#60 How Important Are Soft Skills for Engineers?

by Steven Cerri on June 8, 2008

Are they as important as hard skills?

Hello everyone!

Here’s a question for you; “How important are “soft skills” in your long-term success as an engineer or as an engineering manager?”

I guess first I should define “soft skills”. My answer is that “soft skills” are all those skills that have to do with everything OTHER than your engineering topics.

Soft skills are all those skills that have to do with “being human”. They are those skills that are NOT focused on engineering, physics, dynamics, geology, biology, electronics, etc. Soft skills are those skills having specifically to do with being human and with being “in relationship” with other human beings. Specifically, communicating with them, working with them, influencing them, getting along with them, fighting with them, arguing with them, being angry with them, agreeing with them, laughing with them, and the list goes on. It’s called “life”.

We define “hard skills” as those skills having to do with quantifiable physical scientific and engineering disciplines, and “soft skills” as those “squishy”, “nebulous”, “difficult to quantify” factors that pertain to being a human being.

So, now having gotten the definition out of the way, lets get back to the question: “How important are “soft skills” in your long-term success as an engineer or as an engineering manager?”

If you answered anything but “VERY!” you flunk.

Oh, believe me, I know what we’d like the answer to be… “NOT MUCH”. In fact I know engineers who think that soft skills are useless and it shows in their communication skills and in their interpersonal skills. No one likes to work with them. And they continue to be engineers for one reason and one reason only; they have developed a niche that no one else can satisfy and so they are tolerated. But if the company ever finds another person who can do the work they are doing and do it with a better attitude and a greater capability to work with other people, they are going to be out on their ear.

I not only work with a lot of companies who seek me out, but I also attend a lot of meetings and engineering events. Everywhere companies are complaining about two things most of the time. The shortage of qualified people and the shortage of people who can work with others smoothly. One is a complaint regarding hard skills, engineering skills, and the other is a complaint about soft skills, interpersonal people skills.

And companies ideally want both qualities in their people. They’ll take a person with good hard skills and poor soft skills and put them in a technical position. They’ll take a person with minimum hard skills but good people skills and put them in a management position. But they’ll always take a person with good hard skills and good soft skills and put that person wherever they want to be.

You learn your hard skills in college, and then you’re expected to learn your soft skills…. in….

Be well,

Steven Cerri

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