What Are Leadership Skills: 7 Traits of a Great Leader

April 11, 2022 | New Workplace Leadership | 10 min read

What Skills Do Great Leaders Have?

Leadership is not just a role; leadership is a set of competencies that define the effectiveness of an individual in guiding and inspiring others.

As organizations examine how to build their leadership pipeline – from first-time managers to senior executives – many face the challenge of successfully developing influential leaders and understanding precisely which core competencies every leader should have.

Failing to develop these leadership skills means dealing with rises in employee attrition, reduced employee productivity and effectiveness, and a weak leadership bench.

In a recent survey by Global Leadership Forecast, only 11% of organizations reported having a “strong” or “very strong” leadership bench – the lowest in the past 10 years. So, we wanted to help answer the question: what makes a great leader?

Who Needs Leadership Skills?

Leadership skills are not exclusive to those with fancy titles or corner offices. They are indispensable qualities for anyone looking to excel in their professional journey, whether you’re a manager, team lead, or an individual contributor. In today’s interconnected and collaborative work environments, effective leadership skills are essential for fostering teamwork, driving innovation, and achieving personal and organizational goals.

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7 Effective Leadership Skills

It’s a tricky question to answer. Since leadership is a set of competencies, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to isolate a single quality, mindset, behavior, or attribute that signifies a person will be a great leader.

Great leaders tend to embody many qualities, all working in concert; here are seven attributes that, in combination, aid impressive leadership:


Great leaders are self-aware. They understand how their behaviors, words, actions, and even aspects like body language impact others. They seek feedback on their leadership. They try to see themselves through others’ eyes.

This reflection can be difficult for some people but is incredibly important for leaders. They know that perception is part of their reality. Great leaders need to be aware of their strengths and weaknesses. Self-awareness allows them to leverage their strengths effectively and work on improving their weaknesses. Self-aware leaders are better at managing their own emotions and understanding the emotions of others.

This skill is essential for building solid relationships, resolving conflicts, and motivating teams. Self-awareness helps leaders recognize their values and ethical boundaries. Ethical leadership is critical for gaining trust and respect from team members and stakeholders.


In today’s modern workforce, there’s a level of interconnectedness that we have never seen before. No longer operating in isolated, hierarchical environments, leaders now must thrive in a hybrid atmosphere that’s fluid and more democratized.

Connecting and collaborating intensively across the organization are necessary for success. As so many teams today are cross-functional. Connecting establishes valuable relationships for oneself and others across the organization. Today, we can connect and interlink through virtual platforms and tools in increasingly authentic and intuitive ways that were previously unimaginable.

As for collaboration, it often comes down to this simple statement: collaborative leaders will place team needs and priorities above personal needs and priorities, and they actively foster synergy within and across teams. Successful leaders actively involve others in making decisions that affect them, and likewise, they give credit to others where credit is due.

An important aspect of connection is communication. One can only happen with the other, and influential leaders can express their vision, goals, and expectations to their teams clearly. Communication goes both ways, and great leaders are also great listeners. Understanding team members’ ideas, concerns, and feedback fosters trust and gives leaders the critical information they need to make well-informed decisions for their team’s health.

Empathetic leaders understand their team members’ perspectives, feelings, and needs. This quality builds trust, enhances communication, and promotes a supportive and inclusive workplace. A collaborative leader is there to resolve conflicts when they arise. Leaders facilitating open and constructive communication can better address issues before they can escalate.


There is a lot packed into this one: Successful leaders craft a transformative vision and share it with a sense of passion. They help their teams understand what to do, why they are doing it, and why it matters. Great leaders mobilize their teams to execute the vision and sustain momentum by constantly reinforcing that vision. This approach demands a consistent, authentic, and transparent communication strategy.

Passionate leaders tend to be influential leaders with relationships and networks within and outside the organization. These networks can be invaluable for broader collaborative efforts, troubleshooting issues, and staying informed about industry trends. Passionate leaders also tend to be enthusiastic leaders, and enthusiasm is contagious. Leaders who are excited about their vision and goals can inspire and energize their team while fostering a positive work environment.

So, while some leaders may be poor communicators, a passionate and enthusiastic belief in their vision is critical in today’s context. Great leaders work to develop the skills to communicate their passions effectively.


Great leaders acknowledge and accept that they don’t have all the answers. They are learning as they lead the way forward. They can be open to diverse thinking and recognize that they must be decisive in a world of complexity, data overload, and rapid pace.

Being an open-minded leader means asking many questions and listening with an active ear and open heart. It means welcoming different perspectives, ideas, and opinions while creating an environment free from fear of judgment, ridicule, or punishment. The best leaders learn from anyone – a new hire, customer, supplier– and are open to what they hear.

Being open also means undertaking an objective data analysis before arriving at conclusions. The availability of so much data and the speed of processing that data, even in real-time, allows for so much extra input into decision-making that it can become difficult for a leader to focus on what’s important. However, leaders must understand when they have enough data to make a good business decision. They must be decisive to lead effectively. The best leaders can strike that delicate balance.


Great leaders today are aware of digital threats and opportunities, but they must go beyond simply being aware. They must actively demonstrate their ability to be flexible, agile and respond effectively to these changing environments. They can rapidly shift direction while working with and guiding the teams and individuals they lead. They can improvise when necessary and are open to change and new challenges.

Influential leaders guide their organizations through periods of change and transformation by persuading others that they can embrace new ideas and adapt to change effectively. In today’s rapidly evolving business-technology environment, leaders must quickly adapt to new technologies, market trends, and challenges. Learning agility ensures they stay relevant.

Learning-agile leaders are committed to personal and professional growth. They seek opportunities to develop new skills and knowledge to benefit themselves and their organizations. Leaders who are open to learning and experimentation are more likely to drive innovation within their teams and organizations. They encourage a culture of creativity and continuous improvement.


Effective leaders can look at every individual they lead and figure out how best to develop, coach, and motivate them as individuals to obtain the most outstanding outcomes from them. A truly effective leader empowers their team members to accomplish the business objectives and achieve their full potential.

Leaders who lack this skill risk the same level of impact, but in the opposite direction. Leaders who fail to empower their team members may see them leave or stagnate, likely resulting in outcomes that miss the mark.

Serving as a positive coach and mentor to team members can have an immeasurable impact on them professionally and personally. Learning to fill this role should be a priority for anyone who is or plans to lead others.


Great leaders improve organizational performance through innovation. They encourage applying original and creative thinking to existing and emerging business models, processes, and products.

Developing the capability to envision, foster, and apply innovation is fundamental to leadership today. Driving innovation means using good judgment to determine how, where, and when that innovation will deploy to maximize business value. It also means finding ways to get the most creative thinking from the team. Creativity and innovation go hand-in-hand, and great leaders provide a welcoming home for original, imaginative thinking.

This skill brings the list of attributes to a close. By any name, when combined, they create great leaders, and great leaders build great teams that deliver exceptional results for their organizations.

The above seven qualities are a tremendous overall metric of the skills and mindset of a leader. But, since leadership comprises much more than those general skills. If we’re to dig deeper into the role to give interested readers a look at the life of a leader, then there are some hard skills to consider in conjunction with the general attributes listed above. There are roughly five hard skills every leader should have:

Five leadership hard skills

  1. Financial Management: Leaders must often make budgetary decisions and understand financial reports. Financial leadership skills: budgeting, financial analysis, and fiscal responsibility.
  2. Project Management: Leading projects efficiently and effectively is a crucial leadership skill that involves project planning, resource allocation, risk management, and project evaluation.
  3. Data Analysis: In today’s data-driven world, leaders need to be able to analyze data to make informed decisions, so they need skills in data interpretation, statistical analysis, and data-driven decision-making.
  4. Strategic Planning: Leaders must be able to create and execute long-term strategic plans; they must understand setting goals, formulating strategies, and aligning organizational objectives.
  5. Technology Proficiency: Leaders need to be tech-savvy as technology becomes increasingly integrated into business processes. Leaders must develop skills in software use and technology tools relevant to their industry.

Top leadership personality traits

In addition to these hard skills, one should consider these five personality traits to improve leadership quality: extraversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, and emotional stability — all of which influence an individual’s leadership style and effectiveness.

It’s important to note that there is no universally “best” combination of personality traits and skills for leadership. Influential leaders can possess a variety of personality profiles, and success often depends on how these traits are leveraged and adapted to specific leadership contexts and situations. Furthermore, leadership skills can be developed and refined over time, allowing individuals to compensate for certain traits through training and self-awareness.

How to improve and develop leadership skills

Leadership development strategies are an ongoing journey. Start with self-assessment, seeking feedback, and honing your emotional intelligence through coaching. Practice active listening and empathy to connect with your team. Embrace continuous learning through leadership training programs and mentorship. Foster a culture of innovation within your team and encourage open communication. Becoming a great leader involves a commitment to personal growth and a willingness to adapt to changing circumstances.

Leadership skills are the bedrock of success in today’s dynamic and competitive business world. Whether you’re an aspiring or seasoned leader, continuously refining and developing your leadership skills is vital for personal and organizational growth. Remember, great leaders are not born; they develop through a combination of self-awareness, collaboration, passion, open-mindedness, adaptability, empowerment, and innovation. So, take the initiative to cultivate these traits and inspire greatness in yourself and those around you.

To learn how to develop today’s great leaders, explore Skillsoft’s Leadership and Business Skills solutions. These resources can provide valuable insights and training to help you enhance your leadership skills and lead your team to success.