Five Soft Skills Every Networking Pro Needs

Technical skills aren't the only ones that matter. Brush up on these soft skills to get ahead in the enterprise networking world.

By Elizabeth Harrin | Posted Aug 12, 2013
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Your technical skills are impeccable, your accreditations are up to date, and you’ve surrounded yourself with a brilliant team. Together, you manage the network and enterprise architecture flawlessly. But something still isn’t working. You’re struggling to get funding for next year’s initiatives, and no one outside of your immediate circle has a clue about what you do.

If you want to stay relevant in a changing business environment, you need to brush up on some of your less technical skills. Here’s our guide to the skills you need to get on track, and stay there.

1. Communication

Gone are the days when the network team sat in the basement in scruffy jeans, surrounded by bits of cable (if those days ever existed in the first place). Today, communication skills are critical if you want to keep your career moving forward.

Communication skills matter because you’ll need them to justify why you want cash to invest in things management doesn't see and probably won't understand. You’ll have to explain the business benefits of any investment in infrastructure and hardware . And moving stuff to the cloud? Good luck explaining that one.

If you can talk to managers and customers in language they understand, you’ll build a reputation for clarity and efficiency. You’ll also help secure the reputation of your team as a group that adds real value to the IT department and the organization overall.

Take it further: Read Shut Up & Listen by Theo Theobald and Cary Cooper. It provides a great introduction to core communication skills.

2. Flexibility

Interoperability is the name of the game. Today’s network pros can’t afford to be wedded to one standard. Instead, you should be able to pick from a group of standards and tools that make commercial sense and help you deliver whatever services your business needs.

The technology is there to do it, so listen to the business requirements and hunt around for what would deliver those most effectively instead of picking from your usual shopping list. Find ways to intelligently integrate technology to get the best from hybrid solutions instead of limiting your business customers to what your favorite kit can do. Don't fall prey to vendor lock-in. Your employers most likely don't want to.

Take it further: Read our roundup from Interop 2013, the major annual interoperability conference held in Las Vegas.

3. Respect

Colleagues in other IT teams might not be able to do your job, but then again, could you stand in as an Oracle DBA? Probably not. Cut the eye rolling when they ask you basic questions. These days, technical staff make it into their jobs through a variety of different career paths. Someone who hasn’t followed the route you consider "best" or most valid is still capable of doing an excellent job.

Respect for colleagues should be inherent to any workplace, but people often slip into bad habits. Take a look at how you and your team interact with others and double check that your standards haven’t slipped without you noticing.

Take it further: Do you know what your colleagues do? Browse eSecurity Planet, Enterprise Apps Today or Datamation to find out about other IT disciplines.

4. Teamwork

Your network supports mobile workers and virtual teams, and you probably work that way yourself at least some of the time. Keeping your skills up to date means learning how to work in a virtual, mobile environment, which is very different from working in the same office as the rest of your team.

Check to see if your team has the collaboration technology to work effectively from remote locations. Bring members together when you can for team building meals out and remember that what motivates one person won’t be the same as what motivates another.

Take it further: Read How to Manage in a Flat World: 10 Strategies to Get Connected to Your Team Wherever They Are by Philip Whiteley and Susan Bloch. It’s an easy-to-digest guide to working in the streamlined, matrixed structure common to many IT departments today.

5. Responsiveness

Speed matters more today than ever before. Projects are delivered with tight deadlines, and project managers expect fast turnaround on quotes, technical specifications and network deployment to help them complete new initiatives on time.

Network professionals have to keep up with this changing pace. Don’t leave emails in your inbox for days on end. Return phone messages as soon as you can. Deal with tickets in priority order as they come in. Not only does someone out there need you to, but someone else out there may be ready to replace you if you can't deliver.

A reputation for responsiveness is a great asset. When colleagues know they can count on you for a fast, reliable response, they’ll trust your input and involve you early, which can really help your resource planning.

Take it further: Read our guide to responding to enterprise network crises so you’re prepared for anything.

Our connected workforce makes the services that network professionals provide even more relevant today than they’ve been in the past. But you still need to ensure your own skills qualify you to meet the demands of a changing business environment. How do you measure up?

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