Hello, Penelope here!

This page tells you a little of my story, why I do the work I do, and how I hope it will be of value to you.

About Penelope Tobin / soft skills

At the turn of the century I was a jazz composer, pianist and vocalist, living and working between London and New York, leading a sextet in each city, composing for these groups and for a 17-piece jazz orchestra, recording regularly, performing in clubs – from Ronnie Scotts to Birdland – touring in the USA, UK, Europe and Japan, as well as teaching and coaching private students, and running workshops and master classes.

I’d been a professional musician since leaving school, playing with a wide array of pop and rock bands as a keyboard player (yes, there are a few stories there!), composing music for commercials, and earning a BA (Hons) in Performing Arts along the way. Yet all this was fuelled by a love of jazz, which I listened to endlessly and studied independently – including a brilliant arranging and composition programme at New York University, and private lessons with the phenomenal pianist Joanne Brackeen – before forming my own groups. So my transatlantic life was the realisation of a dream. And I adored it!

At this point you might be wondering if you’ve got the right website…

Yes, you’re in the right place!

You see, in my travels I noticed that many people are very stressed, unhappy, and in a state of crisis and confusion, disorientated by lives that are changing so rapidly and unpredictably.
The ways that we live, learn, work…all aspects of life have shifted seismically in a short space of time. For example, look at how we work – no more 9 to 5, steady job, career for life, comfortable retirement with pension. Now it’s all about uncertain career paths, insecure income streams, variable work patterns, several jobs at once, several careers in a lifetime, and the need for continuous learning. But to me this new way of living and working was familiar…in fact, it was as though the artist’s way of living had gone from maverick to mainstream! But without the necessary skills to support it.

So what skills does this new world demand of us,

and how do we develop them?

One thing’s for certain…we can no longer rely on school to set us up with the right ‘kit’ for the road of life. The education system was designed for another age, and it doesn’t fully answer today’s needs. Instead, like a musician, our learning must be continuous. And like a musician – or any artist – we must be flexible and creative to thrive amid the constant change that affects our personal and professional lives; we need to communicate with diverse groups of people and collaborate across a vast range of circumstances; we have to negotiate a new landscape of relationships, be self-motivated, self-reliant, and capable of designing our own lives.

This requires a whole new set of skills – soft skills, such as these…

Soft skills

I began investigating the relationship between the artist’s way of working and how soft skills are developed. At the time, soft skills were still considered ‘pink and fluffy’! But I became increasingly certain that these were the skills we needed to thrive now and into the future.

I wasn’t alone. A few years later…

Soft skills are recognised as the crucial 21st century skills.

I completed a Masters in Leading and Managing Organisational Change, and undertook a host of case studies, pilots and research projects – including a 2-year, pan-European project Creative Renewal – to explore, underpin and validate the concepts I was exploring. My goal was to produce a practical tool that was supported by solid research and development. The result was BBM, or Barrier Breakers Methodology for Soft Skills Development and Evaluation.

BBM is a framework

for identifying, developing and measuring soft skills.

Around this time I also founded a research and education charity, with the aim of inspiring human development creating positive change.  Once BBM was ready, it was put to use in all Barrier Breakers Foundation programmes and, because it produced such great results, BBM became the driver behind all our work. As the basis of the Foundation’s change initiatives, BBM went on to transform lives throughout the UK 3rd sector (i.e. not public or private), winning the national Performance Hub prize for this work in 2007.

Since then BBM has supported 1000s of people…

including me!

I’ve always believed passionately in BBM – after all, I’ve witnessed the amazing benefits it brings to those who use it, and seen the conclusive research results. But lately I’ve come to appreciate its value more intimately. Of course, I’d been using BBM routinely in my own life, when dealing with personal and professional challenges – why wouldn’t I when it’s such a great tool! But over recent years I’ve faced some extremely traumatic life events, and I got to test BBM at a far more profound, personal level than before. The strength, clarity and resilience that BBM enabled me to access in myself gave me the ability to surmount these obstacles, to break through the barriers, to get the other side of the them in good health and in a positive state of mind. Today, I’m definitely one of the happiest people I know :) And that, for me, is probably the best measure of success.

Research is convincing, observations are persuasive

but personal experience is undeniable.

Building on BBM’s triumphs in the 3rd sector, the ‘for-more-than-profit’ arm was founded, to bring BBM to a wider audience. Barrier Breakers (UK) Ltd applies BBM to organisational development, and numerous organisations now use the BBM Diagnostic to identify and break through barriers that are blocking performance – benefiting the bottom line, as well as employees’ well-being and engagement.

However, right here is where I get the pleasure and privilege of supporting special people like you … motivated, inspiring, committed individuals who aim to make a difference, but who have a barrier that they need to break through in order to make the most of their life.

I hope to have the opportunity of working with you. If there are changes in your life that you want to make happen, let’s have a conversation and see if I can help.

Here’s to breaking barriers!


p.s. In case you’re wondering what happened to the jazz…it’s still a big part of my life. I play and compose every day, record when I can, perform when I’ve time, love it as much as ever, and learn from it always. My recent book, The Jazz of Business: Leadership in a New Groove, combines my more recent passion for soft skills and leadership development with my jazz roots, and my keynote talks and presentations often include live jazz.


p.p.s A proportion of all profits from our work with people like you goes back into Barrier Breakers Foundation’s soft skills development work with disadvantaged groups.

When you work with me

you help me work with others


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