A good year into my first job, I knew exactly what I was doing. I knew the suppliers, the internal processes, how to write a specification and what clearance I need to give my prototype to consumers to test it.
I was ready for more.
And eager. I wanted to shape things, do more innovation, have more influence.
Sadly, the managers in my department didn’t seem to agree. They declined any request I made. I was puzzled.
What else do they need to see?
So I kept learning: about quality management, audits, scaling a prototype to production, sensory and consumer test protocols…
Are Technical Skills Important?
Of course they are. But if you only focus on those, you’ll stay stuck. Even if you don’t want to get into a leadership position:
If you focus solely on your technical skills, you’ll stay confined to your lab bench.
It’s one mistake I see many women in STEM make: They want to get recognised as an expert or get more responsibilities or be considered for a leadership position.
And when this doesn’t happen, they try to combat it with yet another course or qualification, thinking this is the way. But they ignore the soft skills and the business skills.
Technical Skills vs Soft Skills vs Business Skills
Don’t get me wrong. A solid technical foundation is crucial. It got you where you are now and allows you to do excellent work.
It’s important though, that once you’re settled in your role, you shift the focus and start being intentional about developing your soft skills and business skills.
What does that look like?
Say you’ve been given the chance to take the lead on a project. You know the subject inside out, so that’s covered.
The project is off to a good start, you made your plan for the coming year. Few months in the company adjusts the strategy. Your project target and timeline needs to adjust as well. Maybe it’s even cancelled. You need the FLEXIBILITY to let go, even if you worked on it for so long.
Months in the lab and testing products with consumers and then the plug gets pulled and there are many reasons for that: the market is shifting, a new regulation comes into force, … If you haven’T developed your skills of flexibility, it’s easy to be frustrated. Unfortunately, this sometimes leads to the perception that you’re someone who’s hindering progress and unwilling to adapt.
Now that your project has a new direction, your project team might be discouraged, because many months of work may have been for nothing. And the new timeline might seem unattainable, the challenges too tough. Build your skills of CONFIDENT OPTIMISM so you can lead them to success (and deliver the project) instead of complaining when things go sideways, deadlines are moved, or direction is changed.
You’ll also need a good dose of ASSERTIVENESS running this project. Because there’ll be meetings when people are constantly talking over one another, derail your agenda or give endless monologues. Being able to assert yourself without bulldozing others and keeping the project on track is now one of the key skills you need to fall back on.
Another thing you’ll discover is that not everyone will be equally happy about your project and the changes it brings. Prepare yourself for pushback and criticism from different parts of the organisation. And develop your ABILITY TO NAVIGATE COMPANY POLITICS without getting bitter or resentful.
Are these all?
No, but they are prime examples of professional and business skills anyone needs to get good work done and enjoy it.
To get you started on your assertiveness in meetings, you can watch the free mini-training “Running Meetings Linke Rosalind Franklin”.