Defining critical leadership skills

  1. Guides
  2. Critical leadership skills
  3. Defining critical leadership skills

Defining critical leadership skills, that are trainable (i.e. not inherent personality traits) is an extremely time consuming and difficult process.

We found, (despite reviewing over 1,000 separate competency frameworks and the millions upon millions of dollars that went into building them):

  • 90%+ of the competencies overlap in every framework
  • All this effort to build something from scratch, only to end up in more or less the same place
  • Save yourself the headache - we outline the 40 universal critical leadership skills

What are critical leadership skills?

We define critical leadership skills as follows:

  • Leadership related skills that cover 90%+ of the leadership skills required in ANY work environment
  • Leadership related skills that are trainable and are NOT solely reliant on personality traits or intelligence
  • Leadership related people skills that an average person can learn (soft skills)
  • Leadership related task skills that an average person can learn (hard skills)

These definitions can be compiled into the following statement:

How we identified 40 universal, critical leadership skills

Reviewing competency frameworks:

We recruited a team of Organisational Psychologists, working in both academia and also the commercial world. We reviewed over 1,000 separate leadership competency frameworks including:

Vocational training frameworks

  • Various qualification frameworks accross the western world developed for the purpose of issuing nationally recognised qualifications that accredit people in the basics of people management

Corporate competency frameworks (Supplied to us by clients)

  • Developed by Organisational Development staff inside a particular organisation, for internal use only

Government competency frameworks / Public sector frameworks

  • Development of leadership competency frameworks that cover one or more government departments and are published online for use by the departments and any potential suppliers

Academic literature review

  • Skills based competencies that are proposed in peer-reviewed journals, which have been shown to have a correlation to increased leadership performance
Weighing all these frameworks together was a difficult decision
Weighing all these frameworks together was a difficult decision

Documenting the 40 universal critical leadership skills:

After extensive research and framework review, we started matching them together to identify common elements. 

Our goal was to find a set of universal leadership skills that matched at least 90% of the competencies identified in each of the frameworks that we studied. That would be about as close to universal as you can get.

Below are the 40 critical, universal leadership skills that match 90%+ of the competencies in each and every framework we had studied:

Topic Critical leadership skill areas
Leadership Styles
  • Situational leadership
  • Adapting your leadership style: Being more participative
  • Adapting your leadership style: Being more directive
  • Adapting your leadership style: Being more delegative
Self Management
  • Being accountable and acting with integrity
  • Dealing with disruptive emotions
  • Taking ownership and showing initiative
  • Handling negative feedback
  • Adapting your communication style: Relationship and context
  • Adapting to your communication style: People focus vs. task focus
  • Active listening
  • Ensuring mutual understanding
Conflict Management
  • Mediating team conflicts
  • Deciding when to intervene in team conflicts
  • Resolving interpersonal conflicts
  • Dealing with emotions in conflict
Managing Teamwork
  • Optimising team roles
  • Establishing direction and purpose
  • Setting ground rules
  • Fostering team commitment
Performance Management
  • Holding team members accountable
  • Providing corrective feedback
  • Coaching
  • Keeping high performers engaged
  • Defining goals
  • Prioritising activities
  • Defining timeframes and assigning responsibility
  • Measuring and monitoring success
Time Management
  • Prioritising and managing your workload
  • Getting the most out of your time
  • Balancing deadlines and quality requirements
  • Managing procrastination
Change Management
  • Communicating change
  • Getting buy-in for change
  • Addressing resistance to change
  • Maintaining momentum during change
Innovation and Continuous Improvement
  • Fostering creative thinking
  • Fostering innovative work practices
  • Fostering a learning environment
  • Piloting ideas for improvement

Learn more

Next: Measuring critical leadership skills gaps