These days, self-storage employers want their facility managers to possess a solid combination of hard and soft skills. They are equally necessary to excel in most jobs. In fact, you likely demonstrated some of both to get into your current position.
Hard skills are teachable, measurable abilities. They include things like how to use a certain machine, software or other tools. Soft skills are more a combination of personality traits, behaviors and attitudes that make someone a good hire. In the context of work, they’re called upon when you manage your time, communicate with others or confront a difficult situation. While hard skills encompass your technical knowledge, soft skills reflect your overall work habits.
You may be a computer whiz, a marketing maestro or a sensational salesperson, but you need more than high proficiency in a specific area to be successful; you need to be well-rounded. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the three attributes employers most covet are written communication skills (82 percent), problem-solving (80.9 percent) and ability to work in a team (78.7 percent). Technical skills (59.6 percent) and computer skills (55.1 percent)—often considered among the most important abilities employees can possess today—ranked quite low by comparison. The results indicate employers are now paying much closer attention to soft skills in the workplace.
So, let’s look at the hard and soft skills you need to succeed as a self-storage manager today, and how you might gain the ones you lack.
These are teachable abilities that are generally easy to measure. Typically, they’re learned through training programs, books and other educational materials as well as on-the-job experience. In self-storage, here are a few that are common:
- Sales ability
- Typing (cleanly, at good speed)
- Microsoft Office Suite (Excel, Word, PowerPoint)
- Marketing-campaign management
- Self-storage management software
- Social media
- Data analysis
- General site maintenance
An important hard skill in any business is written communication. We live in an era of tweets and sound bites, but good writing still matters. Whether it’s to a supervisor, coworker, community member or customer, you should be able to express yourself quickly, accurately and effectively using the written word.
These non-technical skills shape the way you work on your own and with others. They help you do things like collaborate, listen well and successfully manage conflict—all highly valued in the self-storage workplace. People with good soft skills tend to have strong situational awareness and emotional intelligence, allowing them to navigate challenging environments while producing positive results. For example, these are the skills you use when dealing with difficult or emotional customers. Think about late-payers, rule-breakers, or tenants dealing with a break-in or other loss.
Soft skills also help you adapt to changing circumstances. The ability to communicate effectively with customers and coworkers during times of uncertainty, or cooperate when solutions aren’t immediately obvious, is hugely important. Consider this last year of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, and how self-storage managers had to quickly adjust.
Some of the most in-demand soft skills in self-storage include:
- Critical thinking
- Willingness to learn
If you have a goal to become an area or district self-storage manager, soft skills are especially important. Leadership positions often involve managing people and directing their efforts toward desired outcomes more than bringing specific technical skills to bear. Developing your soft skills will make you a more valuable employee and increase your chances for career success.
Filling the Gaps
Employees with strong skills bring a competitive advantage to any self-storage operation. Though some abilities may seem basic, the right combination can be extremely difficult to find in a candidate. That’s why those in charge of hiring are particularly impressed to find a strong skillset from the get-go.
So, where are your gaps? Employee assessments can be useful in identifying areas for improvement, but the resulting training and development plans often focus on technical competencies rather than soft skills. Of course, you need both to succeed.
The good news is it’s never too late to develop your skills. For starters, think about your interactions with supervisors and team members. You can learn a lot by observing those who excel. Think about the aptitudes that are beneficial to your self-storage position, including those that aren’t a personal strength. Pick one that takes you out of your comfort zone and work on it. Read a book, or take an online course. Offer to take on more responsibility at work. For example, serve on a committee or help plan an event. Doing so can help you gain valuable experience.
The key difference between hard and soft skills lies in how they’re gained and used. Let’s be honest: Many of us in self-storage learned our skillsets by being “thrown to the wolves.” For example, in my first job as a facility manager, I received three hours of training and then was left to figure it out on my own. In reality, hard skills are developed through education, training and experience, while soft skills, which are character-related, are developed over a lifetime.
Though people gain and develop skills in different ways, you can learn the ones you need to be a success in your operation. Today, self-storage companies need to make rapid (and sometimes drastic) changes to remain competitive. They want managers who are technically proficient but can also change direction as needed. It’s more important than ever that you can handle many different tasks and demonstrate a willingness to take on responsibilities that might be outside your immediate areas of expertise.
Susan Haviland is the owner of Haviland Storage Services, which specializes in auditing, manager training, market studies and operational reviews. She has more than 32 years of industry experience, from serving as a site manager to acting as vice president of operations at Extra Space Storage Inc. and Price Self Storage. She's a frequent speaker at industry conferences and tradeshows. For more information, call 760.401.0297.