PRSA Portland Metro Chapter

Don’t Forget Soft Skills: Tips for Mid-Level Managers


Mar 16


Erin Merz, M.A., APR
PRSA Portland Chief Operating Officer

Last week I joined 6,500 student affairs professionals in Indianapolis for the 2016 NASPA Annual Conference. Student affairs is a complex and critical part of higher education. Closing keynote Dr. Terrell Strayhorn deemed us “academic spotters,” here to monitor students during their journey and provide support, just as a weightlifting spotter does for their partner.

Being in a highly specialized role within student affairs—content marketing for Portland State Campus Recreation—I relate to this analogy most through managing my team of students, “spotting” them as they develop professionally alongside their academic pursuits.

Prior to starting this job, my management experience was limited mostly to seasoned contractors, including writers, photographers, designers and other PR pros. Mid-level management presents a different set of challenges and opportunities, especially with students who require both soft skill and hard skill development.

I attended several leadership and management sessions at NASPA that concentrated on transferable soft skills. Here are some takeaways—and some tips learned over my last year at Portland State—that can be applied to PR mid-level management.

  • Set goals and expectations. During onboarding, ask new hires to identify three soft skills they’d like to work on. Set goals and help create opportunities to reach them.
  • Rethink team meetings. Provide updates and progress reports via Google Docs and instead use your valuable in-person time brainstorming, problem solving, teambuilding and strategic planning. Get inspired by watching a Ted Talk prior to your meeting and discuss it together. These practices hone interpersonal skills, perceptiveness and teamwork.
  • Require reflection. Reflective thinking is a necessary component of learning. Provide index cards at meetings to write down takeaways, lessons learned and points that require additional inquiry. Make written or spoken reflection part of evaluation following a big event or campaign. Over time, these critical thinking exercises become habit and make your employees more thoughtful and inquisitive.
  • Audit personal brands. As PR pros, we have a good handle on how employees should represent themselves and the company that they work for. Offer to review LinkedIn profiles or personal websites, and don’t shy away from offering advice about things like word choice, etiquette and attire when needed.
  • It’s about the journey. We’re quick to praise people on results. Remember to also give kudos for work ethic, leadership and other soft skills demonstrated along the way.

These simple tactics can make a lasting impact on your employees and better prepare them for the next step in their career.

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