Are soft skills the new hard skills?

Ask the person sat next to you whether they consider the following to be hard or soft skills:

  • Communication
  • Teamwork
  • People management
  • Negotiating and influencing
  • Problem-solving

Chances are, they’ll class most of them as soft skills. And, let's be honest, soft skills have a bit of an image problem. Certainly when compared to hard skills, which tend to be technical, and rely on a number of years training, as well as a certain level of intellect. Without hard skills, the business wouldn’t exist so, quite rightly, they’re held in high esteem.

Now ask the same person which of the following they consider to be essential to business success:

  • Pitching to prospective clients
  • Managing multiple projects or client matters
  • Negotiating with clients over fees
  • Consistently completing work to a high standard and on time
  • Supervising and developing junior members of the team

Most people would view all of these things as critical to business success. And yet, when we consider the skills they rely on, they tend to be the ones from our list of soft skills – things like communication, influencing, negotiation, planning, project management and people management. That’s right, the ones with the bad rep.

Another way of looking at the importance of soft skills is to consider the root causes of internal failings and client complaints. In our experience, these things tend to stem from poor communication, bad planning or a lack of management (i.e. a lack of soft skills), rather than a lack of technical skills.

The lack of soft skills also seems to be holding businesses back. In 2015, IoD members said a lack of soft skills was the number 1 barrier to future growth. Similarly, a recent British Gas survey revealed that more than half of employers have turned down candidates because they lacked the soft skills (and personality) needed to perform the role.

If we look to the future, we might also say that these skills will become even more important. With the growth in automation and flexible delivery models, clients might find it even harder to differentiate between competitor's technical offerings. This will mean that they will focus more on skills like relationship management, collaboration and creative problem-solving as measures of value.

So, with this all in mind, is it time to change our attitude to soft skills and accept that they are the new hard skills?