Leadership competencies: A step by step guide to understanding leadership competencies

Leadership competencies: A step-by-step guide to understanding leadership competencies


The skills and actions of a leader that contribute to outstanding performance are known as leadership competencies. Every industry relies on effective leadership. According to Go Remotely in 2019, 77% of businesses had leadership voids. This is because employers look for individuals who have demonstrated leadership competencies.


Demonstrating that you are a capable leader in your profession will help you become a useful member of your team and help you land that leadership role. This is why you should consider examining your leadership competencies if you want to become a leader in your workplace or if you want to improve your current leadership skills. In this white paper, we will explore leadership competencies that can enhance your influence as a leader.

What is leadership?

Leadership lessons from tech to take into the future and why

According to Forbes, leadership is a social influence technique that leverages the efforts of others to attain a goal. It has nothing to do with a person’s seniority or their position in the hierarchy of the organisation. People often think that when they reach a certain pay grade leadership automatically happens but that is not the case.


Leadership has nothing to do with titles but rather it stems from social influence. McKinsey published in 2020 that 82% of leaders must have a clear sense of purpose. This is because they will be empowering others. These others needed for leadership do not necessarily have to be direct reports to the leader. Good leadership comes in a variety of methods and paths. It is often revealed in times of crisis especially in this COVID-19 pandemic era.

A good leader must always project a strong sense of optimism, especially when transmitting the idea that things will improve soon. According to a recent 2021 survey by PWC, 76% of top worldwide executives believe global economic growth would improve in the next 12 months. Strong leadership has an impact on culture and is crucial to an organisation’s long-term success.

Related: How to add leadership skills to your resume

What are competencies?

Competencies are the underlying features, traits, attributes, or qualities that a person exhibits when approaching work. They are observable behaviours that describe how to perform a job, but they do not define the technical abilities and knowledge required to complete the job.

Competencies can help identify the development activities that may be needed to help personal improvement and the achievement of potential. Competencies can assist in identifying the development activities that may be required to aid personal growth and potential attainment. Identifying and defining good behaviours can assist in determining what talents one already possesses and where more development is required.

What are leadership competencies?

Leadership competencies are the abilities and characteristics that make one an effective leader. A team’s trust and devotion in their leader grows as a result of their leader’s expertise in or ability to demonstrate these qualities. To boost a team’s productivity, effective leaders inspire, motivate, and facilitate. A leader’s worth is determined not by their accomplishments, but by the accomplishments of their entire team.

According to Hollenbeck, McCall & Silser 2006, leadership competencies are a precise set of knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSA) that constitute effective leadership within an organisation is known as leadership competencies. Therefore there isn’t a single set of leadership skills that applies to all industries and organisations. Within the same organisation, different leadership positions may necessitate diverse sets of knowledge, skills, and talents.

As a result, many businesses use a leadership competence framework, which is a collection of competencies that have been identified as critical to success and are relevant to their leaders and organisations. Effective succession planning is very important since it necessitates the development of these skills.

Types of leadership competencies

Researchers at the Center for Creative Leadership have found that some important leadership competencies are consistent across organisations. These skills and competencies are required by any leader regardless of the industry or organisation in which they work. The Human Resources department can make better-informed judgments about hiring, developing, and promoting leaders if they can recognise and understand key leadership skills.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) divides competencies into three categories:

  • Competencies for leading an organisation
  • Capabilities in leading people
  • Competencies for self-leadership

Other classifications are also conceivable. For example, Deloitte distinguishes between developable capabilities taught characteristics that evolve and indicate what a leader can do and leadership potential natural characteristics that are difficult to develop, stable over time, and reflect how a person is.

Competencies for leading an organisation

The following list shows the examples of competencies required for leading an organisation:

  • Coping with change: Organisations are always changing. Some of these changes are minor, while others occur gradually over time. The automation and/or digitisation processes that many firms are currently through are good examples of this. Effective leaders know how to prepare, support, and lead their teams through a variety of organisational transitions.
  • Decision-making and problem-solving: Because decision-making is at the heart of a leader’s operations, it is one of the most important leadership skills. A smart leader knows when to choose their own, when to ask their team or peers for their input, and, perhaps most significantly, when to step back and let others make the decision.
  • Getting involved in politics and influencing others: This is a leadership skill that entails assisting others in the organisation in preventing or resolving interpersonal disputes, whether they are fellow leaders or members of the team. The reconciliation competency, as defined by organisational theorist Fons Trompenaars, is tied to conflict management. As Trompenaars puts it, reconciliation is the art of integrating. Rather than choosing between two opposing points of view or asking people to compromise, to find a method to bring them together.
  • Taking chances and coming up with new ideas: Leaders are not scared to try something new in the world, even if it will be ridiculed. Taking risks is an important part of being creative and producing novel ideas. Taking risks, on the other hand, does not imply entering a business blindly. It is critical to try out fresh ideas that will most likely help your organisation expand. Leaders that are open to new ideas and prepared to take chances might invite their colleagues to come up with innovative ideas as well.
  • Establishing a vision and a strategy: People want to continue to work for a leader because of the organisation’s vision, which is what the organisation wants to be in the future based on its aims and aspirations. Leaders must be able to communicate the organisation’s vision effectively. It should enlist the support of both internal and external stakeholders.
  • Supervising the work: Employees’ activities and responsibilities should be overseen by a leader. It is a critical job role at all levels of an organisation’s leadership. A leader’s common tasks include coaching, training, and employee development.
  • Improving business knowledge and capabilities: A leader should ensure that employees’ knowledge and abilities are passed on to the next generation. By making better use of in-house skills, corporate efficiency should improve.
  • Gaining an understanding of the organisation and navigating it: Social intelligence, according to Psychology Today, is one of the best predictors of good leadership and hence one of the top leadership characteristics. Our ability to comprehend various social circumstances and dynamics is referred to as social intelligence. It also includes our ability to function effectively in a variety of social settings.

Capabilities in leading people

The following list shows the examples of competencies required for leading people:

  • Exhibiting integrity and ethics: Professor Frances Frei of Harvard Business School explains the three components of trust in the video on this link. The three components are being genuine, having a logic that is rigorous and empathy which are all crucial to ensure integrity and ethics.
  • Demonstrating motivation and determination: Good leaders understand how to establish a welcoming work atmosphere for all employees. They ensure that all employees are treated fairly and respectfully, that they have equal access to opportunities and resources, and that they can engage and grow. To put it another way, good leaders are welcoming. According to Harvard Business Review research, inclusive leaders share the following six characteristics: A dedication that can be seen, humility, a consciousness of bias, a desire to learn about others, effective teamwork requires cultural intelligence.
  • Showing that you are a leader: People skills or soft skills are other terms for interpersonal abilities. Active listening, providing and accepting feedback, (non) verbal communication, problem-solving abilities, and teamwork are just a few examples.
  • Improving your learning capacity: Now is the time for do-it-yourself job growth. Advanced training is offered less frequently by organisations; this has been a trend for years. According to a Harvard Business Review analysis, we rarely rise alone and are best prepared to learn and grow our skills as a group. This encourages the formation of similar networks, particularly within organisations and teams.
  • People management: Good people management is critical when it comes to leading others. This entails managing the training, growth, motivation, and day-to-day administration of staff, depending on the leadership level. Clarity, context, consistency, courage, and commitment are the five c’s of people management that good leaders instil in their teams.
  • Improved self-awareness: Our ability to understand people’s emotions and emotional circumstances is referred to as emotional intelligence. It is also about our ability to recognise and control our feelings. Various elements make up emotional intelligence which are self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, social skill.
  • Strengthening adaptability: Leaders must be a variety of things to a variety of people. One of them is being an effective coach, not only to their teammates but also to their peers. Knowing when to (gently) push someone outside of their comfort zone, providing meaningful feedback when needed, and assisting people in finding their vision are all examples of this. A word about trustworthiness is necessary here, not just because trust is essential for a successful coaching relationship, but also because it is essential for a successful coaching relationship. It’s also crucial for leaders to develop and maintain strong relationships with the people they supervise.

Competencies for self-leadership

The following list shows the examples of competencies required for self-leading:

  • Resilience: Leaders are frequently required to make judgments. Not every decision will be simple, and sometimes doing something or not doing something entails taking a (significant) risk. That takes a lot of guts. Courage also entails standing up for your values and people and, when necessary, defending them in front of others.
  • Self-management: This applies to your workload, emotions, and schedule, among other things. If you want to lead others, you must first be able to govern yourself in the broadest meaning of the word. Of course, everyone has their method for accomplishing this, but being well-organised, planning, and prioritising are all essential.
  • Expertise in the industry: People do switch jobs, organisations, and industries more frequently now than they did five years ago. Yes, some innovations happen so quickly that it may seem impossible to keep up with them with everything else on leaders’ to-do lists. Effective leaders, on the other hand, understand that developing a level of competence in the field and firm they lead is still necessary.
  • Agility in learning: If there is one thing we learnt from the year 2020, it is the importance of being able to quickly adapt to shifting conditions. This is true for everyone in the workplace, but it is especially true for leaders, who must assist and guide individuals and the company through these sometimes difficult times. As a result, agile leaders don’t fear change; rather, they welcome it. Learning agility, or the ability to constantly learn, unlearn, and relearn, is another quality of good leaders. They understand the importance of continuing to develop, grow, and employ new tactics to address the increasingly complicated difficulties they confront in their enterprises.

Leadership competencies examples

According to Harvard Business Review, leadership competencies have been centred on soft skills and emotional intelligence over the past few decades. The following are examples of some of the leadership competencies that are in existence:

Leading Organisations leadership competencies examples

  • External Awareness: Is aware of the organisation’s impact on the external environment and is aware of local, national, and international policies and trends that affect the organisation and form stakeholders’ perspectives.
  • Vision: Takes a long-term perspective and works with others to create a shared vision; functions as a catalyst for organisational development. Others are influenced to put their concept into action.
  • Strategic Thinking: Formulates objectives and priorities, as well as plans that are congruent with the organisation’s long-term interests in a global setting. Takes advantage of opportunities and mitigates hazards.
  • Entrepreneurship: Identifies new chances for the organisation’s future development; builds the organisation by developing or upgrading products or services. To achieve organisational goals, he takes measured risks.

Managing Programs leadership competencies examples

  • Creativity / Innovation: Develops new perspectives on circumstances, questions standard ways, promotes new ideas and inventions, and plans and implements innovative or cutting-edge programs/processes.
  • Partnering: Establishes networks and forges partnerships; collaborates across boundaries to forge strategic alliances and achieve common objectives.
  • Political Intelligence: Recognises the internal and external politics that affect the organisation’s work. Perceives and responds to organisational and political realities.
  • Technology Management: Maintains a current understanding of technological advancements. Makes good use of technology to get things done. Ensures that technology systems are accessible and secure.
  • Financial Management: Has a thorough understanding of the financial operations of the company. Prepares, defends, and manages the program’s budget. To accomplish the intended goals oversees procurement and contracts. Monitors spending and set priorities based on cost-benefit analysis.

Managing People leadership competencies examples

  • Conflict Resolution: Encourages creative tension and divergent viewpoints. Anticipates and takes actions to avoid counterproductive confrontations. Constructively manages and resolves problems and disagreements.
  • Public Service Motivation: Demonstrates a desire to help others. Ensures that activities are in line with public needs and that organisational goals and procedures are in line with public interests.
  • Others Development: Enhances others’ ability to perform and contribute to the organisation by offering ongoing feedback and chances to learn through formal and informal approaches.
  • Human Capital Management: Develops and manages a workforce following corporate objectives, budget constraints, and personnel requirements. Ensures that personnel are properly recruited, selected, rated, and rewarded, and that performance issues are addressed. Manages a multi-sector workforce and a wide range of work environments.
  • Diversity and Individual Differences are Cherished and Leveraged: Fosters an inclusive workplace where diversity and individual differences are valued and leveraged to fulfil the organisation’s vision and goal.

Managing Projects leadership competencies examples

  • Team Building: Inspires and creates a sense of unity, pride, and trust among teammates. Facilitates teamwork and motivates team members to achieve collective objectives.
  • Customer service: Anticipates and responds to internal and external customers’ demands. Delivers high-quality goods and services and is dedicated to improvement.
  • Technical Credibility: Understands and correctly applies specialised expertise principles, procedures, requirements, regulations, and policies.
  • Accountability: Holds oneself and others responsible for measurable, high-quality, timely, and cost-effective outcomes. Determines goals assign priorities and delegates tasks.
  • Acknowledges and accepts responsibility for errors: Follows established control systems and guidelines.
  • Decisiveness: Makes well-informed, effective, and timely decisions, even when data is limited or solutions have unfavourable outcomes; understands the impact and consequences of decisions.
  • Persuasion / Negotiation: Persuades others; builds consensus through give-and-take; obtains cooperation from others to obtain information and achieve goals..: Follows established control systems and guidelines.

Managing self-leadership competencies examples

  • Written Communication: Writes for the intended audience in a clear, concise, organised, and convincing manner.
  • Flexibility: Adapts quickly to new information, changing conditions, or unexpected obstacles; is open to change and new information.
  • Problem-solving: It entails identifying and analyzing issues, weighing the relevance and quality of information, developing and evaluating possible solutions, and making suggestions.
  • Integrity/Honesty: Acts in a way that is honest, fair, and ethical. Consistency in words and actions is demonstrated. Models high ethical standards.
  • Interpersonal Skills: Shows kindness, sensitivity, and respect for others. Thinks about and responds to the wants and sentiments of many people in various situations circumstances.
  • Continuous Learning: Evaluates and identifies one’s strengths and limitations; seeks to improve self-development.
  • Resilience: Deals well with pressure; remains upbeat and persistent even in the face of adversity. Quickly recovers from setbacks.
  • Oral Communication: Delivers clear and persuasive presentations. Listens effectively; as appropriate, clarifies information.

Why are leadership competencies important?

The future of work is promising an upcoming digital disruption. Most people are already wondering what jobs will be there in 2030 and whether or not their current jobs will still exist in 2030. It is important to ensure the essential leadership competencies are nurtured to remain competitive in this shifting business landscape. Leaders should be able to adapt quickly to ensure business continuity among other things. This is why leadership competencies are important as they help leaders navigate and perform their leadership functions well.

According to a survey by the Brandon Hall Group, 83% of the firms surveyed felt it was critical to strengthen leadership skills at all levels of an organisation. However, only 5% of that 83% have started or applied a strategy to improve leadership skills in their organisations. This is because many firms would rather hire experienced and proven successful leaders than risk entrusting the mantle of leadership to a newcomer. To stay safe it is better to develop these leadership competency skills to remain competitive and stand better chances of getting opportunities.

In a Gallup poll from 2018, only 22% of employees believe their bosses have a clear vision for their organisation. Leaders are paid to make decisions even when they are faced with uncertainty, but they can navigate through difficult moments by responding appropriately. Having a clear vision and objective prevents a company from following the crowd. Leaders must be capable of making decisions that are consistent with the brand promise. Workers believe their job is significant because of the company’s purpose and direction.

Having the essential leadership competencies matters as it also affects employee retention in organisations. According to a Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report, 52%of employees who switched jobs believe their previous employer or manager could have kept them from resigning. This is because, in their past workplaces, these employees did not feel safe or respected. They also didn’t believe the manager would prepare them for management positions. However, such incidents can be avoided when the required leadership competencies are developed and exhibited.

How to develop leadership competencies?

Leadership competencies can be developed by developing and executing a leadership development strategy. This plan should be adhered to and implemented for the competencies to be developed. The following is an overview of how the leadership competencies can be developed for each type of leadership competency:

  • Leadership competencies for managing the organisation – Peer mentoring and coaching, in combination with more formal training on themes like conflict management and change management, might be a viable option here.
  • Leadership competencies for leading peopleCoaching can help you develop leadership skills for leading others, especially in areas like providing and accepting feedback, active listening, and (non) verbal communication. People management training is also crucial depending on the level of leadership.
  • Leadership competencies for leading yourself – In terms of industry/company expertise, leaders may learn a lot about their firm, their product, and their people both from within the organisation and from others. They can take a course or attend a workshop to improve their planning and time management skills.


Leadership competencies vary depending on the industry, company, and even a leader’s position within an organisation. While some people are born with leadership abilities, they must be developed, honed, and channelled into the appropriate channels through successful training. According to The Conference Board and Development Dimensions International’s Global Leadership Forecast 2018, firms that take a more inclusive approach to leadership development are 4.2 times more likely to outperform those that limit development to management. Nevertheless, it is much better to develop leadership competencies as an individual to remain competitive and exhibit good leadership traits.


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