20 Leadership Skills You Need to Be Successful

Develop these skills to become a great leader.

Reviewed by Hayley Ramsey

Manager showing great leadership skills by helping their team work their way to the top of a graph

Some people are natural-born leaders, others work hard to perfect and optimize their leadership skills so they can help their team succeed.

Whether you’re up for a managerial job, want to impress your boss with your leadership skills or are hoping to become a better leader in your current role, there are numerous professional skills and natural qualities you need to possess.

Here are the different types of skills demanded of leaders.

1. Effective communication

All great leaders are good communicators; they have the ability to get their point across in a constructive manner and have strong interpersonal skills. They must master all forms of communication, including one-on-ones, company meetings and in written form. You should have the ability to be sensitive to personal situations and give them the time to share their thoughts and problems.

2. Proactivity

A successful leader doesn’t wait for things to happen; they are proactive, and they anticipate desired results. They identify threats and take action against them. They are constantly thinking of ways to improve and do better. Whether that goal is business-related or personal, they always strive to do better.

3. Ability to motivate

Good leaders and managers inspire their employees to do better and motivate those around them. In fact, a Gallup study found that highly engaged and motivated employees can lead to 21% greater profitability. This can also lead to lower turnover rates and reduced absenteeism. 

This fire in their belly comes from their passion and pride to be the best and to achieve more than they ever expected. And as the great Maya Angelou once said: “Nothing will work unless you do.” So, if you want to encourage, you need to show people how.

4. Organization

Organizational skills are crucial in management positions. You need to be able to handle a number of different projects and spend ample time on each, ensuring you meet deadlines. If you lack this quality, you should find techniques and methods to help you be more organized.

5. Confidence

Confidence is important in this role as people will look at you to learn how to behave, particularly when things are going pear-shaped. If you remain calm and confident in all situations, you’ll teach your staff to carry the same air and morale.

6. Analytical skills

Analytical skills are also one of the key characteristics of a good manager. If you are a good analyst, you will be able to make the correct decisions and solve problems effectively. Analytical skills are vital to navigate your team through difficult situations. If you or your team are filled with doubt, an analytical approach will help you get back on the right course.

7. Decision-making

Being able to make decisions quickly and correctly is an effective skill to have. You have to decide what the best action is to take against a specific problem. It’s often advised to limit your options in order to make better decisions. By weighing the pros and cons of each, you’ll be able to make wise decisions that offer the best outcome.

8. Creativity

Creative thinking skills are essential when it comes to leadership roles. You need to be able to think outside of the box and come up with new and innovative ideas at any given moment. You can also encourage your staff members to come up with new ideas that enhance the overall growth of the business.

9. Delegation

When you are really passionate about a project, it’s difficult to let go of certain tasks and hand them over to colleagues to complete. However, if you hired correctly, you’ll know where people’s strengths lie, and will be able to get the best-qualified person for the job to complete it. Roy Morejon, president and co-founder of Enventys Partners, says: “Delegation goes hand-in-hand with building relationships with teams, because it requires playing to your employees’ strengths. Strong delegation skills empower employees and ensure they feel valued, trusted, and respected.”

Being able to hand out tasks appropriately and set deadlines is a key skill for an effective leader.

10. Flexibility

A good and effective leader is adaptable to unexpected situations and problems. Being flexible allows you to pick up and drop tasks when needed and in order of priority. Another important factor is allowing your staff to be flexible — you’ll be much more respected if you offer them better working conditions, giving them a good work-life balance.

11. Honesty

When you are open and honest with your team, you’ll open the path for truthful behavior. Your staff will respect you and your decisions and, in turn, will make better choices. The same policy goes for your relationship with clients and suppliers — good leaders always have a truthful line of communication.

12. Negotiation

As a manager, you will have to communicate with staff, upper management, customers, suppliers, and competitors. You will need to be able to negotiate correctly, ensuring your reputation is not put on the line. If you are purchasing a high order, you could negotiate on the price to increase profits and save costs. Many people think this is an easy skill to learn, but the art of appropriate negotiation takes a while to master.

13. Positivity

Great leaders know that they won’t have a highly motivated team if they themselves aren’t positive.

Jim Sullivan, CEO and founder of JCSI, states: “A positive attitude helps to lift yourself and others out of a rut, which helps you to progress instead of regress. A good attitude will help to pull you out of a bad situation, which gives you and other people motivation to continue on.”

When things are falling through the gaps, encourage your team members to do better, pick themselves up, and carry on. Don’t shout at them or make them feel intimidated; it’s neither effective nor productive. To make the workplace a happy environment, create a few rewards to boost morale—this could be afternoon cupcakes or Friday beers, for example.

14. Industry expertise

In order to be a great leader, you need to know the ins and outs of your specific field. You are the person with solutions to problems and should possess the voice of authority. This expertise must also determine important decisions and help you understand what is and isn’t possible for each position. For example, a good website design leader won’t ask his or her team to build a website function that isn’t feasible. Instead, the leader should suggest an alternative.

15. Trustworthiness

The most respected leaders display integrity and honesty, gaining the trust and loyalty of employees and clients. If you are trustworthy, employees will want to work harder and deliver better results. Trusted leaders don’t have a large staff turnover rate, as workers feel satisfied in their position with a good motivator and teacher behind them.

16. Time management

Time management is a vital skill to have when working in any position, especially in a managerial role, whether working remotely or in an office. You will not only have to manage your own time, but also the company’s time and efforts. You’ll need to keep on top of project deadlines, staff requirements and any other tasks and challenges that arise on a daily basis. Managers must decide where to invest the company’s time and resources, which will give them a good profit return.

17. Problem-solving

As a person of power, you’ll need to solve a number of issues and conflicts that arise daily. This could be for a client, employee or your personal manager. Morejon notes: “It’s often a leader’s job to resolve workplace conflict in a healthy way. Being able to sense conflict and meet it with healthy de-escalation strategies is one of the marks of a great leader and can keep teams working together smoothly.”

Whatever the situation, you have to think quickly and logically, not allowing emotional stress or time pressure to alter your ideas.

18. Recognition

Recognizing your team’s efforts is crucial. If an employee has done a good job, let them know about it — don’t wait until their annual review to tell them that they have exceeded your expectations. Mark Murphy says: “What… matter[s] is whether your employees know whether or not they’re doing a good job.”

Taking an extra step to recognize people’s achievements could make all the difference in your team’s performance. In fact, according to social cast, 69% of employees said that they’d work harder if their efforts were better recognized.

19. Strategic thinking

Business and leadership involve a lot of strategizing and planning ahead. In order to stay on top of the game, you need to be able to identify your team’s and company’s next steps. In order to be a strategic thinker, you need to be pragmatic, critical, and able to see the big picture.

Indeed, David Patterson-Cole, CEO of Moonchaser, explains: “Top leaders have the ability to look into the long-term, seeing how the industry and its stakeholders are reacting to worldwide changes. It's a lot to balance, yet the longer you're immersed in your industry, the better you get at it.”

20. Empathy

As an empathetic leader, you will take into account the needs of others and will also have insight into their feelings and thoughts. This is often an overlooked soft skill that can make all the difference in your leadership journey.

Sullivan explains that having the ability to empathize with others makes you a leader that people want to be around — this is detrimental to success. “You simply cannot be successful without the help of others, and people need to like your personality and values in order to gain their respect and help you to reach your goals.”

Final thoughts

Holding a leadership position in a corporation is not for the faint-hearted.

The skills this role requires are usually developed over years of training and experience. However, with these tips and knowledge of what it takes, you will be ahead of the game. It’s also vital to demonstrate specific character traits that show you can lead your organisation to reach new heights.

What other skills should a true leader possess? Let us know in the comments section below.

This is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on 25 January 2018 and contains contributions by staff writer Melina Theodorou.