on February 23rd, 2011

Dear Colleagues

I see in a slew of recent newspaper reports that companies are increasingly hiring those technical specialists who have soft skills. To be quite frank with you, the need for engineering professionals to acquire soft skills often sounds like some sort of bizarre cop-out. As we all know, acquiring hard engineering skills and know-how is a tough and drawn out process – not only from studying but from hard won and often painful experience.

However, there is plenty of other evidence in looking at the careers of many successful engineering professionals, that focussing on building strong soft skills can be enormously beneficial to your career and also be a satisfying process. I do find in my day-to-day work that these skills are often ignored resulting in dysfunctional, unproductive and unhappy workplaces.

So while you definitely need to be as sharp as a tack with your engineering expertise, you should still pay careful attention to growing your soft skills especially as you increasingly work as part of a group. Or indeed, part of a virtual group – crossing cultural boundaries between different countries where soft skills are even more vital.

These so-called soft skills include such elements as communicating well with others, problem solving, conflict resolution, leadership, motivating others (including your boss), the ability to work effectively in the group, multi tasking (running with multiple tasks simultaneously), handling stress and the ability to innovate and create.

As you know, life in engineering is never Teflon coated but riddled with ongoing problems and challenges. One of the challenges we have on a day-to-day basis is troubleshooting and fixing the inevitable daily problems that come up and soft skills can be useful here.

Other skills are the ability to write in simple and clear English and communicating the right enthusiasm and attitude to everyone especially when the chips are down. This doesn't mean that you have to be yet another unproductive politician working your way around the company hierarchy, but in seriously adding value to your engineering environment. And naturally, these soft skills fit in well with good project management skills but they do go a lot further.

David Brinkley's comment is so true especially when you think about engineering projects working with limited resources and people who may not fit the requirements properly – here possessing soft skills can be enormously helpful: A successful person is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him.

Yours in engineering learning


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