What Are Leadership Skills? Leadership Skills In A Nutshell

Leadership skills are the strengths and abilities individuals demonstrate to manage and motivate others toward achieving organizational goals.

Understanding leadership skills

Strong leadership skills are vital to success, helping the organization deliver projects, encourage initiatives, and empower others through a common purpose or culture. What’s more, these skills are as important to a low-level team leader as they are to a senior executive.

Since most leaders are required to constantly interact with subordinates, good communication is a fundamental aspect of good leadership. However, a survey of 1,000 employees in 2015 found 91% cited poor communication as the cause of ineffective leadership. Many lamented that leadership failed to recognize employee achievements and gave unclear instructions. Worse still, some believed their superiors simply refused to talk to them to address concerns.

Despite the knowledge that good communication boosts employee morale and productivity, the data from the survey indicated the vast majority of leaders are not engaging with their subordinates at critical times.

Embodying leadership skills appears simple on paper. However, many of the attributes comprising an effective leader are soft skills that can’t be demonstrated through paperwork, referrals, or qualifications alone. In the next sections, we will take a look at some of these soft skills and other desirable leadership traits in more detail.

Desirable leadership soft skills

Soft skills are vital in leadership because they dictate whether a leader will be able to motivate and inspire others to achieve organizational goals. 

Here are some of the ways successful leaders accomplish this:

  1. Communication skills – as we noted earlier, good communication is non-negotiable. Great leaders are active listeners who are open to the feedback or differing perspectives of those below them. Sound communication skills also mean choosing the right discussion techniques, interpreting and displaying the right body language, and corresponding clearly through the written word.
  2. Interpersonal skills – navigating complex social interactions is also key. A leader must be able to read the emotional temperature of the room and respond in a way that is sensitive to the thoughts, ideas, or feelings of others. This is emotional intelligence at work – one of the most important soft leadership skills.
  3. Teamwork skills – the most successful leaders value the contributions of a team. They collaborate and share ideas toward a common cause. 
  4. Problem-solving skills – leaders who can find creative solutions to workplace problems instill subordinates with a sense of confidence. At the organizational level, problem-solving leaders mitigate risk and implement new strategies with fewer complications.
  5. Conflict resolution – conflict is inevitable in the workplace, so knowing how to deal with it is paramount. Successful leaders remain impartial and call meetings where each individual is encouraged to provide their point of view. Importantly, these leaders use their emotional intelligence to avoid being influenced by the heightened emotional state conflict often causes.

Other important leadership skills

While sound people management and communication are undoubtedly important, successful leaders also excel on a more practical business level.

To expand on this point, consider the following skills which are valuable and highly desired by organizations:

  1. Decisiveness – effective leaders must be able to make smart decisions quickly with the information at hand – even if the information is incomplete or inadequate. For most individuals, this is a skill that takes years to develop.
  2. Strategic thinking – successful leaders are also “big picture” thinkers. They have a vision for where they want to go and how to get there. They are not distracted by trivial issues or minor details, with every decision judged on whether it helps the organization realize its vision. Strategic thinking is also supported by evidence, such as a thorough understanding of the needs of the target audience.
  3. Planning and delivery – the most proficient leaders also recognize the importance of planning and implementation. Indeed, the best vision in the world is worthless without a plan to make it a reality. This is underpinned by a strong understanding of project management, project planning, and risk management.
  4. Change management through innovation – effective change management requires a leader to create and implement a compelling and innovative vision. This reduces the likelihood employees will become bored and revert to previous ways of operating.

Key takeaways:

  • Leadership skills describe the strengths and abilities individuals require to manage and motivate others toward achieving organizational goals.
  • Good communication is arguably the single most important leadership skill, but data suggests a lack of communication between employees and their superiors is commonplace. 
  • Leadership skills encompass soft skills such as active listening, emotional intelligence, teamwork, problem-solving, and conflict resolution. On a more practical level, successful leaders act decisively and think strategically. They can also plan and implement their vision and manage the company through change.

Leadership Glossary

Agile Leadership

Agile leadership is the embodiment of agile manifesto principles by a manager or management team. Agile leadership impacts two important levels of a business. The structural level defines the roles, responsibilities, and key performance indicators. The behavioral level describes the actions leaders exhibit to others based on agile principles. 

Adaptive Leadership

Adaptive leadership is a model used by leaders to help individuals adapt to complex or rapidly changing environments. Adaptive leadership is defined by three core components (precious or expendable, experimentation and smart risks, disciplined assessment). Growth occurs when an organization discards ineffective ways of operating. Then, active leaders implement new initiatives and monitor their impact.

Delegative Leadership

Developed by business consultants Kenneth Blanchard and Paul Hersey in the 1960s, delegative leadership is a leadership style where authority figures empower subordinates to exercise autonomy. For this reason, it is also called laissez-faire leadership. In some cases, this type of leadership can lead to increases in work quality and decision-making. In a few other cases, this type of leadership needs to be balanced out to prevent a lack of direction and cohesiveness of the team.

Distributed Leadership

Distributed leadership is based on the premise that leadership responsibilities and accountability are shared by those with the relevant skills or expertise so that the shared responsibility and accountability of multiple individuals within a workplace, bulds up as a fluid and emergent property (not controlled or held by one individual). Distributed leadership is based on eight hallmarks, or principles: shared responsibility, shared power, synergy, leadership capacity, organizational learning, equitable and ethical climate, democratic and investigative culture, and macro-community engagement.


Micromanagement is about tightly controlling or observing employees’ work. Although in some cases, this management style might be understood, especially for small-scale projects, generally speaking, micromanagement has a negative connotation mainly because it shows a lack of trust and freedom in the workplace, which leads to adverse outcomes.

RASCI Matrix

A RASCI matrix is used to assign and then display the various roles and responsibilities in a project, service, or process. It is sometimes called a RASCI Responsibility Matrix. The RASCI matrix is essentially a project management tool that provides important clarification for organizations involved in complex projects.

Organizational Structure

An organizational structure allows companies to shape their business model according to several criteria (like products, segments, geography and so on) that would enable information to flow through the organizational layers for better decision-making, cultural development, and goals alignment across employees, managers, and executives. 

Tactical Management

Tactical management involves choosing an appropriate course of action to achieve a strategic plan or objective. Therefore, tactical management comprises the set of daily operations that support long strategy delivery. It may involve risk management, regular meetings, conflict resolution, and problem-solving.

High-Performance Management

High-performance management involves the implementation of HR practices that are internally consistent and aligned with organizational strategy. Importantly, high-performance management is a continual process where several different but integrated activities create a performance management cycle. It is not a process that should be performed once a year and then hidden in a filing cabinet.

Scientific Management

Scientific Management Theory was created by Frederick Winslow Taylor in 1911 as a means of encouraging industrial companies to switch to mass production. With a background in mechanical engineering, he applied engineering principles to workplace productivity on the factory floor. Scientific Management Theory seeks to find the most efficient way of performing a job in the workplace.

Change Management


TQM Framework

The Total Quality Management (TQM) framework is a technique based on the premise that employees continuously work on their ability to provide value to customers. Importantly, the word “total” means that all employees are involved in the process – regardless of whether they work in development, production, or fulfillment.

Agile Project Management

Agile Management
Agile Project Management (AgilePM) seeks to bring order to chaotic corporate environments using several tools, techniques, and elements of the project lifecycle. Fundamentally, agile project management aims to deliver maximum value according to specific business priorities in the time and budget allocated. AgilePM is particularly useful in situations where the drive to deliver is greater than the perceived risk.

Read Next: Organizational Structure.

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