Soft Skills You Need to Develop to Further Your Career
Hard skills and talent can only get you so far. At a certain point, you need to be more than the best in your field. You need to know how to look beyond yourself to the others around you. If you want to progress beyond a top engineer, for example, then the only way forward is to take on leadership roles.
A leader is someone who teaches, who provides the support, and builds that conducive environment for change and betterment. A leader is someone who can take their skills and raise a generation below them, while still achieving business goals and meeting deadlines. Leaders come in all shapes and sizes. There is no real right or wrong way to be a leader, just effective or ineffective. It is also not something that everyone naturally can do, but thankfully it can be taught. Building your business acumen and soft skills is how you can further your career. It applies to every single industry, from marketing all the way to engineering and other STEM companies. Your existing skill, as an engineer or otherwise, will be a huge benefit for you and can help you earn more, apply to top-level positions, and even start a business of your own.
All you need is to use this guide to help you get started:
What Kind of Leader Do You Want to Be?
Leadership styles are good to learn, but it is important that you don’t choose just one. You may want to go in with the intention of being truly democratic so that everyone has a say and feels a part of the team. Before you know it, your laid-back approach becomes a nightmare when there is no clear chain of command. Each of the main leadership styles have their pros and cons, so learn the basics of all eight:
- Democratic leader
- Autocratic leader
- Laissez-Faire leader
- Strategic leader
- Transformational leader
- Transactional leader
- Coach-Style leader
- Bureaucratic leader
It is important to keep in mind that you don’t have to be a single type. In fact, the best approach is to adapt and pick pieces and characteristics from all eight types of leadership approaches. This is both to create a unique leadership style that fits and works best for you and also so you can lead individuals with the careful guidance that brings out the best in those working underneath you.
Typically the types of leadership that you will want to focus on, however, are democratic and coach-style leaderships. They are usually effective in most situations but don’t put yourself in a box. There are certain situations where an autocratic leadership works, even though on paper, it isn’t often effective.
Know the skills, build your own method, and, most of all, remember to adapt as necessary. You may need to be an autocratic type leader for a single project, as that leads the best results and is how your employees respond, but in everyday work find a coach-style leadership works best for you.
Becoming the type of leader you want to be means knowing the general styles, building on the skills that will allow you to create your own unique sense of leadership, and then still being flexible. You are leading, which means you need to inspire and help those behind you improve. Only together can you move forward. You are the direction, they are the engine, so lead well.
What Soft Skills Do You Need to Develop?
There are many soft skills that you will want to develop if you want to further your career. Pure skill can get you so far; you can be massively in demand and have project after project come your way. One thing that won’t happen on its own, however, is being asked to lead these projects.
Emotional intelligence refers to the ability to understand and empathize with your own emotions, and with others. It can help you understand and improve behavior, and of course is critical for interpersonal relationships.
Verbal and nonverbal communication
Emotional intelligence can help you read behavior and between the lines. Verbal and nonverbal communication can help you say the right thing, even if you don’t speak a word. Similarly, knowing how to read the nonverbal communication effectively can help you get to the heart of issues with supervisors and underlings alike.
Listening is next. Knowing how to actively listen and engage in a way that encourages smart dialogue and improved collaboration takes time. It can be intuitive to some and difficult for others. For some, it may even backfire on them. For example, if they are so good at listening but never seem to manage to provide their opinion or to engage in the conversation. It’s a very fine balance, but it is one you need to master.
Flexibility and ambiguity
Those who work in the sciences, like engineers, deal with exacts. Exact measurements, laws, and facts. It can make it difficult to switch over into a leadership role. In leadership, you don’t just deal with the engineering side of business, but the human side of it. People are inexact. They are flexible. They can change from one moment to the next. Therefore one of the most important, but difficult skills to master as an engineer looking to move up to management, is the ability to be flexible and deal with ambiguity.
Conflict happens. As a top-level engineer, the conflict you have had to deal with until now was asserting what is and is not possible with a supervisor. Dealing with conflict on the other end of the spectrum, however, is another matter entirely. You need to get goals achieved, but at the same time work within several people’s constraints and suggestions. It is not cut and dry, and never will be, and how you handle that conflict can change the outlook of your entire career.
Leadership and Self-Reflection
A true leader always improves. To improve, they must reflect and work on their faults. Everyone has them; the only thing anyone can ask of you is that you work to learn form them. Self-assessment is hard, however, which is why being taught how to audit your own performance is key.
How Can You Learn These Soft Skills?
There are a few ways that you can learn these soft skills.
On Your Own
There are self-help books, online articles, videos, and more online. If you wanted, you could try to learn this way. It is possible, but because it isn’t structured, there is a lot that you can miss, and more importantly, you won’t be learning the soft skills you need in the specific situation you need them. You will learn general soft skills, not specific soft skills that will help an engineer move their way up into upper level management.
Workshops and Training
There will be workshops and training modules that you can take, which allow you to work on your individual weaknesses in a structured environment. This option is actually ideal, regardless of what other route you may take. You can learn many soft skills and tips and tricks in an MBA, for example, but then later go on to a workshop to brush up on where you are weakest and to learn some new tricks along the way.
A Specialized MBA
Hands down the best way to progress your career is to complete an MBA or a specialized Master of Science in Engineering Management (MSEM). This is especially vital in an industry like engineering where you can go far on your own merit, and then hit a wall when it comes to managerial roles. You will be expected to be able to do more than understand your field. You need to understand the business side of the company you work for, as well as have an innate understanding of the soft skills that will make you a great leader.
One such soft skill is listening. Listening isn’t just staring at a person and making noises every so often while they are speaking. True listening occurs in two stages: verbal and nonverbal. What your employees don’t say, and you interpret through your intuition, is sometimes more important than the words that they do speak.
To get just a small taste of the effort it takes to improve your listening soft skill, you can click here. Listening is, however, just the start. You need to combine all the soft skills listed above with smart business management and a very detailed understanding of the field you are working in.