In the second of three blogs exploring personal success, Rhys Madoc looks at the importance of intangible skills.
Blog by Rhys Madoc CEO, UHY International
If someone asked you to describe the skills you need to do your job, what would you say?
Many of us would probably talk first about the ‘hard’ skills (also known as core skills) our jobs require, whether that is in-depth knowledge around tax, audit or IT, or the ability to write a plan or analyse a set of figures. Hard skills are the technical proficiencies and subject-specific knowledge our clients expect. You will not go far as an accountant without a technical mastery of accountancy rules and standards.
You might stop there, but that would be only half the story. We all use a set of more intangible skills in our day-to-day working lives as well. It is increasingly recognised that these skills, also known as soft skills or power skills are just as important as technical ones.
In fact, the balance between hard and soft skills – once weighted firmly in favour of technical ability – is shifting towards the interpersonal side. It is an important shift, one that can make a difference between a good employee and an outstanding one.
What are soft skills?
The terms soft or power skills describe a series of mindsets and behaviours that can elevate our abilities beyond technical competence and into much more rounded, effective performance.
As Eric Frazer, assistant professor of psychology at Yale University School of Medicine, recently told the BBC1, what soft skills really means is people skills.
“Some examples of soft-skill mindsets might be someone who is a continuous learner, or someone who is highly resilient,” he said. “Many behaviours – critical thinking, active listening, imaginative problem-solving to name a few – are soft skills.”
Research by LinkedIn2 found that people skills – those skills by which we interact and encourage the best from others – are in high demand and that the four most in-demand soft skills are leadership, communication, collaboration and time management.
The importance of your intangible assets
It is easy to see the importance of these skills. Understanding a client’s tax situation is essential. Being able to communicate your knowledge to the people who need to know – in a clear, concise, insightful and even thoughtful way – equally so.
Increasingly, successful business is based on the collaboration of teams rather than the labour of individuals, so knowing how to cooperate and delegate is essential.
Leaders can no longer expect to inspire employees by lecturing or cajoling from on high. In a candidate’s market, where open positions outnumber qualified applicants, successful leaders will be persuasive, inspiring and open-minded. Their people skills have to be second to none.
Finding the right balance
A successful career requires a mix of hard and soft skills, of technical ability and more intangible, human competencies. To a large extent, technical skills can be taught, assuming a basic level of education and aptitude. But softer skills are at least partly innate.
That is why some recruitment strategies now prioritise the identification of able generalists over limited technicians. You can train someone to use a new accountancy software platform. It is less straightforward to teach them leadership skills or the best way to communicate difficult information.
It is not easy, but it is not impossible. Some candidates are helping themselves, taking courses in skills including public speaking or remote team management. Organisations that place a high value on communication and teambuilding offer training and development in the softer skills that clients increasingly value, alongside technical learning opportunities. We have run a series of soft/power skills training for UHY member firms for a number of years.
Accountants should grasp these opportunities, because we work in a profession that is already witnessing the encroachment of automation. Entry level technical tasks are regularly performed by AI-driven algorithms. As the technology advances, more of the technical skills we use every day will be rendered either obsolete or of lesser importance.
By contrast, those with highly developed soft skills are already on the front foot. Critical analysis, creative problem solving and communication skills will all be in high demand as accountants transform from back office technicians to front office advisors. Technical skills will always be needed – but they are becoming a given. It is soft, or power skills that will mark us out from the crowd.