May 9th, 2013

Boost Your Brand: Soft skills are vital in today’s workplace

by Rosemarie Christopher

In an era when many workplaces are in flux, it may seem like there is little opportunity to build your personal brand and influence organizational culture. I would argue there’s no better time to do so than when there is momentum for change already building around you.

Your personal brand is your style. It is composed of your values, abilities, strengths and limitations. These denominators influence how you put your skills and experience to work. The most successful employees, knowingly or not, align their personal brands with their organizations’ cultures.

Change causes a degree of disruption and chaos in the workplace. When an organization is in flux, a specific brand is sought after. Employees that brand themselves as change agents, strategists or influencers are highly valued. In addition to being capable of adjusting to change, the most successful workers also will demonstrate a willingness to help manage or carry out change.

In my experience, many workers give the impression that they do not like change. An unfortunate truth is that those who get stuck in ruts will lose out. Organizations don’t want to push boulders. Some personalities and generations are better at going with the flow than others. If you’re not wired to embrace change, there are measures you can take to help you adapt.

Soften up

Professionals often enhance their brand by sharpening their hard skills first. One way to update hard skills—technical and scientific mastery—is to earn new certifications (ASQ alone offers 17) and complete continuing education coursework. You can prepare for certifications and take coursework virtually or through instructor-led courses.

While hard skills are certainly important, professionals often overlook the development of soft skills as a continuing education opportunity. Soft skills are increasingly important as roles become more multidisciplinary and job descriptions blur. Employers seek a greater amount of direct collaboration as they struggle to do more with less of everything, including human resources. In taking on extra projects or responsibilities, you may find yourself needing soft skills that have been dormant for years or were never fully developed.

Opportunities are everywhere

Soft skills, developed in good measure, complement technical mastery. Just as there are ways to develop hard skills, there are also ways to strengthen soft skills. The best approach to develop soft skills depends on individual career goals.

Verbal communication skills can be strengthened by joining a public speaking and leadership skills-building club, such as Toastmasters. Another way would be to step up as a leader of an interest group relevant to your organization or industry. When I decided I wanted to improve my public speaking ability, I became visible in organizations that support my industries: ASQ, the Regulatory Affairs Professional Society based in Rockville, MD, and the Board of Councilors of the University of Southern California School of Pharmacy in Los Angeles.

Participating in an industry-focused group or association is also a way to gain management skills. By leading groups of volunteers, you exercise skills such as conflict resolution, teamwork, collaboration and negotiation. Furthermore, this experience offers you a non-threatening learning environment (no one can fire you; you’re a volunteer).

You don’t have to go far to find development opportunities. Even mentoring others or helping an overloaded colleague gives you extra experience that may prepare you for your next career move—whether it’s at your organization or elsewhere.

As both ourselves and the world change, it’s important to periodically evaluate our work preferences and goals, assess how we like to interact with others and determine where we are on our personal continuous improvement journeys. Periodically evaluating soft skills using online assessments is branding at its best. Formally assessing the power of your brand confirms to bosses, department heads and colleagues that among the ranks of keepers is a proactive and collaborative strategist.

Employers can only work with what employees give them. Organizations realize that there is a huge talent shortage that is not going away overnight. They are working diligently and strategically to retain top employees and recruit the best. Now is the time to take control of your brand and your career.

Published in Quality Progress