Today’s federal IT pro has a broad range of responsibilities and corresponding talents. Few other industry specialists have the skills to address everything from network issues to cybersecurity vulnerabilities; from making the business case for a particular IT investment to monitoring and reporting the success of various agency programs.
The need for this type of 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.
Within nearly every federal IT team, members have different technical skillsets—but what about soft skills? When a project is created—and must be planned, tested, and executed—it is 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.
In other words, each group within the team should have an understanding of the criticality of the project, as well as its non-technical 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.
In fact, if this project affects a large number of agency staffers, project success may well depend on the ability to convey the non-technical goals of the project to the rest of the agency to attain broader buy-in.
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. Taking that further, 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.
Remember: no federal IT team works in a vacuum. While effective communication will ensure the technical and business sides can understand one another, different agency groups will need to work together to ensure project success.
Let’s take security as an example. According to the 2019 SolarWinds Federal Cybersecurity Survey Report, a majority of security issues are born of user error. In fact, 56 percent of respondents say that careless untrained insiders are a significant source of IT security threats in their agencies.
Based on that, if an agency wants to enhance its security posture and/or make the rest of the agency aware of an important security project or initiative, collaborating with the rest of the agency will likely be a critical component of the success of that project—as well as overall agency effectiveness at incident response and the ability to share information to improve collective defense.
In an effort to improve collaboration, 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. Particularly for something like security, intra-agency collaboration is absolutely critical for success.
Adaptability is the final piece of the soft-skills puzzle. As every federal IT pro knows, change is constant. Whether that change is related to budget issues, administration changes, technology advancements, or a combination of all three, the ability to function in this type of ever-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. Change happens; most of us can work through it. The most successful, however, will embrace change and thrive in that 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.
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.