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A Cross-Cultural blend of Hard and Soft Skills for International Research Collaborations

For a seasoned research administrator, proficiency with soft and hard skills is inherent to his or her professional insight and experience. Research administrators in a university setting are exposed continuously to working with colleagues that have diverse academic and professional backgrounds and complicated levels of authority.

Hard skills as explained by Robles (2012), are capabilities that are technical, educational and the cumulus of knowledge and expertise on an individual. Soft skills “have more to do with who we are that what we know” (Robles, 2012) like character traits, attitudes, and behaviors, which enter the realm of personal and interpersonal competencies. By its intrinsic nature research administrators develop such soft skills as the patience of working with difficult colleagues, the tenacity to endure long hours and tight deadlines, and the ability to explain complex regulations to managers; as well as hard skills as preparing proposals, negotiating indirect costs and have a full handle of the cost principles.

Nonetheless, I believe with the growing interest by universities and research institutions to expand international collaborations, it becomes essential for research administrators to master a blend of hard and soft skills that overlap in the realm of cultural competencies and knowledge; but above all facilitate their capacity to manage a complex domestic and international environment, both of which have formal and informal authority structures (Andersen, 2018).

It is vital for research administrators to have contextual skills (Bhatnagar and Bhatnagar, 2012), related to the “ability to operate successfully in different settings, such as different countries, different regions or a culturally diverse workplace.” Glauner and Jones (2018) support this by indicating that research administrator “must be aware and understand cultural differences and also be able to integrate them,” by providing an approach for research administrators who must recognize cultural differences, respect other ways of activities, and reconcile problems by “bridging the differences.” For example, explaining complex policies and procedures for a research project within an international collaboration would require acquiring basic concepts or international law and cultural values, as well as the ability to help researchers navigate their convolutions.

I believe that research administrators can help their institutions traverse this complexity by using a theoretical roadmap to be proficient in managing cultural differences, particularly by utilizing the six Cultural Dimensions developed by Dutch researcher Geert Hofstede (2011). His comprehensive research, which started in 1967, has been used in diverse academic fields as cross-cultural psychology, international management, public relations, and intercultural communication. The dimensions represent objective preferences that can be used to distinguish one country over the other, based on the following:

• Power Distance – the measure in which individuals and institutions accept and expect that power is distributed unequally

• Uncertainty Avoidance – a society's capacity to tolerated or embrace or avert an unexpected or uncertain event

• Individualism versus Collectivism - related to the degree to which people in society values it incorporation into groups

• Masculinity versus Femininity - related to the separation/differences between feminine and masculine roles

• Long Term versus Short Term Orientation – refers to every society’s collective inclination to value the future or the present and past

• Indulgence versus Restraint – the way society values enjoyment versus control of basic human desires.

By understanding the measures that these dimensions provide, research administrators would be able to compare and contrast countries to elaborate management and communications strategies; by using this portal

The knowledge provided by cultural dimensions and the contextual skills can equip a research administration to be internationally proficient with such “transferable skills” as becoming a broker, being proactive in managing change, and becoming an effective diplomat (Anderson, 2018).


Andersen, J. in Andersen, J. Toom, K., Poli, S. and Miller, P. F. (November, 2017). Chapter 15: Transferable Skills. Research Management, Europe and Beyond. Elsevier Science & Technology Books. pp. 319 – 332.

Bhatnagar, N. and Bhatnagar, M. (Editors). 2012. Chapter 1: Soft skills: growing importance. Effective communication and soft skill: strategies for success. New Delhi, Dorling Kindersley India. online.

Glauner, A. and Jones, C. (2018). Cross cultural communication: Think AND, not but (don’t mind the gap, bridge it). NCURA magazine, Vol. 50., No. 3, May/June, 28–30.

Hofstede, G. (2011). Dimensionalizing Cultures: The Hofstede Model in Context. Online Readings in Psychology and Culture, 2(1). Retrieved from

Robles, M. (2012). Executive perceptions of the top 10 soft skills need in today’s workplace. Business Communication Quarterly, Vol. 75. No. 4, 453 – 465.

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