Going soft!

21st August, 2020

  • Having recently passed the Pensions Management Institute (PMI) Level 3 Certificate in Pension Trusteeship Unit 2 – Soft Skills exam *, I’ve been asked several times to explain what soft skills actually are.

    Up to now I could provide only a relatively short answer, “well soft skills are about how you come across to everyone you work with”. So, I decided to do some research and share my findings so that you can articulate better than I did if you are asked the same question!

    So, what are soft skills?

    Soft skills can be defined as character traits or interpersonal aptitudes that affect your ability to work and interact with others. They are natural abilities that usually cannot be taught in a classroom or managed quantitatively. They are often, but not always, “people” skills.

    Hard skills vs soft skills

    Soft skills relate more to emotional intelligence and are natural abilities that help us interact well with others. They are useful across all industries and job types. Hard skills, on the other hand, are usually job-specific, learned through education or training.

    Why are soft skills so important?

    Highly developed presentation skills, networking abilities, and etiquette awareness can help in all aspects of client relationships.

    You can’t sit down in a classroom and learn soft skills – but you can hone and develop them, and importantly, practice makes perfect. Some of the key skills are listed below.


    How you express yourself effectively either orally, or in writing.

    • Clarity – explaining technical concepts so that they are easily understood.
    • Confidence – know your subject matter and gain the confidence of others in your work.
    • Respect – treating others with respect at all times is much more likely to achieve results.
    • Listening – a key skill to help you understand actions and react appropriately.


    Teamwork skills allow you to operate well in a group setting in the workplace to accomplish tasks quickly and effectively. 

    • Delegation – ensuring the team assists with the task at hand and fully understands what is expected of them and in what timeframe.
    • Listening –allow each of the team to have their say, provide their views and allow the exchange of ideas.
    • Mediation- ensuring you quickly resolve any issues within the team.


    Adaptability and flexibility are related skills and are about embracing and rolling with change.

    • Curiosity – ask questions to check your understanding
    • Decision-making – make sure you reach consensus with your team where possible.
    • Calmness – if you are calm, this will help others.
    • Optimism – present an optimistic demeanour even in the face of adversity.
    • Open-mindedness – be prepared to hear the views of others.


    Problem-solving abilities are a blend of using analytical and creative thinking to find solutions.

    • Lateral thinking – finding solutions to help resolve the problem.
    • Logical reasoning – ensuring the decisions taken are realistic and well documented.
    • Persistence – trying to resolve a problem even when the going gets tough.
    • Persuasion – demonstrating clearly why a specific solution is the best way to proceed.
    • Negotiation – being prepared to negotiate when required.

    Interpersonal Skills

    Interpersonal skills are those that you use near-constantly as you interact and communicate with colleagues and clients.

    • Humour – especially when dealing with pensions which can be somewhat dry at times!
    • Mentoring – providing support to colleagues.
    • Patience – realising that people may not always work at the same pace as you.
    • Tolerance – accepting that not everything will always go the way you expect.
    • Diplomacy – when faced with challenging interactions.

    A personal reflection

    As a professional trustee, my primary role is to act in the best interests of all members and show transparency in how I behave in the role. This creates trust and illustrates that I understand that my “real boss” is the scheme membership.

    One of the main benefits of taking the soft skills test was that it made me take a step back and reflect. It reminded me that trustee boards need to be trained in complex decision making, often under stressful conditions, and that even after taking expert third party advice, the decision always remains that of the trustee.

    I see soft skills as an essential part of my ongoing training. Some of the scenarios detailed in the exam require deep thought and illustrate that, sometimes, there are no perfect answers, particularly when trustees manage conflicting priorities.

    I will continue to develop my soft skills as an essential part of my journey in the role of a professional pension trustee.

    * This relates to the Accreditation Regime for Professional Trustees which was introduced on 1 July 2020. Dalriada Trustees now has 35 fully accredited professional trustees. We have all come to trusteeship from a variety of pensions related professions. 35% are women, 65% are men and the average age of our accredited trustees is 45. Dalriada fully supports the introduction of the standards and works closely with the Association of Professional Pension Trustees in continuing to improve standards for the profession.

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    • Published byAdrian Campbell

      Adrian is an Accredited Trustee by the Association of Professional Pension Trustees and obtained the EPMI (Membership by Experience) Qualification in November 2023. Adrian works on a range of Dalriada Together Schemes in a trustee capacity and has a wealth of...

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