Partnership Development

4 Essential Partnership Soft Skills

Article | October 22, 2021

Organizations who see the value in cross-sector collaboration tend to focus their energy on selecting the right partner. But there is another important aspect of strong partnerships that is often overlooked: the strength of the team’s soft skills.

Partnership soft skills are a critical ingredient to the success of any partnership. The partnership builders on your team need more than technical expertise. They could be rockstars in their respective fields, but if they’re not savvy about working well with others, they probably aren’t the best choice to represent your organization.

Instead, identify and nurture staff who keep an open mind, roll with the punches, and genuinely enjoy interacting with others. 

Below, we describe four essential partnership soft skills for any member of your team.

Four Partnership Soft Skills Every Cross-Sector Partner Should Master

Empathy.

This first partnership soft skill doesn't come easily to all. But, it can be cultivated.

Be curious about other sectors and parts of the world. Listen more than you talk, and respect social and cultural differences. Welcome the chance to be challenged by a range of approaches and values, and your partnership will be stronger for it.

Authenticity.

Practicing empathy allows you to better understand your partners. Authenticity allows them to better understand you.


It’s only natural that partners' driving motivations might differ. That's fine. What's not fine is when partners attempt to hide or obfuscate their organization’s true reasons for partnering. Partnerships involve time and effort. They are built on trust, and trust is built on honesty. This is why authenticity is a critical partnership soft skill.

Be real, be genuine, and share the challenges and limitations your organization is up against. Be forthcoming, too, about the results you need to achieve for your organization to deem the partnership a success.

Open-mindedness.

At its heart, partnership is about creating something new—and that involves a lot of wading through unfamiliar territory. No one wants to spin their wheels on a project that’s going nowhere, but partners need to be able to embrace some level of uncertainty.

Good partners will rethink a faulty solution until they get it right. Iteration is a core activity for any cross-sector partnership. As you begin to see results (or not), the scope and focus of your engagement will almost always change. Beware that rigid thinkers may struggle to remain open-minded in the face of ambiguity, and might resist the natural evolution of the partnership.

Contextual Intelligence.

There are several important roles on any partnership team, but all team members should be able to sift through assumptions, values, and vernacular to understand what’s at stake and articulate why it matters.

Here, you need people who can see the big pictureits scope, its nuances, and what it means for the key players involved. This partnership soft skill is a combination of situational awareness and the capacity to describe what's going on in a way that resonates with others.  It'll help you successfully translate across diverse partners, to find common ground and work together for impact.

Honing Your Team's Partnership Soft Skills

When people reflect on successful partnerships, they rarely acknowledge the role of individuals. Yet, the individual members of your team can—and will—make all the difference.

Think carefully about who you assign to your partnership team, and consider working with key staff to develop and hone these skills now. The fate of your future partnerships might depend on it.

Don’t Miss out

Subscribe to our latest insights

New call-to-action

Join the discussion

If you are a corporate leader and would like to be a part of a discussion about these and other issues in the presidential transition, contact Resonance Strategic Partnerships Manager, Seth Olson.