To be leaders, technical professionals must move beyond IT expertise

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Top skills for technical pros

Our research with senior executives identified four critical skills that technical professionals must strengthen to become high impact leaders:

1. Big picture thinking. How can technical experts move beyond detailed, analytical thinking to thinking strategically about the “big picture?” How can they learn to see the forest and the trees? A leader needs to think strategically to set a clear vision, to build and inspire a high performance team and to establish a path forward in the face of incomplete information, limited resources or other challenges.

Big picture thinking requires an understanding of the company and its position in the industry ecosystem. The focus is no longer on a functional area but on how the group contributes to future corporate success and how to help define that future.

Big picture thinking requires a leader to look internally and externally, to identify market and global trends and to continuously assess the impact of competition, regulation, resource availability and other factors. Taking this larger view also requires skills at influencing others and speaking the language of business, finance, marketing and other functions beyond their technical expertise.

2. People skills. Technical experts are masters of facts, data management and control processes. But to advance as leaders, they must develop the skills to work with and through others. Leaders must inspire their teams, manage conflict and give feedback in ways that encourage others to progress rapidly toward shared goals. By understanding how their teams view the world, effective leaders can have expanded knowledge resources available when making decisions and taking action. Leaders learn quickly that interpersonal dynamics are central to the mission.

3. Flexible and integrative leadership. Flexible leaders know when to use technical and analytic problem solving and when to be conceptual and creative. They integrate multiple perspectives and have a range of problem solving and management approaches. Flexible leaders have their core leadership style, but also have the awareness and skills to adapt that style when needed to achieve results.

4. Effective communication. Engineering, science and technology professionals are proficient in the technical language of their fields. In that domain, credibility and influence come from communication with colleagues who respect their expertise, but leaders must communicate with diverse stakeholders and compete for resources in the face of multiple priorities. Technology professionals who aspire to leadership positions must become skilled at influencing business leaders, building partnerships across functional areas and working effectively with multidisciplinary teams. Clear, persuasive communication tailored to different audiences is key to maximizing opportunities and achieving results with and through others.