What Skills are Important for Leaders?

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There are dozens of skills a leader may find helpful, but not all leaders need the same skills. Required skills fall in three areas: technical, interpersonal, and decision-making.

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What technical skills do leaders need?

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Technical skills involve the skills of the function being managed. When leading accountants, technical skills are accounting skills. When leading nurses, technical skills are nursing skills.

As managers are promoted farther away from the work teams, technical skills become management skills like planning, budgeting, and resource allocation, not the underlying function's skills.

What interpersonal skills do leaders need?

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Interpersonal skills are people skills and include emotional intelligence, communication, influence, and relationship building. These are often referred to as soft skills and are far more critical than technical skills.

What decision-making skills do leaders need?

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Decision-making skills are the ability to solve problems and make decisions promptly. Skills in this area include creativity, data analysis, brainstorming, and tracking decisions over time. It also requires an ability to coach problem-solving and decision-making.

How do needed skills for leaders change over time?

Leaders generally go through a progression from self-leadership to team leadership, to department leadership, and finally to organizational leadership. Each level needs different skills. Explore the links at the bottom of the article to learn what skills help at each level.

Chart Showing Four Levels

As a leader moves up the levels into more senior ranks, technical skills become less important, and decision-making and strategy skills become more critical.

Chart Showing Skill Importance by Level

Thought Questions

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  • Would you rather have a manager with excellent technical skills or excellent people skills? Why?
  • How would you rate your Technical, Interpersonal, and Decision-making skills?
  • Where do you sit on the progression from self-leadership to organizational leadership?
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