The rise and rise of soft skills

by John Hilton02 Aug 2016
Technical skills can be learned, but they often won’t be much good unless managers can communicate with their team effectively.

Soft skills – which are often underrated by companies - enable a leader to better understand, motivate and direct people. 

The trend towards soft skills is being seen across a wide range of professions, including accounting.

Indeed, numeric skills might be a technical requirement for accountants, but they are not what makes a job seeker stand out in the current market, according to the recruitment agency Hays.

The Hays Quarterly Report for July to September 2016 reveals that employers of accountants are increasingly on the lookout for people with brilliant communication skills.
“Accountants need to be able to deal with people, not just numbers,” said David Cawley, regional director of Hays Accountancy & Finance.

“Obviously technical accounting skills remain essential, but it is people skills that differentiate one candidate from another.”

In commercial organisations, employers expect their accountants to work effectively with other departments and explain numbers in non-technical terms.

“Therefore, employers want well-rounded accountants with good people skills,” he said.

Meanwhile, the specialist recruiter Robert Half has identified that soft skills are also an important part of being a CIO.

According to Australian IT leaders, the top three soft skills needed for any CIO to succeed in their role are leadership skills (56%), analytical skills (51%) and strategic vision (47%).

Looking at how CIOs rate their own top soft skills, 58% said leadership and analytical skills, whilst 45% refer to adaptability and flexibility, and a further 45% to their communication skills.

Further, more than one third (34%) identify strategic vision as part of their top three soft skills.

The CIO function is evolving which means the skills needed are also evolving, said David Jones, senior managing director of Robert Half Asia Pacific.

“Today’s CIO doesn’t just need to have the technical knowhow, but also needs to show clear leadership skills, be able to analyse IT issues and clearly articulate that technical information and their implications – as well as insights and solutions - to senior stakeholders and colleagues who do not necessarily have a background in IT,” Jones added.

“The CIO has become a genuine business partner. Today’s CIO is not just a problem-solver, but also a strategist and an influencer.

"This evolving skill set has led to the IT leader securing a spot at the decision table.”

One of Hays’s previous tips for business leaders to promote the value of soft skills is to lead authentically.

This is because high EQ leaders will show self-awareness, resilience and can create connections with those around them.

This isn’t something that can be forced because it’s difficult to fake being empathetic or genuine.
“Small things like recognising an individual team member’s contribution or providing positive feedback on an idea can have a huge impact,” said Hays CEO Alistair Cox.

“Making sure the performance review process is encouraging and capturing soft skills will also demonstrate that the business’ intentions in this area are genuine.”

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