by Mark Mondt

This article first appeared in the April 2016 Flight Test News.

The 15-08 edition of the FTN started a conversation about professional development and leadership. That column motivated these thoughts from Mark Mondt, Secretary of SFTE’s Board of Directors, on the need for soft skills.

People have a tendency to focus on developing technical expertise which is, of course, beneficial.  But “working on” the soft skills, with business, management, and/or leadership, is harder to approach in an intentional manner.  

There seem to me to be “hard” skills and “soft” skills.  Hard would be technical knowledge—familiarity with statistical techniques or proficiency with data processing and analysis tools.   Maybe better writing skills could be included here. Soft skills, on the other hand, are the primary stuff of leadership. Business and management, things like cost and schedule, could fall into the hard or soft camps depending on which aspects one examines.  In larger flight test departments, soft skills are less critical.  

When a department consists of one or two FTEs, then they have to be able to handle financial and schedule implications themselves instead of relying on others.  For example, some flight test programs have one or two FTEs, and programs are run by an individual.  That kind of breadth of experience is not needed as much in intermediate size departments, between ten and forty FTEs, for example, and technical specialties begin to get more focus.  Differing companies break up the job differently which places differing levels of demand on the different skill sets.  

Some of the critical soft skills include the following: Conflict resolution (not causing it excessively, not shying away from it, but willingness to force issues that must be forced); Initiative; Ability to maintain personal discipline and not discard it when pressure to do so becomes intense; Time management; Ability to prioritize multiple responsibilities; Ability to balance multiple competing interests and thread the needle through multiple competing constraints when attempting to accomplish the organization’s objective; and finally, Exercising judgment (knowing when to stop, when to go and when to take a turn in direction). These might be leadership skills, but I more generally refer to them as soft skills. And they are indispensable.

This article first appeared in the April 2016 Flight Test News.

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