What Are "Power Skills" and Why Are They Important?

July 1, 2022・7 mins read
What Are "Power Skills" and Why Are They Important?

Communication. Emotional intelligence. Creativity, adaptability, and the ability to collaborate. Once called “soft skills,” in the modern working world that’s been drastically shifted by the pandemic, these critical skills are starting to go by a new name — “power skills.” It might seem like just a simple name change, but there’s much more to it. The pandemic and the remote working world it threw everyone into have changed what makes someone successful at work. When you’re working remotely, communication and people skills become even more critical than they were before. Plus, the human demands of simply existing in the world are more complex than before. It takes an emotionally intelligent manager to understand when their employees are starting to hit a wall and communication skills to help them figure out what to do about it. That’s why soft skills are now being called power skills — they truly are a top asset in today’s workplace. Not quite sure what this means? Maybe it seems clear enough, but you’re stumped about how to foster these critical skills among your management and leadership teams. Read on for a crash course in power skills and how you can boost them at your company.

What exactly are power skills in the workplace?

At its core, the term "power skills" is essentially a rebrand of "soft skills." But the shift that this renaming provides is an important one. When contrasted with hard skills, soft skills have been seen as a secondary and less critical skill set. In reality, soft skills have always been important and we’re just realizing the full extent now thanks to the pandemic. As an article on Forbes last year pointed out, “as more and more job activities become automated, soft skills, which cannot yet be replicated by machines, have become more important.” As a result, “soft skills — such as empathy, emotional intelligence, mindfulness, adaptability, integrity, optimism, self-motivation, grit, and resilience — have become crucial success factors.”

Soft skills have always been important and we’re just realizing the full extent now thanks to the pandemic.

Power skills, then, is both a label and a recognition of the importance and power of what have traditionally been referred to as soft skills. Sure, there’s no hard and fast list of what exactly is and isn’t a power skill, but it’s easy to separate power skills from hard skills. Emotional intelligence is a power skill while coding is a hard skill. Familiarity with spreadsheets and pivot tables is a hard skill while adaptability is a power skill. Even though there is no conclusive list, in general, power skills include:

  • Emotional intelligence
  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Adaptability
  • Creativity
  • Critical thinking
  • Intercultural fluency
  • Time management
  • Empathy

The importance of power skills in the modern workplace

While hard skills can generally be taught, soft skills are harder to come by. Often, they’re traits that people have or skills they’ve refined over time — and they’re difficult to master. Power skills are essentially people skills. They give us the ability to effectively work with, manage, and lead others even in ambiguous circumstances. Considering the hurdles that the past few years have thrown at everyone, the ability to manage the human side of work is essential. Managing the human-focused side of work can be building an inclusive and diverse company culture and workforce. It might be spearheading the transition from human resources to people operations. It can even be as straightforward as effectively managing people in a remote working world. And this shift is being widely recognized. Questionmark’s Modern Skills for 2022 report outlined how power skills like creativity, adaptability, and critical thinking are among the top 10 of the most in-demand skills for the modern workplace.

The critical role that power skills play in management and leadership

We all know the trope of the manager who landed that position by being an outstanding individual contributor. But just because someone has the hard skills to succeed doesn’t mean they’re the right choice for managing a team of people — even if management is the next level “up.” Successful managers not only understand the complexities of the work of their team members, but they understand them as people as well. They know what motivates each and every 1 of their workers. They know what their professional development goals are and the stressors that get in the way of their work. Effective managers are a resource for their employees, helping them navigate the challenges they face. When it comes to fulfilling the people-focused aspects of management, power skills are critical. Being able to think critically and creatively helps managers solve the unique and ever-changing problems their teams face. Being empathetic and a good communicator helps managers get to the root of issues with employees and get them back on track. If you want to have successful teams, you need successful managers and impactful leadership. If you want successful managers and leaders, you need them to have power skills.

How to foster power skills in employees at your company

There are a few ways to go about building up power skills among your employees and particularly among management and leaders. Common approaches include:

Create a feedback loop

Just like hard skills are assessed, so should power skills be assessed. Employees should be front and center in rating their managers’ power skills. But just ratings alone aren’t enough if performance isn’t tied to anything. When managers have low scores, connect them with improvement opportunities like training or mentorship. It’s also imperative to consider power skills when making determinations about promotions.

Offer trainings on power skills

Many people might not even know what power skills are. And if they do, it doesn’t mean that they know how to go about acquiring or sharpening those skills. These trainings can also be resources for anyone who finds themselves with low feedback scores.

Encourage your employees to focus on building 1 or 2 skills at a time

Focusing on a whole suite of power skills at once can be too much to effectively learn. Instead, focusing on getting better at just 1 or 2 skills at a time can make the process more digestible and effective.

Hire for power skills, especially in leadership positions

The more people you hire with power skills into positions of mentorship and influence, the more these people will be able to disseminate these skills to those around them. From leading by example to mentoring younger employees, hiring people with power skills right out of the gate can go a long way in fostering them at your company overall. These are just a few examples, though. This isn’t an exhaustive list. Put your personal power skills to work and think creatively about what fostering power skills might look like at your unique company. Maybe it’s a reward system of trophies or accolades. Maybe those with the highest power skills scores get extra paid time off. Also think about what specific power skills that might not have made this list would make a positive impact at your business. Maybe intercultural fluency is a major win at your international business, for example. You know your employees and what motivates them best. Plus, if you adequately outline the benefits and necessity of power skills in your modern workplace, the desire to acquire and sharpen them should naturally follow. Make it clear that power skills are an asset when it comes to promotions. Those who want to climb the ladder will be interested in doing what it takes to accomplish that.

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