Being in a technology industry, the majority of learning and skill development is often focused in technical areas. Whether it is to master installation techniques, become trained in the latest hardware, develop proficiency in the newest programming language, or amass certifications of competency in areas of technical expertise, aspiring to become and advancing as an AV professional typically involves a concentration of industry knowledge, mastery, and non-theoretical attributes.
While technical aptitude is critically important for many roles, the value of professional skills in addition to technical criteria also demands consideration. A well-rounded individual with a blend of skills within and outside their core competency or technical area of expertise has a greater likelihood of success than others who are one-dimensional. The value of basic business skills such as effective communication, organization, time management, people management, and customer service should not be overlooked, no matter the role or the industry.
Within the AV industry, roles like design, installation, and programming have a definitive requirement of technical competency. The lack of a technical resume would be a limiting factor, no matter the depth and maturity of a professional skillset. Whereas, with other roles like project management, sales, marketing, administration, and operations, there may be less emphasis on technical knowledge and more on professional skills and business acumen.
In all cases, soft skills stemming from professional development enhance one’s ability to succeed, value to their organization, opportunity for career advancement, and provide a point of differentiation. On the flip side, the absence of soft skills and professional development can limit one’s ability to grow, advance, and gain their true potential.
The impact of professional skills for technical roles such as programmer, designer, or technician, can be easily demonstrated in a variety of everyday situations. For example, someone who is a subject matter expert has the ability to engage with a client and solidify a relationship on a different level than a project manager or salesperson. If they lack communication skills, suitable presentation, and/or confidence to be client-facing, it would be ill-advised to have them showcase their knowledge. However, if that same individual was equipped with the necessary skills to excel in these situations, they could contribute significant added value for the client and organization.
Another common instance would be technical specialists who tend to be perfectionists due to the meticulous nature of their work. While this trait may contribute to a quality product, it can come at the cost of time management leading to inefficiencies, missed deadlines, and cost overruns. Understanding how "perfect" can be the enemy of complete, better time management, the impact that delays and lost time have on the health of a business are critical to avert crises. Failure to understand and appreciate this situation will likely lead to undesirable outcomes.
Lastly, technical experts tend to be highly focused on their work. In doing so, they may discount the importance of company culture, interpersonal interaction, or general business needs, and can be considered by others to be aloof at times. While these may not seem to be a big deal given their technical contributions, they can have a significant impact on the health and success of an organization as well as clients and prospective team members. Ultimately, if technical expertise is the cornerstone of the business, it is important that those in technical roles demonstrate leadership and have a hand in defining the organization’s identity. Those in technical roles who can appreciate how their role impacts others and the importance of supporting team members in sales, marketing, operations, and areas outside of their own, will find that they make a positive impact. Those who don’t can be a distraction and detriment to the team.
Technical experts may consider others in an organization with less technical aptitude not as effective. They also wouldn’t want to be doing their jobs. This speaks to positions in project management, sales, marketing, operations, and human resources, to name a few. Success in these roles has greater dependency on interpersonal skills, organization, people management, creativity, and customer service than responsibilities that are deeply technical. Just as those in non-technical roles benefit from working knowledge of the technical aspects of the AV industry and how it pertains to their position and organization, technical experts need to understand the value and importance of business knowledge and soft skills. In the end, no role should be considered exempt from being multi-faceted, having business training, and pursuing professional development.
While the path to technical expertise in the AV industry may appear daunting, the steps to obtain knowledge and credentials are fairly definitive. The recipe for developing technical expertise includes specific curricula, training, reference material, and resources geared toward industry designations or certifications. To hone professional skills, however, the roadmap is much less definitive or clear cut, relying on a formula of informal education, independent study, word-of-mouth learning, and trial and error. Without specific guidelines for pursuing professional development, it is important to be resourceful and learn from others.
Here are some tips that all AV professionals can use for developing and evolving their professional skills:
Consistently consume reputable information
Whether your preference is text, audio, video, or in-person instruction, find relatable resources that offer the knowledge that you are seeking. While classes and courses are great and can provide formal education in specific areas, podcast and YouTube “university” can be as good if not better, and at a fraction of the cost. Building a library of evergreen business books is a great reference tool for learning and reinforcing key concepts.
Find a mentor, coach, networking group, and/or accountability partner
Surrounding yourself with others who are ahead of you in your journey not only provides a valuable resource for learning, but also motivation and accountability. There is no better resource than someone who has the experience of being in your shoes previously and can share lessons learned. Additionally, unless you are highly disciplined and driven to work independently, having a coach or mentor who can provide unfiltered feedback, positive affirmation, and tough love when needed is a critical to growth and achievement.
Take risks, expand your horizons, and venture outside of your comfort zone
While it logically makes sense to primarily focus on what you know and are good at doing, it is not a recipe for continued growth. By challenging yourself to be uncomfortable in the form of tackling something different or difficult knowledge is gained, skills are developed, and perceived limitations are overcome. Some common examples of activities that appear daunting to those who are new to professional development include presenting in front of a group, recording a video of yourself, podcasting, writing a blog or article, engaging in industry or company-specific social media, or networking with new people. Rest assured that while the first few times can be gut wrenching, improvement, expertise, and reduced anxiety result from repetition and consistent effort.
Put yourself out there and invest in the AV community
The AV industry is filled with great people who are encouraging, nurturing, and looking to make connections. Get involved by being present online, engage in social media, attend events, establish relationships, build your network, and offer your knowledge and support for others. Identify others in complementary or vastly different roles and learn about what they do, what they do best, and what challenges them. Speaking as an introvert, don’t let shyness, uncertainty, or discomfort hold you back. Reach out and make connections, introduce yourself, explain your intentions, and ask for help. Most would be honored to meet someone who was interested in learning from them.
While it is critical for most roles in the AV industry to have a marketable technical skill that adds value for both an employer and a client, there are many professional skills that can contribute greatly to an individual’s effectiveness and provide as much of a differentiator as a niche technical skillset. Although mastery of professional skills can be a lifelong journey adorned by many forms of instruction, instructors, and learning experiences, it is critically important to incorporate it in a success plan. Being aware, understanding business basics, proactively pursuing knowledge, and taking responsibility for growth in professional development are the first few steps toward achieving success.
Steve Greenblatt, CTS, is president and founder of Control Concepts, a provider of specialized software and services for the audiovisual industry.