Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Hard or Soft! Actually we need both


I recently heard a debate about the “soft skills” and “hard skills” needed to lead and manage social care and the importance of focusing on each but perhaps the principal argument is the need to understand these labels, consider what is the most  desirable  and question whether they are somewhat misleading.

The ‘soft skills’ in question are the ones usually associated with leadership, particularly communication. The soft skills are usually associated with ‘Emotional Intelligence’ (I would certainly recommend to work of Daniel Goleman if you have not already  read  it) which focus on personality traits, the use of language etc. and in terms of leadership it is about the way in which the leader acts, interacts and inspires those around them.

The ‘hard skills’ focus on the tasks usually associated with management, the practical skills of how we achieve a task, the steps needed to achieve a goal or target and the day to day housekeeping associated with any work role.

In recent years the  focus  in social care has been on the hard skills, training in the core skills such as infection control, health & safety etc. and while there are excellent courses on such things as communication skills these have been less important to the regulatory framework and, therefore, of less importance to the care providers.

But in the real world what are really the harder skills?

For example, what is harder, working out the level of cover you need to provide the right level of care or persuading staff members to work the shifts needed to implement that level of cover?

Imagine  the care worker who has told support an individual in dealing with incontinence. The practical skills of assisting them to clean themselves and applying appropriate infection control procedures are surely a lot easier than the task of reassuring a person who may feel shame and embarrassment and developing an empathy with the individual told help them understand that such things are not their fault.

The above also illustrates that while I have talked about leadership and management skill sets these actually apply at all levels of care provision. Front line care workers need the ‘soft skills’ to be able to provide effective personalised care to individuals. The skills of empathy and effective communication are essential in discovering what really matters to the person and what they want from their care package and life in general.

I have blogged before on the need for both leadership and management skills (Thoughts on Leadership & Management) and the  importance  of both but there is also a need to recognise  that these skills apply across the spectrum of care delivery.

Commissioning, for example, needs to be more than the management process of ‘tick box’ contracts with care providers and commissioners need the soft skills to work with providers in an effective way that benefits the individual receiving care, equally providers need to work with commissioners in the way that most business sector would deal with customers (after all it is the commissioners who are paying your wages!).

Effective social care needs both the soft skills and hard skills in balance in order to provide effective social care to the ever growing numbers who need it and we need to ensure that the regulatory framework recognises that both sets of skills are equally important.