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4 soft skills for successful sysadmins

To advance your sysadmin career, focus on communicating well, solving issues, and maintaining cables and code.
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To move up the IT ladder, it helps to be aware of where you need to improve. Half the battle is acknowledging your weaknesses, and the other half is looking for ways to improve them. Coachable people typically have a better chance to succeed in their careers. Most successful professionals do not do it alone; they have mentors to give them constructive feedback. Being coachable means you will never stop learning and improving.

This article does not talk about coaching and mentorship, rather it highlights four soft skills I think help sysadmins further their IT careers. As a sysadmin, I use these skills almost daily to help me become a better communicator at work and make my professional life easier and more enjoyable.

Negotiation skills

First up are negotiation skills. One of the worst things that can happen to a sysadmin is to create conflicts with colleagues and customers because of missed commitments. Sysadmins face a regular to-do list on top of handling new incidents that come along each day. Negotiation skills are handy when you feel overloaded with work and looming deadlines.

Negotiating a new deadline enables you to focus on your customers' most important and pressing requirements. Negotiating with others as well as yourself is a key factor in being more effective in your work. Once you figure out the tasks you need to do for the day, you can reprioritize your other responsibilities. Some jobs can wait a day or two, other times you may need to work late to complete essential tasks. Negotiating involves clear communication with colleagues, customers, and managers. The sooner you communicate with those parties, the better position you will be in to reprioritize tasks and the easier it will be for others to adjust their work to the new schedule. Also, when negotiating new dates, give genuine reasons why you are requesting changes in the first place.

Learning negotiation skills requires real-life practice. First, be honest and open. A good starting point is to have a way to track your workloads, whether electronically or on paper, but not in your head. Also, communicate sooner rather than later when negotiating. Remember, other people will be affected by your delay. With early and open communication, they can adjust their plan around your new schedule.

Presentation skills

From time to time, sysadmins must make presentations to colleagues or customers. Although these opportunities do not come along often, the chance to present your expertise and ideas is a way to impress your colleagues, your managers, and even your customers. First impressions last, as they say, and often dictate future interactions with people. So it is usually best to take advantage of these opportunities.

[ For more advice, read 7 tips for sysadmins to improve communication skills. ]

Improving your presentation skills requires a lot of practice. I have learned that to present well, you first need to learn how to tell your story. An effective presentation enables you to paint a picture of your ideas for your audience.

So how do you get ready for a successful presentation? Here are some of the tips I've learned along the way:

  1. Be prepared.
  2. Know what your audience wants.
  3. Use the audience's language.
  4. Listen and show that you care.
  5. Avoid drilling into their issue, such as pointing out how bad their process, solutions, or operations are.
  6. Know when to demonstrate and when not to.

To improve your presentation skills further, take some training from the many experts who offer these courses.

Influencer skills

The ability to influence outcomes is another critical soft skill for sysadmins. Many sysadmins work with different teams and customers but have no authority over them. To influence and persuade the people we work with is a game-changer.

Here are some tips for influencing people:

  • Build rapport and maintain strong, trusting relationships.
  • Learn how to assert your voice to share your viewpoint in a way that won't offend people.
  • Listen and show that you care.
  • Frame information in a way that people understand and can translate into action.
  • Be confident in sharing ideas and messages to communicate effectively.

Some people have a natural gift for influencing others. Most of us probably need to practice with patience. Formal training is another way to fast-track learning.

[ Don't overlook traditional sysadmin skills. Sign up for a free trial of full access to Red Hat's curriculum. ]

Writing skills

Writing skills are as important as speaking skills. The more effectively you communicate your ideas and share the information you want to relay, the better other people can relate to the situation you're sharing.

Learn to articulate the information in your head, and don't just talk about technical details that readers might not understand.

Writing an article like this one and sharing ideas about something you are passionate about is a good way to practice your writing skills.

Boost your soft skills

Soft skills are critical for sysadmins. If you use them at the right time, they can make your life as a sysadmin easier. The soft skills in this article are just a few that I've learned and practiced through the years.

Feel free to explore other skills that might be useful for your circumstances. You might just find combinations of skills that can even help you further your career. If you do, please consider sharing them with the community by writing for Enable Sysadmin.

Remember to keep learning and enjoy each time you have a chance to strengthen yourself. Confucius once said, "He who learns but does not think, is lost! He who thinks but does not learn is in great danger."

Topics:   Skills development   Career  
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Michael Calizo

Mike Caliizo is a Red Hat Solutions Architect based in New Zealand. His technology focus areas are OpenShift, RHEL, Satellite, Ansible. More about me

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