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New Zealand Chief of Army Writing Competition Winner of the Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) Category December 2020.

Soft Skills Lead the Way

By Ms. A. Blackman


How we remain relevant as a coalition partner force moving forward is an important question. Contribution is at the heart of our desires as human beings and the relevance of any organisation. Evolution and adaption are key to avoid being left behind in such a fast paced and dynamic global stage. The answer to this question lies in us asking ourselves another question. 

“What do we currently do that makes us a valuable coalition partner?”

When we know ourselves well and can identify and develop our strengths we can be confident in where we add value. As a force we are not large in personnel numbers, but by adding our assets and strengths to a larger pool we can become a force multiplier.  

We provide 3 vital contributions to every operation, exercise and activity that we participate in. They are:

  1. Our high level of trade skills and knowledge, 
  2. Problem solving skills, flexibility and adaptability, and
  3. Our ability to build rapport with the local population.

In order to predict whether we will continue to add value into 2040, we need to analyse how our current strengths will stack up in future operations. How do we future proof our most valuable assets?

High level of trade skills and knowledge

We are a professional organisation that pride ourselves on our high level of trade skills and knowledge across the board. As a relatively small force we expect our soldiers to perform multiple roles, and although this can have its drawbacks we seem to have struck an excellent balance between being able to do more than one job and not doing so much that we sacrifice skill in all areas. It becomes clear when we work with our coalition forces in exercises and on operations that our training has equipped us to perform just as well as our peers with much larger militaries.

In order to future proof this asset we need to examine where our coalition partners can provide us with superior trade coursing and where we can improve our own trade training. We don’t have the infrastructure to train all of our skills to the highest level. We need to continue to be smart and make use of partner nations training facilities as well as updating our own training doctrine. Staying up to date with improvements and being agile enough to change with the times will ensure that our skills in this area don’t become redundant.

Problem solving, flexibility and adaptability

New Zealand soldiers and indeed, New Zealanders in general have a reputation as problem solvers. The ‘number 8 wire’ mind set is ingrained in us and as a society we are encouraged to find creative solutions for problems. This skill will never go out of fashion either in a military context or in any other scenario in life. We operate in a dynamic environment where constant change is inevitable. Enabling our soldiers to develop these skills and qualities will increase their confidence, and when combined with a sound knowledge of the commander’s intent will allow the right decision to be made at the lowest level. At the lowest end of the spectrum this saves time, at the other end it saves lives. 

Future proofing this asset might look like specifically designed training to foster and grow problem solving ability in our soldiers, especially at the lowest ranks. If we can continue to build a culture of problem solving in our currently serving force as well as quickly on-board new recruits and officer cadets then it will not only be us reaping the benefits that come with a free thinking and creative force, but our coalition partners as well. 

Training should focus on providing them with an opportunity to make mistakes in a controlled environment while allowing them to gain experience. Learning to pivot when things aren’t working, being able to assimilate new information quickly and using the resources you have to make the best of a situation is a vital skill that all of our troops need.

Building rapport with the local population

One of the greatest qualities that NZ Army soldiers possess is the ability to build rapport with the local population wherever we operate. We are not a force of robots. We are the force that plays football with children in Timor Leste. We are the force that sits down with tribal chiefs in Afghanistan. We are the force acknowledges the strengths and vulnerabilities of our Pacific neighbours when we go on Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief (HADR) operations. We are a diverse force, made up of many different backgrounds who respect the culture wherever we go.

Because of this, we enjoy benefits that some of our coalition partners do not. Whether it is as tactically relevant as information being passed to us on operations, or an invitation to participate in a local cultural ritual to thank us for our assistance, the bonds that we forge with the local people in our areas of operations are strong. 

The future of this skill lies in continuing to recruit a diverse group of New Zealanders, as well as continuing to improve and evolve our cultural training prior to deploying our forces. When we are welcomed by the host nation it makes our jobs much easier.


We are well placed to continue to be a coalition partner of choice moving forward, although we need to continue to evolve to avoid complacency. No matter how the global landscape changes, with our greatest assets we can overcome any perceived deficiency in numbers and add value to any operation. Our strengths are mostly future proof, and if we continue to challenge and develop our soldiers in these key areas they will be equipped to be assets to our coalition partners through 2040 and beyond. Through the years and due to those who came before us we have gained the initiative and if we remain astute, we will keep it.