What are Soft Skills? A Manager’s Guide

Discover the vital importance of soft skills in the workplace. Learn how to nurture and evaluate these crucial abilities to maximize communication, teamwork, and adaptability, driving both personal and organizational success.
Ben Kill, Chartered MCIPD

  • Soft skills refer to abilities like communication, teamwork, and adaptability. They are not specific to any job but enable employees to interact effectively with coworkers and customers, enhancing workplace harmony and productivity.

  •  Research indicates that 85% of job success derives from well-developed soft skills, such as problem-solving and time management. This highlights their role in professional effectiveness and career advancement.

  • As workplaces evolve with technological advancements and changing market dynamics, soft skills like adaptability and learning agility become increasingly vital, enabling employees to thrive in dynamic environments.

To perform their job duties effectively, employees need more than just role-specific knowledge and abilities; they also need certain soft skills.

High performers have always stood out due to their great work skills, especially their ability to communicate clearly, collaborate with others, and manage time effectively. However, we now know that these sorts of skills are far more important than previously thought. Inf act, research from Harvard University indicates that 85% of job success is due to well-developed soft skills, while only 15% is attributed to technical skills. So, what are the top 10 soft skills? More importantly, are there any paths toward soft skills improvement?

What are Soft Skills?

Soft skills, often referred to as interpersonal skills, essential skills, or non-cognitive skills, encompass a broad set of abilities that are not specific to any particular job. These skills include, but are not limited to, communication, teamwork, adaptability, problem-solving, leadership, and empathy.

Unlike hard skills, which are about a person's skill set and ability to perform a certain type of task or activity, soft skills relate to a person's ability to interact effectively with coworkers and customers and to fit into the workplace culture.

Thanks to research like the Harvard study mentioned above, employers are seeking candidates with strong soft skills more frequently. This is because they are more than just skills for working - they are critical for long-term job performance. Effective communication, for example, enhances an employee’s ability to convey their ideas clearly and persuasively, while good teamwork skills enable them to work effectively in group settings. These skills are transferable across job roles and industries, making them incredibly valuable for career progression.

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Why are Soft Skills Important?

Soft skills and other types of workplace skills have a profound impact on personal and organizational success. They are particularly important because they facilitate human connections and play a key role in how effectively individuals navigate the workplace environment. They also help employees manage their own work and professional relationships, contributing to a more harmonious and productive workplace. There are also manager soft skills, also known as “soft leadership skills,” which can trickle down to influence an entire team.

The importance of soft skills also extends to the hiring process itself. When faced with candidates of equal technical expertise, employers often prefer to hire individuals with better soft skills. This is because these candidates are often much more likely to be adaptable and capable of contributing positively to the team and company culture. For roles that involve frequent interaction with clients or stakeholders, such as sales or customer service, soft skills like empathy, communication, and negotiation are particularly critical.

By understanding and developing strong soft skills, individuals can not only enhance their career prospects but also contribute more effectively to their organizations, leading to greater job satisfaction and career success.

Soft Skills Management: Evaluating Soft Skills

Evaluating soft skills in candidates can be challenging, particularly since these qualities are often intangible and not easily measured by resumes alone. That’s why we’ve put together this helpful guide to aid you in assessing soft skills more effectively.

1. Before interviews, identify the soft skills crucial for the role and prepare specific questions to assess these skills. This will help you evaluate all candidates objectively. For instance, for a sales position, assess communication skills by how candidates might interact with clients, not just by their extroversion.

2. Use behavioral questions to understand how candidates have previously utilized their soft skills. Questions like, "How do you handle multiple projects?" or "How have you resolved conflicts with colleagues?" can provide insights into their real-world application of these skills.

3. Simulating job duties through role-playing or hypothetical scenarios can help you assess how candidates handle typical workplace challenges. This method tests how well they fit into your specific work environment and team dynamics.

4. Pay close attention to candidates’ responses and behaviors during interviews so that you can more accurately gauge their soft skills. For example, a candidate’s ability to provide clear, structured answers can be a sign of strong communication skills. Conversely, errors in a written assignment might indicate a lack of attention to detail.

By integrating these strategies into your hiring process, you can more accurately identify candidates who possess both the hard skills required for the job and the soft skills that will enable them to excel within your organization. This more comprehensive approach can help ensure that you hire not only the most qualified candidates but also those who will thrive in and contribute positively to your workplace culture.

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Most In-Demand Soft Skills for 2024

We’ve already touched on some of the most important workplace soft skills (including why they’re in such high demand). However, in order to make sure you truly understand what to look for in your current and prospective employees, we’ve come up with a detailed list of the most in-demand soft skills for 2024.

Communication Skills - Effective communication is fundamental in any professional setting. This skills involves subskills like clearly conveying ideas, actively listening, and engaging in productive dialogues. According to research, strong communicators are better equipped to manage relationships, resolve conflicts, and inspire teamwork.

Teamwork and Collaboration - The ability to work well with others is essential for nearly every business, but especially in environments that rely on a team's collective strengths and diverse perspectives. Employers highly value individuals who can collaborate effectively, showing respect, empathy, and openness to different ideas.

Adaptability and Flexibility - In a world where change is constant, the ability to adapt to new situations and overcome challenges is crucial. Flexible employees can pivot strategies, embrace new technologies, and adjust their approach to meet shifting demands without losing momentum.

Problem-Solving and Critical Thinking - The ability to analyze situations, think critically, and devise effective solutions is prized among modern-day employers. These managers are always looking for individuals who can use logic and creativity to tackle complex problems, make informed decisions, and innovate a range of processes.

Leadership and Management Skills - Leadership isn’t only for managers. Being able to motivate others, delegate tasks, and take initiative is important at all levels of an organization. At any level, having effective leaders on hand can drive team success.

Emotional Intelligence - Understanding and managing one's own emotions, as well as empathizing with others, are key aspects of emotional intelligence. Employees with high EI are particularly adept at interpersonal interactions, conflict resolution, and decision-making.

Time Management - Managing time effectively ensures productivity and minimizes stress. Employees who excel at time management can prioritize tasks, meet deadlines, and maintain a balanced workload, all of which contribute to better work quality and efficiency.


As workplaces continue to evolve, the demand for individuals with high impact soft skills will only increase. As we’ve shown in this article, such skills enhance team dynamics, boost productivity, and are essential to both personal and professional growth. Therefore, those organizations that prioritize these skills within their teams will be better positioned to adapt to new challenges, develop new innovations, and achieve sustained success in the competitive business landscape.
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Soft Skills F.A.Q.

What are soft skills?

Soft skills are a broad set of abilities that include interpersonal, essential, or non-cognitive skills involving communication, teamwork, adaptability, problem-solving, leadership, and empathy, among others.

Why are soft skills important in the workplace?

Soft skills are essential because they help employees manage their work and professional relationships effectively, contribute to a harmonious and productive workplace, and enhance job performance and satisfaction.

How much do soft skills contribute to job success?

According to research from Harvard University, 85% of job success is due to well-developed soft skills, while only 15% is attributed to technical skills.

What roles do soft skills play in the hiring process?

Employers often prefer candidates with strong soft skills when faced with candidates of equal technical expertise. Soft skills are particularly crucial for roles involving frequent client interaction, where empathy, communication, and negotiation are key.

How can soft skills be evaluated in candidates?

Soft skills are best assessed through preparation and consistency in interview questions, using behavioral questions to understand past applications of these skills, and employing hypothetical scenarios or role-playing to simulate job duties.

What should interviewers look for during the assessment of soft skills?

Interviewers should observe candidates’ responses and behaviors during interviews for signs of effective communication and problem-solving abilities. They should also note how well candidates handle stress or interact in team settings.

Can you learn soft skills or improve your existing soft skills?

Yes! Soft skills can be developed through various training programs and real-life experiences. Employers can also provide workshops, role-playing activities, and feedback sessions to help employees enhance these skills.

What impact do soft skills have on team dynamics?

Strong soft skills enhance team dynamics by improving communication, fostering collaboration, and enabling effective conflict resolution, all of which leads to more productive and cohesive teams.

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