The security industry is an area dominated by those with a fascination with gathering, improving and showing off the hard skills required to work in the profession. Just look through the Facebook or Instagram pages of many people within the industry (me included) and you find stories and images of the advanced training, technical skills and high speed gear that epitomizes the hard skills base. In reality however its the soft skills that get us through 99% of the job. Its also the soft skills that develop reputations and set the true professionals away from the masses. I’m not saying that hard skills are a bad thing. In fact I absolutely think you should develop and practice hard skills. What I want to discuss here s the importance of not neglecting the soft skills in the process.
Sexy Skills Sell
The reality is that it is a lot easier to get a person to spend a lot of money in gaining high speed, advanced hard skills courses. They are an easy sell and an attractive buy. They are exciting and engaging and they look great on a CV. Every security operative should engage in and develop these skills. They are not however the only skills required. I heard a saying somewhere many years ago about this. It went something like this ” the hard skills will get you a job, the soft skills keep you in it”.
What are Soft Skills
In a security context soft skills are behavioural skills that an individual learns and develops over time to help deal with difficult situations. They tend not to involve physical skills as their core learning. They are more emotional and cognitive skills which every human requires in life. They are the skills that we use in everyday life but still need to be trained and worked on. Examples of these skills include ; verbal communication, teamwork, resilience, critical thinking, empathy, personal responsibility, attention to detail and the list goes on. All the hard skills in the world don’t help unless you have the soft skills to support them.
Teaching Soft Skills
I teach a lot of courses based on hard skills. I dont teach them in isolation though. I always teach them in the context of the softer personal skills required to correctly apply the hard skills. For example when I teach physical intervention skills. I will almost always have people on those courses who want to learn more and more physical techniques. After all, that is why they booked and paid for a physical intervention course. In reality however the physical techniques are the least important part of the course. I can teach a person ‘HOW ‘ to apply a physical technique in a few minutes and through repetition and practice they will be competent. Its much more important however to teach a person ‘WHEN’ and ‘WHY’ those techniques should or should not be used. This is where the softer interpersonal skills are essential. Of course nobody wants to hear this part of the training at the time but I drill it nonetheless.
I dont believe that you can teach soft skills on a short course. Of course you can teach the fundamental principles of the soft skills and give people models and scenarios to support these. The development of soft skills is the same as the harder skills. It comes from repetition and practice in the real world. It comes from exposure to situations where those skills can be tested and honed. It comes from making mistakes and sometimes from success. It comes from experience and most of all from humility.
Humility as a skill
I personally believe that humility is like a meta skill when it comes to personal and professional development. It’s a skill that when practiced enables better development of all of the other hard and soft skills. Those who think they know best or know it all are usually the ones who don’t develop and learn as quickly as those who are willing to soak up knowledge and experience from those around them regardless of the other persons experience. Being humble and willing to accept that everybody can develop every day if we allow ourselves to do so is the foundation for developing soft skills (and hard skills). Keeping an open mind on new experiences and seeking to see things from others perspective from a place of humility is a key to developing.
Soft Skills Application
Many of the soft skills we mentioned above all sound great in theory and can seem a bit aspirational until you put them into the context of the behaviours and activities required of security professionals daily.
- Verbal communication: How many times in a day does a security professional have to request, inform or question a person? Think of all of the situations where verbal de-escalation prevented the use of hard skills or where knowing how to ask somebody nicely to comply prevented a scene. I’m sure you can also recall a security person with poor verbal communication skills needing to use higher level hard skills much more often due to this.
- Teamwork: Working solo is fine and doesn’t require much teamwork but when you add even one more security person into the equation then the ability to adapt and work together becomes an issue. I’ve seen countless sites over the years suffer because of personality clashes, ego’s, bullying and internal arguments within the security team. Teamwork done right leads to an effective security team and no matter how good an individual may be they rely on the other members of the team to be effective. learning to to appreciate these other team members is the key to this.
- Resilience: This is a really important soft skill for security operatives to develop. The application of any type of skill of behaviour (hard or soft) is easy in a controlled environment when everything is going to plan. This ability greatly diminishes under stress of a long day, under poor conditions or in a difficult situation. This is where resilience becomes essential. The ability to manage and process stressful situations and operate professionally throughout. Not an easy skill to develop and one that can only be worked on by placing the security operative in controlled stressful situations in training and real life.
- Critical thinking : The ability to analyse a number of options and weigh up the pro’s and cons of each. An example might talking to a suspicious person and analysing whether they are telling the truth or not by weighing the plausibility of their story against the reality. Certainly a skill worth working on and developing before its needed.
- Personal responsibility : Taking ownership of a task and and ensuring it is done to the highest standard. Taking pride in a persons work above and beyond the completion of a task. It can be the difference between completing a patrol and completing a proper patrol. Anybody can walk a route (hard skill) but a true security professional walks it with responsibility for all that occurs and attention to detail throughout (soft skills).
Hard skills are great. They save lives and ensure that we have the technical proficiency required to do our jobs in the security industry. They are not however the defining characteristics of a security professional. That lies within the hard skills. Rarely will you hear an employer say ” there goes Joe, he’s great at first aid”. You will often hear ” there goes Joe, he’s great with people”. Soft skills are not an alternative to hard skills but rather a foundation to build the hard skills upon. It doesn’t matter how good you are at first aid or physical skills if you dont have the interpersonal skills (like judgment and resilience) to support you. Soft skills aren’t built on flashy training courses (although the foundations can be). They are built over time through scenarios, planning and exposure to the reality of the job. That is what develops good soft skills and exposes poor ones.
You live by your reputation in this industry and those with the best reputations dont have them because they are tough guys or ninja’s . They have then because they are dependable, humble and decent. That’s what we should all be striving to do.