In a recent news release, Nick Deligiannis, Director of Hays Recruiting, stated that soft skills are “highly valued” by employers. He referred particularly to interpersonal, leadership and organisational skills.
Nick Deligiannis commented that some employers will wait until they find a job applicant with the right mix of technical and soft skills. Technical skills alone are no longer considered adequate to win an advertised job.
The Public Service Commission recognised the importance of soft skills by supporting the Practical People Management Program (PPM) developed by Julie Cork and Associates in 2004. Bruce Wilson, Commission Chief Executive, had this to say about PPM:
“I commend the Practical People Management Program as a resource for the continued development of the people management capabilities of public service employees.”
Queensland State Government Departments have recognised the value of PPM for developing the soft skills of public service managers, including interpersonal, communication and team management skills. State Government organisations that have demonstrated a commitment to PPM include Queensland Health, Queensland Police Service, Department of Communities, Transport and Main Roads and Public Trust.
Soft skills, too, are embedded in the Queensland Public Service Capability and Leadership Framework. These skills are encapsulated explicitly in two of the five core capabilities, “supports productive working relationships” and “communicates with influence”, and are identifiable within components of all capabilities in the Framework.
However, the name “soft skills” appears to be a misnomer as many public service managers report that so called “soft skills” are the hardest skills to acquire and maintain. For instance, it takes professional skill and a lot of courage to handle effectively the more difficult performance feedback conversations. Managers also report that even positive feedback is a difficult skill to acquire because it is not a normal part of the Australian culture and they feel uncomfortable engaging in this form of performance conversation.
We often hear from public service managers that they unable to give one of their staff corrective feedback about their lack of soft skills, because they are technically very good and highly productive. These technically skilled staff, however, may be arrogant, poor “team players” or cynical and negative. They effectively destroy the productivity of other team members because of their lack of interpersonal and communication skills.
Public service managers have to recognise that soft skills are no longer considered a nice “add-on”. They are an integral part of public service jobs.
Job applicants seeking jobs in the public service need to provide evidence of “soft skills” through concrete examples and by their demeanour in their interaction with selection panels and human resource support staff.