As a CDL holder, possessing a winning skill-set goes far beyond just being able to operate a vehicle. It's essential to have a solid foundation of soft skills as well –i.e. personal attributes that improve your ability to interact with others, manage stress, and make informed decisions on the road.
Having a well-rounded set of soft skills can greatly benefit your professional development and increase your odds of success in this highly demanding industry.
Let’s go over some of the top soft skills that can help you reach the next level.
You might be able to walk the walk… but can you talk the talk?
While the perception of CDL driving is to spend days or even weeks isolated from the rest of the world, just you and your truck and the road stretched out before you, this is rarely the case.
Driving involves being in contact with your dispatcher as well as being able to effectively communicate with shippers and receivers, customers and other drivers. It’s not surprising then that communication is often cited as one of the most important skills a truck driver can have.
Top Communication Tips
Don’t assume the other person has all the information that you do - Explaining context can be just as important as communicating the problem or solution
It’s not just what you say. Your body language and tone say far more of your communication than the language you use. Remember that when you’re speaking over the radio or phone (to dispatch for example) that they’re missing a lot of visual cues in the conversation. You need to talk more in these cases to get the person entirely on your page.
You catch more bees with honey than vinegar and manners don’t cost anything. This is your friendly reminder that being polite and respectful goes a long way even if you or the other person is having a bad day
Communication doesn’t always go to plan. Sometimes the drive doesn’t either. You need to be able to take a deep breath and take it bit by bit.
Aggressive driving and road rage is a huge factor in accidents on the road (not to mention adds to the mistakes you can potentially make outside of the truck). Learning to keep a level head is imperative to handling the everyday tasks and the stresses which come with the job.
Top Tips for Practicing Patience
Acknowledge that some things are out of your control. Yelling at shippers won’t get your freight loaded any quicker and traffic won’t ease up just because you're frustrated.
Find and use whatever healthy techniques that work for you when it comes to calming down in stressful or frustrating situations. Whether that be counting to ten, taking deep breaths or even removing yourself from the situation for a short period of time (taking a quick pit stop or walking away from a conversation) are all responsible actions you can take to de-escalate your emotions.
When you’re able to collect yourself, redirect your energy and attention where it can be put to good use. If you’ve had an argument with someone you need to work with, check in about finding a better way of communicating problems in the future. If another driver has driven in a dangerous way - Let their company’s safety coordinator.
3. Organization and Navigation
Keeping track of logs, documents, priorities, deadlines and routes can be a hefty task at times - Especially when things can change on a dime. Being able to juggle information and keep a hold of all the strings is an underrated skill that helps keep the wheels turning smoothly.
Top tips for staying organized
Keep all of your documentation and logs organized and kept in the same place in your truck. If you need help with keeping track of different documents in a slip-seat situation or expected to change vehicles often, consider getting a front seat organizer that you can take with you from truck to truck.
Measure twice, cut once. Before you set off it’s better to thoroughly go through all of your Pre-Trip Inspection steps and double check your route/traffic than head out and deal with any potential problems as they come.
If you’re finding yourself forgetting small things or missing steps in your routines, a physical checklist is always an option. Laminated to-do lists and dry-erase markers are an excellent way to go through and tick off everything that needs to be done on a regular basis - Especially if you’re a new driver on the road and want to double check that you’re taking all the steps needed before you set out.
4. Lifelong Learning Attitude
Rookie drivers get reminded again and again that they’re going to learn so much when they’re on the road for the first year or two. Many companies can’t even take drivers on until they’ve hit two or three years experience because they don’t want to risk a driver who hasn’t “earned their stripes” yet. However, more experienced drivers shouldn’t assume they know everything about the job either! Having an open attitude to learning new things and keeping up with best practices is the best way to ensure that you’re always developing and staying on top of your game.
Best tips for practicing lifelong learning
Practice and challenge yourself - Especially when you’re a new driver. Take the time you need to get those core maneuvers locked down in spaces which are low stakes - If you can find an empty or large truck parking lot, this could be a great space to go over anything you learn in your CDL training that you’re not 100% confident about.
Be humble and be ready to ask questions to other drivers or even other departments in your company to get different tips and perspectives. No matter how experienced you are, there’s always room for improvement.
Keep up to date with incoming policy, changes to driving laws and about best safety and business practices. With technology changing at a rapid pace, it is important now more than ever to stay on top of what’s happening in the industry and in your truck.
In conclusion, developing and practicing soft skills can have a profound impact on your career and wellbeing. These skills can help you build better relationships, have a better time at work, and get further in your career.
Even though the skills listed above are considered soft skills, don’t underestimate the impact they can have on your daily work - Good employers are picky, and getting the best opportunities could mean developing the skills that help you stand out from the crowd.