agencies embark on further digital transformation and other initiatives.

One of the big takeaways from this year’s IT survey is that life is an IT classroom, and many of the nontechnical skills key to career success can be gained at home or through hobbies, reducing the barrier to advancement for tech pros seeking higher-level opportunities at work.

But what are the most important nontechnical skills necessary for career progression? Here are three skill sets that can make a difference, plus tips on how you can gain these new competencies.

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1. Federal IT Pros Must Be Effective at Collaboration

Whether it’s teamwork, listening to others or networking, 66 percent of those surveyed view collaboration as the primary nontechnical skill needed to capitalize on opportunities for future growth. Collaboration is also one of the most important skills recruiters seek in new hires.

To fine-tune this skill, try your hand at project management, one of the most critical nontechnical skills needed to manage today’s modern IT environments. Project managers check in regularly with team members, collect feedback, coordinate meetings, help escalate issues, provide feedback and liaise between IT and the business side.

IT teams should consider working with personnel and internal communications teams to implement awareness of IT initiatives across all levels of the organization — particularly goals and potential outcomes for the broader agency.

This is corroborated by SolarWinds’ “Building a Secure Future,” report, which found tech pros are increasingly capitalizing on opportunities to foster greater alignment and collaboration with senior leaders on priorities such as managing and mitigating cybersecurity risks (53 percent cite cyberthreats as the biggest challenge they expect to face in the next year).

EXPLORE: What are the top certifications IT pros should consider obtaining?

2. Innovative or Creative Problem-Solving Is Key

Another “human” skill to perfect is problem-solving. Nearly half of tech pros (48 percent) agree this is a priority in IT.

It’s no surprise. As every federal employee knows, change is constant. Critical thinking skills are crucial to keeping pace with this change. Whether it’s due to budget issues, technology advancements, administration changes or all three, you must be prepared to adapt. This means identifying problems quickly, researching solutions, conducting objective analysis, drawing conclusions and making informed decisions.

Problem-solving comes with experience — often outside the workplace. In fact, respondents agreed this skill is gained through life lessons learned at home or in daily life.

3. Clear Communication Is a Must in Government IT

Communication is the final piece of the human skills puzzle, and it’s closely related to collaboration. When a project is initiated, you need to communicate project goals, strategy, plans, timelines and ongoing maintenance to stakeholders across the organization — regardless of their technical literacy.

In the same vein, you must also justify technology investments and operations decisions to agency leaders. To overcome budget constraints and shifting priorities, your best course of action is to become an educator. Invest time in continuous education and regular communication with leadership and find ways to demonstrate the tight correlation between IT success and mission success.

For instance, it’s not enough to announce the rollout of a new HR automation tool. Focus instead on communicating the criticality of the project, who it will affect, and how it will drive the agency’s mission forward. The ability to communicate how technology projects can save money is also desirable.

RELATED: What are creative ways to bridge IT skills gaps at agencies?

Keep Pace with Evolving Federal Technology

As technology evolves, IT roles will continue to evolve. As a federal IT pro, you must evolve too. Tech skills aren’t the only skills you need to be successful.

Soft skills can help you earn a seat at the table to set the agenda, justify IT investments, gain buy-in from your peers and advance your career.

In addition to the tips above, find a mentor — someone on the team who can help you learn — and keep practicing. You don’t need to be an expert, but embracing a “bring IT on” mentality and setting goals to get there will lead to more opportunities, greater responsibility and a leading role in the digital transformation of your agency.

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