The importance of being multiskilled.

Photo credit: Gareth Williams, Creative Commons License

There was a time when I would begin my introduction with the two most important parts of my professional identity; my name and job title.

Today, this old habit presents me with a conundrum, triggering a raft of thoughts that race through my mind each time I’m asked, โ€˜what do you do for a living?โ€™

In the seconds that follow, I might silently ask myself, shall I tell them about the things I can do or the things I have done or the things I am learning to do?

The skills and services I offer are at various stages of development.

In other words, I am a work in progress.

And I have become unclear whether I should position myself as the person I am today, or the person I am trying to become.

After an awkward hesitation, I make up lost time with a rushed response, โ€˜Hmm, I’m a project manager,  how about you?โ€™

Then I feel disappointed.

And here’s why…

During the first decade of my career, I might have used a phrase from the world of cricket and described myself as a useful all-rounder.

When I handed in my notice to my first employer, I was offered a pay rise to stay, and when I turned it down, I was offered a part-time job, working whenever I liked. As we had just bought our first home, this offer was not only flattering but also very welcome. I was one of the few employees who really understood our computer systems, even though my main role was to manage projects. It seemed that being useful was paying off.

And this pattern has continued throughout my career.

I once moved to a marketing department to become a proposition manager. My usefulness led me immediately into programme portfolio management, line management and looking after our largest wholesale accounts. I never learnt anything about proposition management! ๐Ÿ™‚

But can you base your career on making yourself useful, or is this a bit like being a jack of all trades and a master of none?

Well, after reading Blinkist’s summary of Real Artists Don’t Starve by Jeff Goins, I prefer the term Renaissance Man or Renaissance Woman, defined in the dictionary as someone with many talents and areas of knowledge. When you combine skills and collaborate with people who have other skills and ideas, you are more likely to have a real breakthrough, an incredible innovation or artistic creation.

Here’s an example. I’m currently working on my first ever podcast. This is a real challenge, but thoroughly enjoyable. I’m having to learn new skills and broaden my knowledge – how to set up and use the equipment, how to use the editing software, where to host the podcast, how to upload to iTunes, how to create background music and sounds effects. I have to combine all this with my existing skills, such as the ability to articulate a message, write a script and generate ideas for each episode.  I’ve been talking to other artists about the way they’ve tackled similar challenges.

Without this combination of skills and collaboration, the final product would not be possible.

I would therefore like to rephrase my earlier question and ask:

Is it possible to have a long and fulfilling career without developing a number of transferable skills together with a desire to carry on learning, unlearning, changing and adapting?

I think that if you want to remain in demand, marketable and able to bring value to wide range of business endeavours, then the answer is no!

Specialism is also essential, but not so much for someone like me whose main role at is to help others to deliver results.

I was recently asked by a colleague to facilitate a workshop, just one hour before it was due to start and for a project about which I had no knowledge. First days back from a holiday can sometimes be like that. The workshop was not perfect, but everyone enjoyed it and agreed there were some powerful insights gained along with some helpful next steps.

In a world where there is a continual flow of extraordinary young talent flooding into our workplaces, then it is a privilege to be asked to do this kind of thing.

Afterwards, the same colleague recommended to my management team that I moderate our department’s All Hands Meeting, with several hundred people coming together for a whole day of speeches, presentations, on-stage interviews, workshops and fun.

It seems that sometimes you get noticed for being versatile enough to step into different situations and take them in your stride.

When we live in an era of unprecedented levels of disruptive change – at least in peacetime – then being multiskilled seems like a good asset to have. And to maintain this throughout a long career requires reinvention, time and time again.

As I stated earlier, I am still a work in progress and not completely sure where all of this will take me.

In the meantime, I’ve updated my job title from Project Manager to:

Facilitator | Project Manager | Scrum Master | Writer | Blogger.

Like me, that too is work in progress! ๐Ÿ™‚

How about you? Have you also faced the same dilemmas as me when introducing yourself?

I would love to read your comments and thoughts on this.

Thank you for reading.

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