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4 reasons IT pros should develop good leadership skills

Being able to lead offers tangible benefits at all stages of your career.

As a busy IT professional, you may think you need good leadership skills as much as a fish needs a bicycle. Yet, developing your competencies as a leader can get you hired quicker, maximize your earning potential and make your day-to-day working life smoother and more rewarding.

Even if you don't have supervisory responsibilities, and management doesn't top your list of aspirations, being able to lead offers tangible benefits at all stages of your career. Here are four reasons it's worth building good leadership skills:

1. IT is not an island

Gone are the days when IT was siloed and workers barely knew what went on in other departments, much less the entire company. These days, technology professionals are central to a successful firm's business strategy and to the smooth running of all other areas. Not surprisingly, employers today value soft skills — leadership, written and verbal communication, collaboration and problem-solving abilities — as much as technical prowess. Having good leadership skills are an essential part of team cohesion and success.

Before you can lead effectively, you need data and input. For starters, gain a deeper understanding of the company's mission, strategy and challenges by paying attention to all-company meetings, reading memos from the CEO and talking with senior management. Then you'll know where to focus your efforts and how to steer projects to meet company goals.

2. More leadership skills = greater rewards

Good leadership skills can get you noticed at performance review or promotion time. Many CEOs don't fully understand what the IT team does, so they rely on team members' hard and soft skills to keep the department — and the company — informed and running smoothly. Hiring managers also look for this competency in IT candidates. The more you're able to demonstrate leadership skills, the greater the salary and career opportunities.

But good leadership skills don't come from a book. They're the result of real-world experiences and risk-taking. To hone this ability, don't shy away from leadership roles. If your boss asks you to lead a meeting in his stead, do so — and do it well. If a special project needs a leader, step up to the plate. Senior management recognizes employees who exhibit a can-do and can-lead attitude, and rewards them commensurately.

3. Successful companies need crisis managers

Long hours, tall orders and high expectations can generate pressure and lead to burnout, anxiety and apathy. The ability to make decisions, solve problems and communicate with transparency are good leadership skills that can prevent glitches from becoming train wrecks.

Even if you're not the manager, you can lead in this capacity. Preempt escalation by developing your listening and mediation skills. Knowing how to solve problems at an early stage can mean the difference between a snag and a full-blown crisis, and save valuable time, energy and resources — including your own.

4. Leadership breeds innovation

Information technology is, by its nature, one of the most cutting-edge and forward-thinking industries of all. Instilling vision and a pioneering spirit can invigorate your co-workers and propel your company forward. If you have good leaderships skills, you will be able to more successfully pitch your innovative ideas, solutions, products and services.

To get your creative juices flowing and sharpen leadership skills, you need knowledge. Start by staying up-to-date on IT trends, developments and skills. The best recruitment and staffing firms offer registered users free online IT courses. Seek out conferences, seminars and workshops, and ask your manager whether the company will pay for them. Get together with other innovators and leaders, and benefit from their energy and expertise.

Regardless of your job title or years of experience, you can and should cultivate good leadership skills. The best place to start is by identifying the competences you want to develop, then looking for opportunities to test them. You may even want to approach a role model or mentor for advice. The leadership skills you sharpen today are the ones that will take you to greater professional success tomorrow.

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