Marsha Willard: Master Your Soft Skills

Posted in: Interview Started by

Marsha Willard: Master Your Soft Skills

The best short-cut advice I’ve ever received is this:

If you want to be successful, find someone who is already doing what you want to do… not wants to, or talks about doing it, but is currently succeeding… and ask them how they got where they are. Then do that.

I am a member of the International Society for Sustainability Professionals (ISSP) and recently had the pleasure of attending a live webinar where Marsha Willard shared research results from interviews with 384 successful sustainability professionals in the field – people who have been influential, persuading for the planet for years.

Marsha is the Executive Director of ISSP and adjunct faculty member at Presidio Graduate School.  She also authored a fabulous book called The Business Guide to Sustainability: Practical Strategies and Tools for Organizations.

If you don’t have the Audio plug-in, you can listen to the MP3 (4 min) by clicking Marsha Willard_ISSP Social Skills

The two slides that she discusses are below. Her most important take-away?

What was interesting in the results was that we expected a much stronger showing in the area of technical expertise, but in the end it was mostly about the people skills – the communication skills.


I was surprised when I was first hired as Manager of Sustainability for Kum & Go.  It turned out that knowing all about available solutions was mostly useful in evaluating vendor-partners.  However, approaching vendors is a privilege that only comes after successfully “making the case” that a particular project is worth pursuing.

I had to accept that my fancy certificates and years of studying sustainability only got put to use after I find a way to influence – to translate sustainability into a solution for another person.  Often several other people, in several departments.

My experience and Marsha’s talk both align with Green Retail Decisions’ 2012 Report of Sustainability Leaders. Another take-away:

The dramatic difference is… that even the lowest scoring (soft) skill on this matches some of the highest scoring ones (technical skills)…


Learning the soft skills – communication, persuasion, influence – is the key to making a difference.

If you are looking for a professional certificate for your resume, I highly recommend checking out the Executive Certificate in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School.  Or the ISSP Sustainability Certificate Program.

If you are confident in your technical knowledge, and just want the social/soft skills – I highly recommend the training available on this site.




Adam Hammes is the executive director of the Iowa Sustainable Business Forum, a consultant, author, and motivational speaker. He specializes in helping businesses and sustainability professionals with environmental and social performance.

Check out Adam's new book on Amazon, Audible and Kindle: Sustainable Business in Iowa.

Like this content? Enter your email below for additional Chapter Cheat Sheets from Adam’s new book and more...

Leave a Reply