Hard and Soft Skills Every PSW Must Possess

You can roll your tongue? Impressive, but not something I’m looking for.

You majored in English literature and got an A+ on your 11th-grade paper.

That’s great. Fantastic even.

However, when applying for a job in the healthcare field, specifically that of a Personal Support Worker, those skills and high school tidbits aren’t going to get you anywhere.

You are going to need a whole other set of skills in order to pull it off in this field successfully. Most of these skills you probably already possess otherwise you wouldn’t be considering this being a Personal Support Worker.

Others you learn through PSW courses and while out in the field.

These are your hard and soft skills. Let me explain.

Building skills concept

Hard Skills

These are the skills that are specific to and required in order to perform your job properly. As a PSW, you will use a lot of heavy duty machinery. (Tweet this)

Sounds scary? Well, it’s not.

It is extremely necessary in aiding you with residents who are unable to weight bare or move on their own entirely.

Hoyer Lifts

This is a device used to transfer a resident with little to no mobility from a bed to a chair or chair to a bed. This is accomplished with a sling that goes around your resident, sort of like having them sit on a swing.

When using any sort of mechanical device, never use it on your own. Never.

This poses a severe risk to you, your resident and the possibility of you losing your job. Sometimes these lifts are secured directly on to the ceiling in a person’s room, also known as a ceiling lift. It performs the same use as a Hoyer lift in assisting your resident out of bed.

Sit To Stand Lifts

This machine works exactly how it sounds. You sit, and then you stand. It requires the use of a sling, but unlike the Hoyer, your resident won’t be swinging in the air.

The mesh like material is strong enough to lift someone up as it is buckled around them and underneath their shoulders in order to hoist them up.

The person’s feet are planted on a platform to help them stand. This device is only used for residents who can weight bear.

If you attempt this with someone who has a tendency to buckle at the knees, you can kiss your job goodbye.

And as previously mentioned, do not, under any circumstance, use this machine on your own. Ask a co-worker to help. If someone is unable to come right away, you wait. If you’re waiting 20 minutes then you’re waiting 20 minutes.

The safety of your resident is of the utmost importance. (Tweet this)


Pivoting, also just a fancy word for spinning.

Sort of!

This can be used with residents who are able to stand without the aid of a machine, but may need help turning on their own to properly sit down. In this type of lift, the PSW acts as the machine, using their arms to lift the resident up. Once you have them standing, you turn them, while they stay on their own axis, into the chair.

Depending upon how much the resident is able to participate in the transfer, sometimes two people may be required.

All of these procedures must be performed with extreme care & patience. Always check with your charge nurse and the care plan to see which way is most beneficial to your resident and yourself before performing a lift.

  • Can you imagine not being able to use your own legs?
  • Not being able to stand on your own,
  • Sit on your own, or
  • Walk on your own

Often times residents are extremely frustrated and frightened when having to deal with these machines. As a PSW, it is your job, to make this a quick, safe and as painless a process as possible.

Which brings me to some other skill sets you’ll need. The soft skills.

Soft skills background concept

Soft Skills

Soft skills are a necessity in order to perform hard skills effectively. These skills are related to your feelings, emotions, insights and how you interact with the people you are working with whether it be your co-workers or residents.

Without these capabilities, you may as well throw your PSW career out the window or the job will eat you alive.

You may also wish you check out thirteen qualities required to succeed as a PSW.


Without patience, you will not survive a day working as a Personal Support Worker. (Tweet this) Do you think that people always willingly want to be in a sling in order to transfer onto another seat?


In fact residents will fight you physically and verbally in order to avoid what must look like to them, some sort of large net. You have to remember that you are dealing with people who aren’t always cognitively aware.

They have no idea what is happening and they are scared.

They don’t understand that you have six other people to attend to. They don’t understand that this is for the sake of their safety and yours. Take a deep breath, approach with kindness and calmness and it will work out. If not, well, you can try again later.


“I don’t care if you need to use the washroom again.”

“My resident is always upset.”

“Why don’t they understand.”

If these thoughts are on constant repeat in your mind while in the workplace, then leave. Put in your two week notice and get out, because you don’t belong there.

Don’t get me wrong,

I understand fully how frustrating this job can be. You will have bad days, just like any job, but the key thing is to not let it affect your work.

These people are old and extremely tired. They’ve probably seen more in their lifetime than any of us will ever understand. These residents are at a time in their life where they can no longer do activities on their own. Activities that we take advantage of.

Just try to comprehend not being able to feed or dress yourself. Residents depend on us, PSWs, to take care and do the tasks that they would normally do on their own. Have some compassion. In fact, have a lot of it.

Motivation and a Positive Attitude

I don’t think you quite understand how difficult this can be at times.

You’re awake at 5:00AM. You’re starting a 3:00PM shift and your entire afternoon is shot. The night shift, everyone enjoys that. And once you get to work, you start your shift by realizing that you have two showers to give, someone has soiled themselves and there aren’t enough perenial clothes on the unit to use.

Have you lost your mind yet? It’s ok, you can say yes.

The trick is not to show it and to keep calm. This is the job. These residents keep you going. (Tweet this)

Knowing that you are contributing to the care and well-being of seniors in your community drives you. They need you and more often than not, you need them too.

Put a smile on your face even if you have to fake it, you’ll be surprised how quickly it turns into something real. Any situation can be turned into a positive one.

Working the afternoons can be fun because there is only one meal to serve, yes! And everyone is usually in bed by 9:30-10PM. Maybe you can squeeze in some break time?

These residents feed off of your enthusiasm and love for the work you do. The first time someone tells you how much you’re appreciated it will make all of this worth it. I promise.

Time Management

In theory 8 hours is a long time. However in that time you are in charge of 9-10 residents. I’m assuming you’ll also want a break as well.

Managing your time makes this job ten times easier than if you were to just show up and go through the motions without any sort of plan.

Of course people don’t always run like clockwork, so even though you had a plan to help someone on the toilet, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll willingly comply. Obstacles will always pop up, but the challenge of being a Personal Support Worker is what makes it exciting.

Once you get to know your residents and their routines, a natural time line will occur.

Team Work & Communication

Even though you are in charge of a certain amount of people, you will probably be working alongside few other PSWs who can lend you a helping hand.

This job revolves around team work and communication. It is imperative that you practice these skills if they don’t already come natural to you. There’s a good chance you won’t always get along with your co-workers, your residents or your resident’s family.

We’re people, it happens.

No one is saying that after work you have to socialize with anyone either. But while you are at work you will act in a professional manner at all times, even if that means working with someone you can’t stand. Communicate your needs, talk about issues that arise with the appropriate person in charge. If nothing is talked about, nothing will change.

Now, I’ll be honest. Tongue rolling is kind of cool, but as you can see it is not a skill to brag about when jazzing up your resume. The above mentioned skills, both hard and soft are what employers are looking for when choosing a PSW for their Long-term care home. They want the best for their resident’s. I’m sure you do too.

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Avlin is passionate about helping aspirants become better personal support workers. He is an entrepreneur and runs a clinic in Toronto.

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