Unleash your leadership potential and lead with excellence

Leadership is a critical skill in today's competitive business landscape. Effective leadership drives organisations to achieve their goals, inspires teams to perform at their best, and fosters a positive work environment. But what are the key competencies that make a leader successful? Read on to find out!

What are leadership competencies?

Leadership competencies are the skills, qualities, behaviours, and traits that are essential for effective leadership. They are the capabilities and attributes that enable leaders to successfully guide, inspire, and influence others towards achieving organisational goals. 

Leadership competencies aren't limited to a specific industry or job level either. Whether you're a newbie manager or a top-level executive, leadership competencies are relevant and are the secret sauce that sets outstanding leaders apart from the rest.

Types of leadership competencies

The knowledge, skills, and abilities that are essential for every leader have been divided into three competency categories by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). They include:

  • Leading the organisation

  • Leading others

  • Leading the self

The SHRM's competency model identifies what it means to be a successful leadership professional, advocating that the essential leadership competencies, which have been defined by researchers at the Center for Creative Leadership, are vital for identifying and developing the next generation of leaders. 

And while this is one widely respected leadership competency model, there are plenty of others. A competency model is a tool often used by HR professionals to measure the competencies an employee needs to perform their job effectively. A leadership competency model is the same, but for business leaders. Businesses will often develop a leadership competency model that is unique to their organisation, but its foundations will be a generic model, like SHRM's. 

Competencies for leading an organisation

Organisational leadership is about directing and coordinating individuals within an organisation to achieve its goals or mission. That doesn't mean that you need to sit in the top seat to have organisational leadership competencies. In fact, organisational leaders are often called “high potential” employees and they move up the ranks of their organisation, showing potential to sit in the C-suite. 

Here are some of the most important leadership competencies for leading an organisation:

1. Social Intelligence

Socially intelligent leaders are intuitive and good at reading people and understanding what they're thinking and feeling. Social intelligence is a core leadership competency, especially in a remote-working world, as the ability to communicate effectively rides on being sensitive to the emotions of others. 

With social intelligence, leaders know what to do to fit into different social situations in the organisation because they are hyper-aware of what makes people tick.

2. Conflict management

Conflict management is a core leadership competency that involves mediating or listening to different sides of an argument to resolve tension and achieve team cohesion. This competency fits in the category “competencies for leading an organisation,” as well as “competencies for leading others.”

Conflicts occur even in the most harmonious of organisations and a leader will draw on their rationale, empathy, and tact to handle conflict arising from different opinions or priorities. Diffusing conflicts is a tricky skill to master, but is an essential competency for a leader if they wish to maintain morale and productivity in the workplace.

3. Managing and implementing change

Change management is an essential leadership competency which involves implementing effective improvements across a business, resulting in a more adaptable workforce. If a person is competent in change management, they look for ways to bring about change productively so that the organisation is better equipped to move forward in the way they operate.

However, leadership responsibility is not only focused on recommending a change and developing the processes. It also involves preparing, supporting, and guiding their team through the changes.

4. Decision making

Leaders who make solid decisions guide their companies to a path of long-term success. Plus, effective decision-makers instil confidence in employees as decisiveness provides them with clarity and direction when navigating complex work scenarios.

But decision making doesn't simply involve making a call. The competency also involves using information to weigh up possible risks and opportunities and consulting with people (which is a democratic leadership style) so that the decision is balanced and unbiased. 

Of course, a competent leader also knows when to make a decision on their own or take a step back and let others decide too.

5. Setting vision and strategy

Leaders who are visionaries inspire an organisation and offer a clear sense of direction, to enable employees to see how they fit into the business's strategy.

A vision is a goal for the organisation's future. But the business strategy is where the vision becomes a reality. From there, the leader sows the seeds on how the business is going to reach its lofty heights and sets goals which cascade through teams, managers, and reports. 

6. Understanding and navigating the organisation

The ability to understand and navigate an organisation is an essential leadership competency that refers to the ability to direct and contribute to initiatives and processes within the organisation.

Leaders create what's needed for organisational success and then provide opportunities for others to execute so that they can grow. They also motivate others to work towards a greater good, which reinforces the value of employees' tasks and promotes their capabilities. Leaders also adapt to the changing needs of the organisation and its employees with proactive initiatives.

Competencies for leading others

The ability to lead others is arguably the most important category of leadership competencies. After all, a successful organisation doesn't exist without its people. As a leader, it's your job to support your employees and enable them to thrive and, to do that, you need to be competent in a number of areas.

Here are the key leadership competencies for leading others:

7. Emotional Intelligence 

Emotional intelligence is very similar to social intelligence, in that it hinges on being able to read people and communicate effectively. But this leadership competency is about the ability to perceive, evaluate, express, and control emotions. 

According to emotional intelligence guru Daniel Goleman PhD, emotional intelligence makes the difference between a truly effective leader and the rest. The ability to use emotions to communicate with, and relate to, others effectively and constructively is second to none.

8. Coaching skills and trustworthiness

A leader's ability to coach directly impacts productivity and the ultimate success of a team or company. A leader coaches employees and helps them to improve by asking probing questions to spark insights. It's a positive conversation that focuses on strengths and opportunities rather than skills gaps.

This activity builds trust for the individual and psychological safety for the team. Creating an environment where people feel safe to be vulnerable and speak their minds fosters empowerment.

9. Inclusivity

Inclusive leadership competencies ensure that employees from all backgrounds have the ability to thrive. Inclusive leaders support the idea of creating a workplace that is safer and more respectful to all employees, allowing them to maximise their true potential. 

Inclusive leaders make a visible commitment to diversity and inclusion, have humility, are aware of biases, are curious about others, and have cultural intelligence.

10. Interpersonal skills

Interpersonal skills are the ability to build and maintain relationships with others. They are also known as people skills. Interpersonal skills are considered to be a leadership competency, as the skill set enables leaders to understand people and adjust their approach to ensure that actions are carried out effectively.

Leaders with strong people skills in the workplace are likeable yet professional, have patience, communicate clearly, actively listen, and empathise.

11. People management

The ability to manage people is an essential skill for aspiring and current leaders. It spans training, developing, motivating, directing, and managing employees. The goal of people management is to create and support a workforce that drives the organisation's goals and builds a better future for employees.  

Remember, there are key differences between a manager and a leader, and you can (and should) be a manager with leadership qualities. 

Competencies for leading yourself

The ability to lead yourself, or self-leadership, is all about motivating yourself to reach your goals. There are five main parts of leading yourself, including self-discipline, self-awareness, emotional intelligence, maintaining relationships, and taking responsibility for your actions. 

There are many models that categorise leadership competencies for leading yourself. Here are the most frequently referenced competencies:

12. Demonstrating ethics and integrity

Successful leaders must be conscious of their own integrity and how important their reputation is. The essence of a leader isn't about the job title, it's about how they operate and their character. 

Leaders are under the microscope and so need to operate at the highest level possible at all times. Being self-aware and managing integrity with every action is a key way to rise above challenges with a reputation intact.

13. Displaying drive and purpose

Being motivated is another defining characteristic of self-leadership. Having a purpose gives leaders the energy to push personal limits and continue working, even when things get tough. 

Strong leaders are disciplined and their passion and motivation stimulate team members to be passionate and motivated to deliver their best too.

14. Continued learning

Investing in professional development is essential, regardless of your position or career. Dedication to training is particularly important for leaders, as showing a commitment to learning and actively evolving professional knowledge and skills sets an example for the organisation and teams. It will encourage them to invest in their future and professional capabilities too.

15. Developing adaptability

The ability to adapt to changing circumstances is a highly sought-after skill in leadership. The way good leaders develop this competency is by continually learning, unlearning, and relearning. This is also known as learning agility.

Leaders are there to support and guide teams and the organisation and, in moments of need, leaders won't always know the answer. Agile leaders embrace change and think critically, to navigate challenging times and devise solutions.

16. Managing yourself

Self-management is vital in any job, but more so in leadership positions. Leaders possessing self-management competencies are independent, self-driven, and capable of working autonomously without constant supervision. They are often seen as reliable, responsible, and professional. 

How to develop leadership competencies

Developing leadership competencies is a continuous process that involves self-awareness, learning, practice, and feedback. While there are plenty of structured training courses and literature available, most leadership competency comes from experience and time in service. Embrace a growth mindset, be patient and persistent, and your capabilities will develop over time.

Here are some steps to consider as you contemplate your leadership development plan:

Identify your strengths and weaknesses

Reflect on your current strengths and areas for improvement as a leader. Consider seeking feedback from trusted colleagues and superiors that work closely with you, to gain insights into your leadership style and areas that need development.

Set clear goals

Identify specific leadership competencies that you want to develop and set clear, measurable, and achievable goals to work towards. This could be improving communication skills, enhancing decision-making abilities, or developing emotional intelligence, for example.

Seek learning opportunities

Take advantage of various learning opportunities to enhance your leadership competencies. This may include attending workshops, webinars, or conferences, enrolling in leadership development programmes, reading books and articles on leadership, or seeking out mentors or coaches who can provide guidance and feedback.

Practise self-reflection

Engage in self-reflection regularly to assess your leadership behaviours, actions, and impact. Consider journaling, self-assessment tools, or reflective exercises to gain insights into your leadership strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement.

Practise and apply new skills

Put your learning into practice by applying new leadership skills in your day-to-day work. Seek opportunities to lead projects, initiatives, or teams, where you can apply and practise your developing leadership competencies. Be open to feedback from others and use it to refine your skills.

Be adaptable and open to learning

Leadership competencies are not static and they evolve over time. Be open to learning, feedback, and self-reflection, and be willing to adapt and adjust your leadership style as needed.

Lead by example

Model the behaviours and qualities that you want to develop in your leadership competencies. Demonstrate integrity, empathy, effective communication, and other desired leadership traits in your actions and interactions with others.

Learn from others

Observe and learn from other leaders who exhibit strong leadership competencies. Take note of their approaches, behaviours, and strategies, and incorporate those that align with your own leadership style and values.

Seek support

Developing leadership competencies can be challenging, so seek support from mentors, coaches, or colleagues who can provide guidance, encouragement, and accountability.

How do I list competencies needed for leadership on my CV?

Leadership competencies are valuable at any stage of your career and some people have innate leadership traits that should be displayed on their CVs. That said, leadership skills are most important when applying for managerial roles, as the job description is likely to list them as an essential requirement.

The best way to demonstrate your leadership abilities on your leadership CV is by showing achievements that were as a direct result of this skill set. For example, if the job description required a leader that had people management competencies, you might write something like, “successfully led and managed a cross-functional team of 10 members to achieve a 25% increase in sales revenue within 6 months through strategic planning and performance coaching.”

When listing your achievements in your employment history section, always remember to incorporate facts and statistics into each point to demonstrate the impact.

If there are references to specific leadership competencies in the job description that your skill set aligns with, add the required skills to the core skills section of your CV. The most common leadership competencies are:

  • Conflict management

  • Change management

  • Decision making

  • Strategic vision

  • People management

  • Coaching and mentoring

  • Emotional intelligence

Always read the job description thoroughly, so that you have a decent understanding of what the prospective employer is looking for, and tailor your CV appropriately to show how you're a match for the role.

If you're looking for a management position, continually working to develop your leadership competencies and listing them on your CV is vital. If you want to make sure that you've showcased your abilities in the best way, submit your CV for a free review.

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