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Soft Skills Define Leaders

Communication, leadership, problem solving, influencing, and emotional intelligence are all critical skills in every workplace, in addition to the necessary position capabilities.


Data is the prevailing buzzword for 21st century corporate reality, revolutionizing all industries and forever changing the way they operate. Effective data management and analytics help organizations improve efficiencies, lower costs and increase revenue. With the right workforce and innovative management, data can provide companies necessary access to game-changing opportunities and position them to stay significantly ahead of the accelerating curve.

As more organizations learn the importance of data in improving business impact, the importance of attracting technically competent professionals becomes increasingly apparent. These employees have a critical advantage over others in an ever-changing workplace reality. However, this trend also creates a growing need for skill sets only humans can master – soft skills. Communication, leadership, problem solving, influencing, and emotional intelligence are all critical skills for the evolving workplace.

Do not let the name fool you, however – “soft skills” is a misnomer. Effectively incorporating soft skills requires disciplined practice, self-awareness, and confidence; and there is nothing soft about that. Soft skills create an empathetic environment where employees’ technical skills and innovation can merge and thrive. Business leaders agree; according to Deloitte’s 2016 Global Human Capital Trends report, 92 percent of executives believe soft skills are crucial in improving leadership, retention rates and corporate cultures.

It is an unfortunate reality that many data management professionals fear being replaced by machine learning and artificial intelligence. In fact, McKinsey and Company projected in 2017 that as many as 800 million jobs could be displaced by technical automation by 2030. This report surmised that about half the time spent on work activities worldwide theoretically could be automated by using currently available technologies. However, the report also revealed that workers of the future could spend more time on tasks requiring social and emotional skills (e.g., collaboration, discussion, team decision-making, team-oriented analysis, etc.).

Automation and cutting-edge data management tools are freeing up valuable resources, thus redefining jobs instead of replacing them. Data professionals are poised to work more closely with core organizational values, exerting leadership, interacting with clients and applying expertise. Soft skill competency ultimately will become a stand-out differentiator for career success.

Increasingly companies are looking for candidates with the right blend of technical and soft skills, and smart professionals are prioritizing soft skills training. Well-balanced employees can make an immediate impact from the onset of the analytics life cycle. Identifying and formulating the problem alone often requires collaboration and communication with people from all disciplines with different priorities and perspectives. Initiative definition and project execution require a combination of technical and interpersonal skills. Distilling complex information with a focus on business implications and strategy is paramount. Technical skills simply cannot stand alone.

Refining soft skills is critical for success in in a world with a heightened focus on data management. Strong work ethic, confidence and creativity improve teamwork and enhance organizational performance. Networking, storytelling, and empathizing can help professionals understand expectations and uncover innovative ideas that drive change. Individuals with these skills are becoming a critical component to organizational improvement and strength.

Though technical ability is important, soft skills become more crucial as one elevates his or her career. Emerging leaders are often identified not by their technical acumen, but by their strong communication and relationship-building skills and their ability to connect their work to the higher organizational purpose. Leaders equipped with superior soft skills can improve productivity and connect their employees with enterprise values and goals. The ability to influence, persuade, coach and motivate others inspires teams to outperform and innovate, separating great leaders from merely good ones.

Since many data management professionals come from STEM backgrounds, they may have less exposure to communicative and collaborative learning experiences. Many business leaders assert there is a mismatch between what STEM graduates learn and the skills businesses require. It is not the lack of technical prowess, rather the lack of non-technical skills needed for long-lasting effective careers. As a result, the most highly sought STEM graduates are renaissance professionals with an impressive array of technical and soft skill qualifications.

Data professionals should seek out training opportunities that will help them not only excel at job interviews, but also better execute their responsibilities progressively in their careers. Attending workshops, meeting with resiliency trainers, and subscribing to training modules are just a few options for forward-thinking individuals. All professionals can benefit from soft skill training and practice.

Incorporating soft skills into training programs also should be a priority for organizations. Providing current staff with additional training is not only cost-effective, it improves retention rates and helps develop bench strength. Employees value organizations that invest in their futures and engaged employees are more likely to provide qualified referrals and positive recommendations.


The future for data professionals has never been brighter, but opportunities are only open for those who maintain a balance between technical and soft skills. Growing access to data is changing the world and will continue to so, thus igniting a major shift in how people do business. Data and information will continue to affect society, and the applications and opportunities are limitless. Mastering and celebrating soft skills, embracing what makes us humans, will fuel this wave of innovation and provide opportunities for growth for years to come.


Margaret Resce Milkint

Margaret Resce Milkint is a talent strategist and diversity catalyst, focused on delivering top c-suite executives to the insurance industry. As a leader of the firm’s executive search practice, she handles executive talent searches on a global basis in the areas of life, property and casualty, healthcare, reinsurance, and consulting. Margaret is dedicated to relationship-building, collaboration, ambassadorship, inclusion and innovation in search/recruiting, insurance and data management. She has served as a trustee for The Actuarial Foundation, a board member for the Illinois Technology Foundation, and a member of the Society of Actuaries’ Employers Council and the Chicago Finance Exchange. Additionally, she co-founded the Women’s Insurance Networking Group, a platform for networking and career development among female and enlightened male insurance professionals, and serves in leadership roles for several inclusion and diversity-focused organizations including Million Women Mentors and STEMconnector.

Margaret received her bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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