What are soft skills and why do you need them?
Soft skills refer to a range of skills which many people feel are intangible, unmeasurable or “cut and dried”. They are things such as personality traits, communication, personal habits, relationship skills and more. They are perceived to be soft because they find it harder to define, but in my view soft skills are the oil in the engine. They leverage hard skills and help you to get infinitely more results.
Hard skills are the skills and knowledge required to do your job and are often much more tangible and more easily observed and measured. For example, an eLearning developer will need to understand programming language. When they actually produce a piece of eLearning you can see and experience it and judge how well that skill has been applied.
Even though soft skills can be perceived as more intangible, the impact they have will affect results and a lot of them, such as time management, can be improved as part of a personal development plan.
Some examples of soft skills
- Time Management
- Communication Skills
- Interpersonal Skills
- Listening Skills
- Conflict Management
- Problem Solving
Why do you need soft skills?
Consider how useful some of these skills are in your day-to-day work life. As a manager, if you were developing your team and you had two members of staff that did the same role but were getting different results, what might you do to improve their performance?
Firstly you would probably consider their hard skills and their capabilities to fulfil their job description. And if they were already highly skilled technically, what would you do then? Perhaps one of them is better with time and can achieve more in a tighter deadline. Or maybe one gets on better with the rest of the team or is comfortable speaking with stakeholders. It could even be that one keeps a level head when faced with conflict or adversity.
It is these skills and personality traits that will help them get better results in their role. Being able to identify them and gauge how skilled each person is will help you to establish any areas for improvement. Giving your team the opportunity to enhance those skills will enable you to create a higher performing team and one that works better together.
Soft skills are vital in any role, but become more important as you develop your people and help them progress in their career. The more senior they become the less they will be expected to know the detail and the more they will be required to inspire and motivate for example. Take the time to establish exactly what skills your people need – some of these may come naturally; conscientiousness, positive attitudes, adaptability and flexibility. But some people may require feedback and challenge to enable them to understand how important it is to have the opportunity to hone their skills, if they want to better themselves in the workplace.