Power skills, soft skills, hard skills, people skills… there’s no shortage of terms used to specify business-critical abilities. The issue is, while business language is often mutable and evolving over time, words do matter. This is especially true when you have to pinpoint the skills you need in current and prospective employees. Some people use the terms “power skills” and “soft skills” interchangeably, which can lead to miscommunication and a miscategorization of exactly what these skills are. Here’s a breakdown of power skills vs soft skills and what these abilities can mean for your organization.
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Soft skills and power skills are, essentially, the same thing because they both refer to skills pertaining to human interaction, problem-solving, and decision-making. When considering power skills vs soft skills, the term “power skills” may be more appropriate because while hard skills involve knowledge, power skills are what em-“power” you to make a difference in an organization—as well as in your own life. An exploration of the seven most important power skills helps explain why.
Here are the seven most common—and sought-after—power skills in corporate ecosystems:
Problem-solving involves an individual’s ability to navigate from a challenge to a solution. In some situations, problem-solving also requires hard skills, particularly because you need to understand the technical ins and outs of the challenge.
For example, suppose a company’s e-commerce system is malfunctioning, and people aren’t able to purchase the items they put into their shopping carts. Solving this issue may involve understanding how the checkout process interfaces with a backend database of customer payment data, which would be a hard skill.
However, the ability to come up with different solutions, assess the value of each one, compare them to each other, and patiently test the best ones requires abilities that transcend knowledge of web applications. Problem-solving requires an individual to weigh out different options, evaluate their worth, and assess how well each one works or would work.
Someone skilled at decision-making knows when to commit to a course of action and how to weigh contextual factors when doing so. These may include the timing of the decision, who it may affect, and the short- or long-term effect it could have on business processes.
For instance, a manager at a manufacturing plant may need to decide whether to not to change vendors for a key component. While this may save money in the short term, perhaps the decision would alienate someone who has become a valuable business partner, precluding future lucrative deals. Decision-making involves thinking through these kinds of implications.
Judgment is an important power skill because it prevents someone from doing or saying things that hurt others or impede business interests. Someone with good judgment knows how to navigate personal relationships and choose courses of action that have long-term benefits. Judgment also works hand-in-hand with critical thinking because it gives someone the ability to know which ways of thinking to challenge and which to accept or promote.
When answering the question “What are soft skills?” communication is always near the top of the list. It serves as the bridge between having great ideas and an ability to think critically and getting other people to accept and adopt those ideas. Communication is also important for anyone who has to assume a leadership position. A leader must be able to clearly explain what to do and know how to encourage necessary actions.
Self-management may be one of the most overlooked power skills. People who can self-manage are able to control their personal environment in a way that enhances productivity and efficacy.
Self-management also breaks down into other important power skills, such as time management, the ability to focus, and how you present yourself to coworkers and business partners.
The ability to collaborate often gets confused with communication, which makes sense because the two intersect. A good collaborator is always a good communicator, but a good communicator may not be a good collaborator. People who collaborate well can successfully work with others to accomplish an important task. They are comfortable ceding control, allowing others to make decisions, and listening and applying input.
Being able to clarify your values is critical because it makes it easier for everyone in an organization or on a team to coalesce around a North Star or ideological direction. That, then, becomes a foundational element of future decisions.
For instance, if a company decides that customer retention is a priority, it may choose to train its sales and support staff in a way that puts this above other objectives. For instance, staff may spend more time learning how to retain customers than learning how to acquire new ones.
The best way for management to help a team build power skills is to clearly identify each skill and get everyone on the same page regarding the importance of these skills and how they benefit the organization. That can make it easier to achieve buy-in across your company when it comes to developing the power skills you want.
Once the desired power skills have been delineated, you can help employees develop them through the employee review and coaching process. For instance, managers could give employees a rubric that outlines specific power skills they need to excel at their jobs. Then employees and managers can work together using the rubric as a tool to evaluate and improve each power skill.
Power skills and soft skills are the same in that they both refer to how a person problem-solves, collaborates, communicates, and makes decisions. Seven of the most important power skills include making decisions, addressing challenges, good judgment, communicating effectively, self-management, collaboration, and clarifying values. Management can help a team build power skills by clearly identifying and prioritizing them in the employee development process.
Detail-oriented business professional with fifteen years experience in the customer service, project management and finance industry. Dedicated to helping make a positive impact at the organizations with which I partner.