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Soft Skills Required In The Social Sector

May 10, 2022

There has been a misconception that the only thing required to work in the Social Sector is the will to make a difference. While passion is definitely important, people also require the right kind of knowledge, expertise, tools, and skills in order to work effectively in the Development Leadership and Management space. While the hard skills that one needs may vary from role to role, it is essential for everyone in the space to have the requisite soft skills.

But what are soft skills?

Soft Skills vs Hard Skills: What are they?

Hard Skills refer to the knowledge and ability that an individual needs in order to do their job. Hard Skills can range from knowing how to code in C language to being well-versed in how to argue in a courtroom. In the social sector, more specifically, hard skills may mean the ability to conduct research in the field, fundraise, design and implement projects, create curricula, or even undertake marketing for an NGO and their cause.

Soft Skills vs Hard Skills

Soft Skills, on the other hand, are the interpersonal skills that people need in order to do well in their jobs. This can mean having the ability to work well in teams, manage time, and multitask. While soft skills are a necessity if one wants to do well in any field, they are especially important for Social Work.

Much of the work that is done in the social sector involves multiple stakeholders, all of whom might have different interests. In scenarios such as these, it is imperative to have the right kind of interpersonal skills in order to reach a positive resolution.

Here are some of the soft skills that are necessary for Development Management and Leadership Professionals:

1) Teamwork

Unlike the Corporate world, where people may work in silos momentarily, much of the work that is done in the social sector requires collaboration between people from different backgrounds, specialisations, teams, and even domains. It is a given that the ability to work in a team is vital for people working in NGOs and other Social Purpose Organisations (SPOs).


As simple as the term teamwork seems on the surface, it is a skill that often needs to be learnt and practised. Good teamwork involves communication, active listening, and the ability to understand the other’s point of view, all of which are important soft skills as well. While there is no single blueprint that can be followed to ensure seamless teamwork, research has shown that there are some enabling conditions that both employers and employees can consider while thinking about teamwork.

Also Read: Which is the best course for a management career in the social sector?

2) Communication

Communication is important in all walks to life. In the social sector, it is vital to communicate with all the stakeholders involved in a manner that is clear and easy to understand. Bad communication can and will lead to projects that are either stalled, unfinished, or never take off from the ground.

Effective communication involves not just making sure that you are understood, but also understanding the people you are talking to as well. This includes, at least in part, the ability to empathise with and relate to the person you are speaking to. Active listening plays a key role here.

Active listening is essentially the practice of listening to comprehend instead of listening to respond. Like many other soft skills, this is also something that can be picked up by people if they put in the time and effort.

3) Critical Thinking

The nature of the social sector is such that it is difficult for anyone to approach only a single issue at one time. Many issues that the sector engages with are interrelated and tend to amplify each other. Trying to increase attendance rates at schools, for instance, can mean having to provide food during lunchtime. Understanding the interrelated nature of these issues and thinking of solutions that can address these problems requires Critical Thinking.

Critical Thinking is the ability to look at a problem from multiple perspectives using the data, evidence, and accounts that are available in order to arrive at a solution that covers different aspects of the issue. In the social sector, Critical Thinking can give development professionals the ability to analyse the situation from a neutral viewpoint before making hasty conclusions. It’s an essential skill for working in an NGO or in the development space.

4) Networking with stakeholders and partners

While networking might seem like an off-shoot of communication, it is important in its own right. There are many reasons why this is the case. The first is that it opens up avenues for knowledge exchange. Many people in the social sector work on similar problems in areas that are geographically distant. Networking and being open to making these connections can allow people to share their ideas with each other and even arrive at conclusions that may be mutually beneficial.

Networking with stakeholders and partners

Networking with stakeholders, on the other hand, can allow development professionals to understand the problems they might be working on in a more holistic manner. Stakeholders often have varied perspectives and understanding of solutions when viewing the same issues. Considering all these aspects before they start working on the problem will help the development professional to arrive at a more complete solution. Networking with stakeholders can also help ensure participation of the desired stakeholders leading towards robust implementation of projects.

Study at ISDM

5) Work Under Pressure

Working in the social sector can, and often does, mean working on very sensitive issues. It can also mean working on very many things at the same time. While on the one hand this gives people excellent opportunities to learn new skills and grow in their career, it can also lead to people feeling stressed or having to work under pressure.

One of the advantages of working in a SPO is that it often offers a community and working environment that helps mitigate much of the pressure arising from job demands. There are also many tips that one can use in order to get better at working under pressure.

6) Willingness to learn and unlearn

This might perhaps be the most important soft skill for NGOs. It is easy enough to understand the importance of learning. Learning new things can allow development professionals to reorient themselves according to the situation at hand and use the new skills they might have picked up along the way to be better at their job.

Willingness to learn and unlearn

But what is unlearning? Unlearning is the process of realising that some of the concepts or ideas that we may have encountered at an earlier stage in our life may be incorrect or outdated, and deciding to erase these misconceptions from our mind. In the social sector, unlearning and relearning is a vital process. It is inevitable that while working in the Development Management and Leadership space one might stumble across an idea that feels antithetical to their way of thinking. The process of unlearning and relearning is required at junctures such as these.

Soft Skills, like Hard Skills, are abilities that people can learn over time. The first step of course is to be aware of the skills and the urgency and proficiency you need in these skills to undertake work in the social sector. The Indian School of Development Management (ISDM) has designed its Post Graduate Program in Development Management keeping all of this in mind. Along with the required hard skills, the curriculum is structured so that students can inculcate these soft skills during the program. Aspects of the program such as Professional Learning Communities (PLC’s), group projects, Rural Immersion, Networking workshops, and Radical Transformative Leadership workshops help the students learn about and practice these soft skills in a live environment.

To learn more about ISDM’s Development Management Program you can visit:

If you are considering a career in Social Sector, it might be worth your while to look into PGP -DM program offered by ISDM. You can find more information about the program here:

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