What are soft skills? Why are soft skills important to a person’s success? If you don’t know the answers to these two questions, you are, quite likely, passing up higher levels of income and freedom. When I first started The Leader’s Institute ®, I used to begin my High Impact Leaders class by giving my definition of soft skills. Basically, I’d explain that “hard skills” are the technical skills within your career or industry. For instance, if you are a doctor or nurse, the “hard skills” are your ability to assess the health of your patients and treat or cure their illnesses. “Soft skills,” however, allow you to effectively use those hard skills to do your job better. These skills include your ability to communicate effectively, manage your time, work with others, and build teamwork.
Unfortunately, there are about as many definitions for the different types of soft-skills as there are people in the world. So, in this article series, I’m going to attempt to categorize these abilities into easy-to-follow groups. This will help you focus on the specific skills most important to your career and your industry.
What are Soft Skills? General Categories of Skills
We have created four main categories of “soft skills.” In each of these categories, there are dozens (maybe hundreds) of different types of important skills. Understanding the different categories can be difficult. Different organizations often have different definitions for each. (This gets really confusing if you are not careful.)
One of the first things that our consultants will do when speaking with a new client is try to understand the new client’s definitions of certain terms. For instance, they may call us asking for help developing leadership skills. However, they may, in fact, really be looking for first-time-supervisor training. Below, I’ve given a summary of the different categories that we use. Don’t get hung up on the semantics, though. We have done our best to identify high-level categories as a starting point to explain each type of skill set.
Leadership is the highest level of soft-skill, and these skills are important at just about every level of a person’s career. These skills are used to inspire others, create a vision for a new path, and develop the skills and confidence of people around you. Basically, leaders create paths where no path existed previously. The most common leadership skills examples are the following.
Leadership Skill Examples
For additional details and an explanation of each of these skills, go to Important Leadership Skills Executives Need to Know.
One of the first theories of management skills was created by a French engineer named Henri Fayol. His work was so well-read in his time, that the five (sometimes six) functions of management are still used today and include planning, organizing, coordinating, commanding, and controlling. Using this list, a few important management skill examples to accomplish these tasks are below.
Management Skill Examples
- Goal Setting and Achievement
- Organizational Skills
- Time Management
- Problem Solving
As you can see, the focus of these management skills is totally different from the leadership skills above. The difference between leadership skills and management skills is that the former is more visionary. Leaders create a new path. Managers make the path that we are on more efficient and effective.
The role of a supervisor is similar to a manager but without as much authority. So, think of supervisory skills as a sub-set of managerial skills. Supervisors often have the responsibility to manage team members, but not necessarily the authority to make personnel changes. As a result, the supervisor is more concerned about the specific day-to-day activities of his or her team. A few sample supervisory skill examples are below.
Supervisory Skill Examples
- Organizational Skills
- Time Management
- People Skills
- Training Skills
As you can see, there are a few similarities between the skills required for a supervisor and those for a manager. However, to be a quality manager, you have to develop more than just supervisory skills.
Interpersonal skills help team members work together more effectively and build more of a team culture. These skills are important at all levels of an organization. They are the skills that make all of the other skills work. For instance, if you have a great vision for your organization, but you have poor people skills, your team will be less likely to willingly follow you on this journey. If you have great time management skills but you aren’t great at conflict resolution, the conflicts can wreck your schedule. So, the skills below are critical to success. The higher your skill level, the more successful you will become!
Interpersonal Skill Examples
- People Skills
- Conflict Resolution
- Listening Skills
Why are Soft Skills Important to Success?
Since the skills listed above are so valuable to organizational success, people who develop these skills are more valuable to the marketplace. For instance, when a big company hires a new front-line employee, most often they will narrow candidates down based on “hard skills.” They often do this based on transcripts or resumes. However, during the interview process, the employer will most likely begin to try to figure out which candidate is most dependable, responsible, and friendly. Which candidate can work well with others? Since most supervisors are promoted from within, managers often look for employees who have the best time management skills and organizational skills to promote.
My point is that when all other things are equal, people with the best soft-skills are often more successful than those who aren’t. So, if you are an employee who wants to be promoted to a supervisor, work on developing your supervisory skills. If you are a supervisor who wants to move into management, work on your managerial skills. If you are a manager who wants to move into leadership, develop your leadership skills. And if you want to start your own company… It might be a good idea to develop all of these skills.
The good news is that we can help. Our class, High Impact Leaders, is a step-by-step way to develop all of these skills. We start with the most important, the interpersonal skills. Then, we move to the supervisory skills. Next, we focus on those important managerial skills. Finally, we help you develop your next generation of leaders with leadership skills. For details, visit Leadership and Management Training page.