Moving Up the Ladder Using Soft Skills

by Arjunan Arasaratnam

In a rapidly changing world, knowledge and skills need to be constantly updated to adapt to the requirements of the labor market. While technical skills and knowledge acquisition are key drivers of securing a job and remaining relevant in a field, it is not the sole determinant of career progression. Soft skills, which are intangible character traits and interpersonal skills, play a vital role in moving up the ladder and taking on leadership positions in organizations. Soft skills like effective communication, time management and decision making, can differentiate you from the competition.   

Let’s first look at communication skills. It’s clear that effective communication is integral in almost any role. Even in positions that deal largely with data or technical outputs, one should be able to synthesize the information into clear, concise messages such that a layman can understand. Strong communication skills are important to ensure you can share your ideas and thoughts efficiently and effectively. As one transitions into more senior roles, effective communication is essential for managing teams, setting strategy, providing feedback, and executing the vision.

Communication skills can be improved through practice and training. Organizations like Toastmasters International provide an environment to practice public speaking, leadership and build confidence.  Toastmaster clubs meet weekly where members give prepared speeches, provide feedback and work through a learning plan.

Another simple way to improve communication skills is to be mindful of what you are trying to convey. Taking a few seconds to gather and organize your thoughts before materializing them into words can be the difference between scattered thoughts and a clear, direct, message. This can apply to written communication as well. Re-reading emails before sending, utilizing a grammar check, having a peer review/edit your writing can all help improve your written communication.

Practice makes perfect. So, volunteer when the opportunity presents itself. There are many low-risk, non-judgmental instances one can start with: leading team meetings, giving a toast at a bar, friendly conversations.

Time management is also a valuable soft skill. We are often faced with competing choices, limited time and resources, with tasks of varying degrees of importance. These pressures can be further exacerbated by workplace necessities such as meetings, responding to emails, stakeholder touchpoints, and non-essential administrative tasks, all of which can easily consume the bulk of your workday.

To address these pressures, you need to understand their own capacity and limitations, as well as have a framework to assess the urgency and importance of the tasks they have to do.  You may need to learn new skills and acquire tools to help with organization, time management, and stress management. Practical strategies include, utilizing agendas or to-do-lists, planning ahead for distractions and unexpected situations, learning to delegate tasks, and creating boundaries (i.e. saying no when you do not have the capacity) around what you are capable of doing and not doing in the workplace.

Decision-making can be difficult, especially because we might not necessarily have adequate information to make perfectly informed choices. Rarely are our choices binary and many times a clear “perfect” decision isn’t present. It’s also natural to apply emotions and judgement to our decision-making process – sometimes at the detriment of logic and practicality. Our focus should not be to make the perfect choice, but rather the best choice given the circumstance. This means embracing complexity, applying the knowledge we have, and assessing the information at hand to be decisive.  Without the benefit of time, being decisive and taking action is more important than being meticulous and thorough.

One way to improve on this skill is to practice being more decisive in every day choices and embracing complexity. Utilize frameworks like cost-benefit analysis, weigh the pros and cons of a choice and focus on making the best decision. You can also reflect on your choices, ‘back-test’ to see whether your decision was appropriate and apply what you learn going forward. An emphasis on improving one’s decisiveness is rooted in problem solving skills, so by improving your decision-making skills in the face of difficult situations, you are effectively improving your knack for problem solving.

Given the overall emphasis placed on technical training, working on these soft skills are a good way to develop your unique value/brand. While technical skills can go stale as industries are everchanging, soft skills do not expire, and will benefit you over the course of your career, even life. They are also transferrable/scalable to different roles. You can utilize these social skills outside of the workplace. Being able to integrate soft skills with your technical skills, you will be able to see a significant impact in both your personal and professional endeavors.

Arjunan Arasaratnam is a Senior Portfolio Manager at Laurentian Bank.

This article is re-published from the Winter 2021 issue of “Street Talk”, TiF’s flagship publication. Interested in writing for us? Click here for our submission guidelines.