HARD AT WORK: Project management was part of the soft skills, or professional skills, training at Bryant University’s Executive Development Center. From top to right: Dan Chaput, Ben Lyons, Brendon Moore, Kevin Connelly and Michael Sillut.
Some people think “soft skills” such as showing up on time and being able to communicate well with co-workers are just common sense.
Business leaders and executive trainers say “not so.”
“There’s a saying that goes around in leadership development: ‘It’s the soft stuff that’s the hard stuff.’ That applies whether you’re talking about engineering, accounting, law or technology,” said Lexington Leadership co-founder and executive partner Jamie Millard, who is based in East Greenwich and works with companies around the world.
“People get hired because of technical skills, but people who get promoted and rise to the top have to have people skills,” said Millard. “Good managers are in the people-management business. They have to have good listening skills, empathy, flexibility, adaptability and problem-solving skills. They have to be able to work well under pressure.”
With 30 years of experience in leadership training, Millard has worked with everyone from unemployed job seekers to executive coaching for top management in global companies.
“If someone is unemployed and looking for work, a lot depends on how they present themselves. In addition to reviewing technical skills, employers will ask ‘behaviorally anchored’ questions,” said Millard. “The employer might say, ‘Give me an example of when you had a conflict with a co-worker and how you resolved it.’ The employer wants to know if the person can examine their own behavior and be critical of their own soft skills.”
Being able to work as an effective member of team is where soft skills are critical, he said. “A potential employee can have the right technical skills, but they’re not likely to work out in the team if they are annoying or abusive in communication or non-communicative,” Millard added.
Lexington Leadership often does training for Providence-based Tech Collective programs, which include an emphasis on complementing technology abilities with the soft or professional skills that can provide the edge in getting hired and being successful within the company.
One of the recent Tech Collective programs that included substantial training in soft skills was the 14-week IT On Demand program, held from September to December 2013, funded by an Innovative Partnership Grant from the Governor’s Workforce Board. The program had 16 participants who had midlevel skills in technology and were unemployed or underemployed. They had training in VMware, a technology the businesses requested, as well as soft skills.