Do “Soft Skills” Lead to Career Advancement?

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This topic contains 18 replies, has 10 voices, and was last updated by  Henry Brown 8 years, 6 months ago.

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  • #178792

    David B. Grinberg

    According to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ):

    • “Although hard skills like sales and software knowledge can get you through the door, more companies are asking for soft skills as well from job candidates, finds a recent study by Millennial Branding, a consulting firm in Boston.”
    • “Soft skills refer to personal aptitudes and attitudes, such as being a good listener and communicator, that affect how people perceive you in the workplace and strongly influence workplace relationships. Fortunately, most soft skills can be adjusted or learned on your own time with some feedback from peers.”


    1) Generally, on a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rank the importance of “soft skills” as critical tools to career advancement?

    2) Are soft skills under emphasized within the U.S. Government workforce at all levels?

    3) Do you agree with the WSJ article’s contention that self-promotion is important to career advancement? “Most people are uncomfortable with self-promotion, but hard work doesn’t always get noticed without a little help…”

  • #178828

    Henry Brown

    Would suggest soft-skills are extremely important in the hiring process and therefore, at least in the government sector, because the primary way one advances is getting hired for the advancement. The only downside is that one’s soft-skills need only impress the hiring committee (be it 1 or 5)

    Would offer that generally speaking soft skills are not emphasized enough within the government sector. IMO because the hiring committee selection process doesn’t require someone who has good soft-skills to be part of selection process.

    Self-promotion is extremely important to career advancement, if you do not convince the hiring committee that you are the best qualified you will not be hired

  • #178826

    Mark Hammer

    1) There are soft skills displayed in your presence that you are conscious of, and those working behind the scenes. Knowing how to manipulate others in Machiavellian fashion is also a soft skill. As has been discussed before, here and in other places, skill in deception is associated with leadership skills. So when one asks how important soft skills are to career advancement, I would rate the ones that others can see and be aware of a 7-8, and the ones operating behind the scenes a 9-10. Knowing who and how to schmooze is very important. Being your own lobbyist is a soft skill.

    2) Any work that does not involve one person acting entirely alone will depend very heavily on the quality of relationships with others. Not just whether you “get along”, but also on the ability of the co-workers to persuade each other, to foster trust in each other, to facilitate motivation in each other, to cooperate in persuading others, and to accurately and clearly communicate tasks/goals/strategies/methods/requirements to each other. Yes, there is some smarts required in there, but all of that rests on “soft skills”. The sort of job performance one might present as meritting advancement will depend on soft skills.

    3) Of course self-promotion is essential to career advancement. Keep in mind that those in pursuit of a “career” keep moving around, looking for that next promotion. While there will be rare instances where there is enough corporate memory to keep track of your past accomplishments, in general anyone who might potentially notice and appreciate your hard work will move on and be replaced by others who have no idea what you can do or have done. Careers don’t just happen; they are carved out with sharp pointed implements, striking at the right time and place, itself a soft skill. It certainly helps immensely to actually possess those soft skills, but you also need to want and pursue a career to have one.

    Don’t go by me, though. I haven’t actually HAD a career. I do smart things in the public interest once in a while, and they pay me. That’s enough.

  • #178824

    Suggest reading this article by Kay Koplovitz in the Huffington Post. Excerpt–

    “You can really capture the emerging power being wielded by women using their human capital networks in the world of business and power in Pamela Ryckman’s just released book: Stiletto Network: Inside the Women’s Power Circles That Are Changing the Face of Business…..If you want to know how this is being done, Stiletto Network is the one that can inform you.”

    The gist of it is that women’s traditional ways of relating (lateral networking skills especially) are becoming the new basis for power.John Gerzema argues in “The Athena Doctrine” that everybody has to learn these skills or risk extinction.

    To me it seems that the real issue is always one of balance. If you tend to overemphasize technical skills, learn people skills and vice versa. Similar to the other discussion on speed vs. precision in management – if you tend to rush to decisions, take more time and be sure it’s the right one (and if you have analysis paralysis, learn to move on).

  • #178822

    David B. Grinberg

    Henry, Mark, Dannielle:

    Just a note to thank you for taking the time to share your invaluable insights and unique perspectives on this often overlooked topic. Your awesomeness is appreciated!


  • #178820

    Gary T Lefko

    1) 10

    2) Yes. People are typically promoted for technical, project or program mgt skills. Many think “if you can manage a program or project” you can manage people — how wrong you are … 🙂

    3) I call it networking …

  • #178818

    Gary T Lefko

    Also the 21st century is about relationships so yes soft skills are premium in this age of organizations.

  • #178816

    David B. Grinberg

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, Gary. You make several excellent points.

  • #178814

    Mark Hammer

    I would tend to agree with you, but is that just because:

    – priorities have shifted in spite of a shifting landscape, or

    – a shifting landscape compels this shift in emphasis

    – because of the type of work more people now do,

    – because of the instability of organizations,

    – because of the inclusion of more stakeholders

    – because of the increasing heterogeneity within organizations

    I suspect the answer to these questions are to be found in the examination of those places where soft skills still count for diddley squat…the way they always did…and I imagine those places exist, even though many of us may not work in them.

  • #178812

    Patrick Fiorenza

    Spent an equal amount of working on soft-skills as hard skills in graduate school. It’s just simply not enough to have a great idea or a solution to a problem – you need to be able to sell it and communicate effectively with your peers. This is an interesting discussion here. Quikcly, my take is to hone in on both skills, practice and seek feedback, don’t be afraid to address your weaknesses, that’s how you’ll grow professionally/personally.

  • #178810

    Alan Pentz

    David. Good questions. Seems like the government needs the soft skills and has designed a hiring process based almost entirely on hard skills.

  • #178808

    Good questions David. Soft skills are critical in the management of people and organizations; unfortunately, the Federal government only pays attention to the SES level but not the managerial level. We all know supervisors and managers will build or break the organization or the mission. People with soft skills can create a harmony workplace, build a better collaborative and efficient performing workforce, minimize workplace conflicts which will help reduce litigation costs, understand the importance of organizational trust and job satisfaction, employee motivation and engagement. Most often, Federal employees with soft skills are underutilized, are in the wrong positions, or are invisible to top management as they are the folks who care for others to succeed but not for themselves. More than ever and during the periods of continued reduction in the Federal budget, incorporating the soft skills as a qualification and selection criteria for all supervisory and managerial positions is a must if Federal agency leaders want employee to do more and more with less and less. Supervisors and managers are far more important than leaders in the day-to-day management of people and the operations. People with soft skills understand what takes to build a harmony workplace, are fair with all employees, and use their organizational authority appropriately to transform the workplace to one that everyone wants to be a part in that performance culture. Federal agencies cannot afford to ignore the critical soft skills requirements for all positions that have the authority over personnel management practices and decisions. Make it a qualification and selection criteria. Society needs it; our country needs it; the Federal workplace needs it; employees need it; the taxpayers need it. Thank you for the post.

  • #178806

    David B. Grinberg

    Thanks for the awesome comments, Phoung. You make numerous excellent points. In particular:

    • “Federal agencies cannot afford to ignore the critical soft skills requirements for all positions that have the authority over personnel management practices and decisions. Make it a qualification and selection criteria.”

    Additionally, I would apply these same standards to all federal employees and applicants. While soft-skills may be most pertinent for managers, I think the entire federal workforce needs to master these critically important tools to be more effective and efficient across the broad range of federal job categories and grade levels.

    Fortunately, some federal employees and managers already have admirable soft-skills. These are the folks who know how to work cooperatively and productively in a team setting to get the job done. These are the folks who make the federal workforce shine and counterbalance all those with poor soft-skills government-wide.

    In essence, those with strong soft-skills are the ones who usually stand out and get ahead.

  • #178804

    David B. Grinberg

    A LinkedIn “Influencer” and HR expert weighs in with an interesting post and story on the “soft skills” debate — one week after our discussion began here on GovLoop.

    He presents a long list of specific workplace skills (below) that may be considered soft-skills.

    Which ones do YOU, or don’t you, consider to be soft-skills and why?

    Why Do We Give “Soft Skills” Such a Bad Name


    • “People give a person’s soft skills a bad name – soft skills. People don’t underperform because of their lack of technical skills, they underperform because of their lack of soft skills. Do you consider the following soft skills?

    • Getting work consistently done on time at high quality.

    • Collaborating with cross-functional groups on major projects working towards deadlines and making technical compromises.

    • Making presentations to customers, company executives and/or those in other functions.

    • Persuading others to consider different technical points of view.

    • Appreciating the end-user’s perspective from a usability and design viewpoint.

    • Coaching and being coached on technical and non-technical matters.

    • Taking direction from project managers in a matrix environment.

    • Being able to work for a variety of different managers each with their own unique style.

    • Being flexible, handling rapidly changing design requirements, and still hitting deadlines.

    • Making tough technical and non-technical decisions with limited information and often dealing with ambiguity.

    • Challenging conventional wisdom and authority.

    • Helping team members who are struggling.

    • Taking over without being told on a project that’s in trouble.

    • Managing multiple projects to a timeline.

    • Meeting budget restraints.

    • Being able to prioritize with little direction.”


  • #178802

    Mark Hammer

    “Soft” suggests to some folks that they are not critical. It is not the skill or purpose of the skill that is “soft” but rather its definition. That is, they are often not well-defined or dimensionalized, and are broached on an I’ll-know-it-when-I-see-it basis by those doing the selecting. Of course, if those doing the hiring are operating with an underspecified notion of what these revelant skills consist of, and what “more” and “less” of the skill might look like, chances are pretty good their intuition will fail them from time to time, and that they may confuse irrelevant or distracting characteristics of a candidate with real and valid evidence of specific soft skills.

    If there is any disregard for soft skills out there, it likely stems not from any actual and demonstrable unimportance of such skills, but rather from disappointment in the outcomes that occur when people have not put enough systematic thought into what such skills need to consist of in THAT job, and what reliable behavioural evidence one would need to look for. It’s a bit like declaring that one doesn’t like Indian food, after eating some prepared by a person who didn’t know very much about it.

    The list you provided is a very good one. Not comprehensive (though I gather you knew that), but precise and related to specifics about the job, as opposed to bland underspecified categories like “leadership” or “communication skills”.

  • #178800

    Dick Davies

    Great post. Soft skills and hard work are both necessary but insufficient for advancement. The third leg of the stool is organizational need. How much upward promotion is available in a downsizing organization?

    Amazon’s website provides more customer satisfaction than most soft skilling government workers, because the tasks are carefully engineered to be accomplished that way.

    Jumping into a bar fight and enthusiastically whaling away until you drop is one way to spend your time. Works if nobody cares what that costs or what the result are enough to improve the game.

  • #178798

    David B. Grinberg

    Thanks for the astute and insightful comments, Dick. You raise several excellent points.

  • #178796

    Richard Furlong

    you can’t be a good communicator without being a good listener.

    it’s a priority skill

  • #178794

    David B. Grinberg

    Great point, Richard!

    Being a good listener means being an active listener. Also, as Larry King once observed: “I never learned anything while I was talking.”

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