The Growing Importance of Soft Skills in Government

When it comes to having a dynamic workforce, it is essential to hire employees who possess well-refined soft skills. Soft skills characterize how a person relates to others and are a vital part of any high-performing organization. These interpersonal skills and personal attributes are acquired over time through mentorship, training, and coaching.


With recent guidance released in the Program Management Improvement Accountability Act (PMIAA), 5 CFR Subpart B – Strategic Human Capital Management, and Human Capital: Strategies to Help Agencies Meet Their Missions in an Era of Highly Constrained Resourcesit has never been more critical for agencies to hire employees with well-developed soft skills, in addition to retaining and developing the soft skills of their current workforce. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) considers it so important that they have issued guidance for individual and leadership assessments (such as Leadership 360™) that measure employees’ emotional intelligence, personality, and situational judgment skills, to identify strengths and areas for improvement.

Federal Workforce Priorities

According to the 2018 Federal Workforce Priorities Report (FWPR) supported by a 2018 study conducted by Cengage, the two most important soft skill categories for Federal Government employees are leadership and interpersonal skills:

Leadership skills

Maximizing employee performance requires leaders who possess strong leadership skills. According to the 2018 FWRP, the top priorities for maximizing employee performance, which necessitate fostering the growth of steadfast leadership, include:

  • Succession planning and knowledge transfer
  • Expanding employee development opportunities
  • Bolstering employee recognition programs
  • Enhancing productivity by focusing on employee health

Interpersonal skills

Interpersonal skills are the backbone of high-performing teams. Fostering and developing these skills helps facilitate collaboration and co-creation, project initiation, team formation, and streamlined task completion. Some examples of interpersonal skills include:

  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Problem-solving
  • Decision making
  • Flexibility and adaptability

According to the FWRP, soft-skills training should be offered to government employees, despite constrained budgets, noting that it is often more affordable to develop soft skills than technical skills.

Future Needs

Looking to the future, it doesn’t appear the demand for soft skills will be decreasing anytime soon. Agencies are advised to hire employees who possess a high degree of soft skills and develop the soft skills of current employees through mentorship, coaching, and training. Many Federal Government agencies, including the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS), have developed standalone soft skills assessments that have helped to ensure high-quality entry-level hires. Hiring the right people and improving employees’ soft skills will help ensure your organization’s success and stability today and for many years to come.


Thanks to Melanie Tague and Leslie Keelty for contributing to this blog.

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Leadership & Management
Media Type:
soft skills  

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