Human Resources News & Insights

Making your managers understand the value of ‘soft skills’

A lot of managers turn up their noses at the mention of “soft skills.” But they ignore that part of the supervisor’s role at their peril.

Soft skills are to successful leadership as skyscrapers are to New York City, writes Rich Henson on the ManageElite blog. You can’t have one without the other.

Truth is, there’s often nothing soft about soft skills.

Think of a manager trying to motivate staffers after a quarter of them have  been laid off. Or delivering the news that there’s a company-wide wage freeze.

Nothing soft about either of those managerial moments.

It’s true that soft skills sometimes involve handling managers’ and employees’ emotions — but these skills go well beyond the simple notion of “touchy feely.”

“Hard skills” are the technical expertise people need to get the job done.

Soft skills are everything else. And it’s often up to HR pros to get that crucial message across to everybody in the company who’s in a supervisory role.

A wide-ranging list

Soft skills include the art of self-awareness, persuasion, collaboration, managing critics and building a following for ideas, taking risks but not taking things personally.

The full list of soft skills is long, but certainly includes communication, trust, empathy, work ethic, respect, communication, enthusiasm, optimism, integrity, motivation, good manners, professionalism and communication.

Leaders are at their best when they grasp the skills that keep employees encouraged, bosses happy, shareholders pleased, operations efficient and the work environment healthy and upbeat.

Managers and leaders with strong soft skills make companies better places to work.

Paying the price

What are the consequences of managers’ lacking soft skills?

In study after study, business professionals of all stripes say the lack of soft skills was the chief reason projects didn’t succeed. When managers failed to show social graces, communicate with clarity, listen with understanding and negotiate clearly, projects didn’t move ahead – or worse, fell behind.

Bottom line: Technical aptitude and business savvy only go so far if leaders don’t have the people skills to execute them.

Managers who hone their soft skills are rewarded with much more than a good reputation. They lead by example and set a culture where employees thrive and contribute to a successful company.

The opposite is when employees and managers aren’t engaged and don’t get along: Morale bottoms out, turnover skyrockets, customer satisfaction falls and company value drops.

People trust and respect leaders they like. They show up and work hard for them. Managers then must work hard to win people over without misusing their position of power. Their actions must match their words.

Soft skills will continue to play an ever increasing role as leaders need to do more with less and effectively manage accelerated change while nurturing themselves and the people around them.

Authentic transparency is what employees want in their leaders. Creating an environment of trust and respect means a manager actively demonstrates his trust and respect in every interaction with employees, customers, suppliers and shareholders.

Soft skills such as these enable leaders to walk their talk, which is the first fundamental of great leadership.

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