Is it time to find new terminology for the outdated term “soft skills”? asks Christy Crump

I’ve always had a hard time accepting the term “soft skills” when defining skills needed as an effective administrative professional.  “Soft” devalues the years of hard work I spent learning, practicing, and perfecting abilities as a professional who does not portray the image of a “soft” person.  In fact, some of the skills I have developed over 30 years as an admin have been extremely difficult to master and have resulted in a strong and confident team leader.

Where did the term “soft skills” originate?

In 1972, the US Military needed a technological method for training and measuring how soldiers performed and developed into leaders. They determined the type of training needed was for skills that did not involve something physically hard like a machine or gun. The term “soft skills” was coined to distinguish between a skill that involved a hard object versus a skill that did not. In other words, a skill that involved people. The term was not meant to be derogatory, but due to the connotation implied by the word “soft,” is “soft skills” still applicable?

In Seth Godin’s 2017 article, “Let’s Stop Calling Them Soft Skills” his main point was that “soft skills” are the key to success in leadership and life happiness. Long term success is the result of 25% technical skills and 75% non-technical or “soft skills.”  Considering this level of importance in your professional and personal life, we are definitely due for an update.

Examples of “soft skills”

  • Communication
  • Time Management
  • Organization
  • Leadership
  • Interpersonal Skills
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Conflict Management
  • Teamwork
  • Adaptability
  • Problem Solving
  • Critical Thinking
  • Delegation
  • Motivation
  • Attitude
  • Work Ethic

How hard is it to master “soft skills”?

  • You decide on a skill you want to develop or improve. You read articles and books, and locate training to attend.
  • You attend training that is as short as 1 hour or as long as 40+ hours. Certifications can take months or years to complete.
  • You set goals based on the information learned at training.
  • You devise a plan for carrying out the goals.
  • You schedule time to complete the plan and practice what you have learned.
  • You spend a few hours to months to years working on the skill.
  • You measure your progress and declare success, or develop new objectives to assist in continued learning and practice.
  • You repeat the process for days, months, or years until you master it.
  • You decide on the next skill, and repeat the process.

Therefore, to learn or improve on “soft skills” is time consuming. It can take from one hour to multiple months to learn and perfect, while you continue to complete your regular job and life duties. Learning new skills can be expensive, ranging from free of cost up to thousands of dollars. It may require a few steps or multiple steps, some of which have to be revised several times before success is achieved.

“Soft skills” are hard to develop and perfect. Let’s brainstorm alternate terminology:

People Skills

The skills considered “soft skills” do involve working with people, but they also involve working with time, processes, your own mind and attitude. This term falls short.

EQ: Emotional Intelligence Quotient

This term has been touted as a technical term for soft skills, but what does it mean? If it takes too much to explain it, then it is too complex.

Leadership or Power Skills

Not all administrative professionals want to be equated to powerful leaders. Although we know admins run the office and direct the team, many prefer to be in the background as silent managers or partners.

Essential Skills

This term has merit, as all the skills are essential to leading people and managing processes and procedures, whether doing so in the spotlight or behind the curtain.

What do you think? What term would you use to replace the outdated and ineffective “soft skills”? Post your comments below or at

Christy Crump has 20 years of experience in high-level administrative positions and five years as founder and president of Crump & Associates, a training and professional development company with a client list including Fortune 500 companies. In ... (Read More)

One comment on “Are “Soft Skills” Really Soft?

  1. Jackie Harder on

    I have enormous respect for those who have mastered the so-called “soft skills,” because not everyone can do it. Or, they can, but they don’t make the effort. Because being great at internalizing and demonstrating soft skills is damn hard work. Regarding admins: They make the world go round. When I was in the newspaper business and was looking for information on a particular topic, I rarely called the boss, but spoke to the “secretary” (in those days) instead. Very often they knew more about the ins and outs of the a business or government agency than the “leaders.”

    As to what I would say in place of “soft skills,” “people skills” is what comes to mind first. Not as sexy as some other descriptions, but pretty apt. I’ll have to think more on it.

    Thanks for sharing this.


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