Leader waiving to his coworkers during a remote meeting.

10 Skills of Effective Leaders in the Workplace

Updated April 2, 2024 . AmFam Team

You’ve got the passion it takes to be a great leader. Now’s the time to hone the skills you need to be an effective one. Whether you lead projects, run your own company or want to become a better leader in life, there are certain soft skills — key leadership skills — that are important to develop.

From communicating effectively to delegating work, we’ve developed a list of 10 essential leadership skills with tips to help you strengthen each one.

Smiling coworkers presenting ideas during a meeting.

Ready to Refine Your Leadership Skills?

So, what skills do you need to be a good leader?

The top 10 skills you need to be an effective leader in the workplace include:

  • Communication
  • Agility
  • Trust and Respect
  • Delegation
  • Motivation and Passion
  • Accountability
  • Willingness to Give and Receive Feedback
  • Creativity
  • Empathy
  • Humility

These skills can't be learned overnight. It takes practice and experience to master the art of leadership, and even then, you’ll always have more learning to do! A great leader understands that leadership is a constant process of growth.

Set a goal to focus on one or two of these skills over the next few months, then reflect on how you’ve improved and set a new focus. Dedicate yourself to growing in these areas, and it will surely pay off.

Now, let's take a closer look at each of these leadership skills.

Two coworkers having a discussion.

1. Communication

Communication is one of the most important skills to master as a good leader. Have you ever heard the phrase “communication is key” in a relationship? Well, it’s no different in business relationships.

Communication is the foundation of trust. The more effective you are at being transparent, expressing your struggles and facilitating healthy conversations, the better equipped your team will be — and the more they’ll trust you as a leader.

The first step to becoming a better communicator is becoming a good listener. As a leader, it’s essential to actively listen to your team to help them feel heard. Communication is a two-way street and building off of what others say can help create a collaborative atmosphere.

Next time you’re in a meeting, work on your active listening skills: take notes, make good eye contact and react to what others say with respectful body language like nodding your head.

What communication skills should a leader possess?

  • Active listening
  • Storytelling
  • Public speaking
  • Facilitating group conversation
  • Presenting
  • Articulation
  • Nonverbal communication
  • Conciseness

Smiling coworkers reviewing notes.

2. Agility

Business — and life — change constantly. When a deadline falls through or a key team member suddenly has to drop out of a project, all eyes will turn to you — as the leader — for guidance. In a situation like this, you’ll need to be quick on your feet to figure out how to move forward.

Agility is one of the most important skills to have as a leader because no matter how much you plan, you’ll have to shift, pivot and take action.

Don’t be afraid to lead a change of direction if a project or initiative isn’t achieving the results you expected or if a change in the market or industry makes a previously good idea less effective. By being quick and nimble, you’ll help your team stay on top and keep your customers happy.

Leaders with agility-related skills should be able to:

  • Be flexible
  • Know how to prioritize
  • Embrace and manage change
  • Solve problems
  • Make decisions
  • Take responsibility for their actions and decisions
  • Think positively

Coworkers having a chat during a coffee break.

3. Trust and Respect

An effective leader must have the respect of the individuals they manage, as well as their upper management, to operate effectively in a work environment. To get that respect, you’ve got to start with trust — your team won’t respect you as their leader if they can’t trust you as an individual.

One way you can earn your team's trust and respect is by being fair and honest with everyone, including yourself. That means celebrating successes and owning up to mistakes — they make great learning opportunities for you and your team. When colleagues provide honest, constructive feedback on your work, accept it with gratitude and use it to improve your future endeavors.

Also, be sure to recognize everyone who helped complete a project. The next time you give a presentation or deliver a project to upper management, take a moment to give credit to your team members who contributed to the work. This will show that you respect and appreciate their work and will go a long way in earning their trust and respect in turn.

So, what skills does a leader need to earn respect and trust?

  • Dependability
  • Collaborative approach
  • Willingness to make time for the team
  • Accepts responsibility
  • Strong work ethic
  • Respects others
  • Leads by example
  • Asks for feedback

Leader giving instructions to his teammate.

4. Delegation

Having the ability to get a lot of work done and handle things by yourself is great, but being a true leader means you can delegate tasks and projects effectively and fairly across your team.

Without allotting tasks properly, your team could feel burned out or accuse you of playing favorites, which could cause projects to take longer than necessary to complete.

Instead, try to delegate work so it plays to people's strengths, including your own. Contrary to what you may think, delegation is not a sign of weakness in a leader — it’s a sign of strength. A true leader helps their team get the work done as a unit. Just remember to give credit where credit is due.

One way to implement this skill as a leader is to ask your team members what they enjoy doing in their roles. If you have someone on your team who excels at data analysis, make sure to include them when data work is needed. You’ll play to your team member’s strengths and show you listen. 

Here are some key skills related to delegation:

  • Allocating resources
  • Prioritizing
  • Setting clear expectations
  • Knowing the strengths/weaknesses of team members
  • Open communication
  • Facilitating team meetings
  • Teamwork
  • Time management

Leader receiving praise from her team.

5. Motivation and Passion

Let’s face it — sometimes, work just isn’t that exciting. A project may not fit your team’s personal interests, seem tedious or feel flat-out boring. As a leader, you must have the ability to create excitement and passion, motivate your team and keep them inspired.

The ability to motivate others is one of the professional leadership skills that can turn a good leader into a great one. Once mastered, you’ll be able to tackle any and every project with the same passion as the last, and your team will move more efficiently and enjoy the process much more because of it.

For a large or long-term project, separate the work into short, easily achievable benchmark tasks. When employees complete a short-term goal in the project, give them a shout-out at your team’s meeting and celebrate the work done so far. Try to reward your team for completing every step of the process with verbal affirmation and recognition to keep them excited about the upcoming task.

Leaders with motivation-related leadership skills are:

  • Passionate
  • Positive
  • Persuasive
  • Capable of providing interesting and challenging work
  • Willing to request feedback and input
  • Incentivizing
  • Eager to recognize the accomplishments of others
  • Mentors
  • Open to autonomy

Two coworkers having a discussion.

6. Accountability

Accountability is a skill that goes beyond holding your employees accountable for their mistakes and even beyond holding yourself responsible. True accountability means that as a leader, you are willing to shoulder the responsibility for a project's successes and failures.

If you make an error, use it as a teaching moment with your team. Show them where you made the mistake and how they can avoid making the same slip-up. The more growth and transparency you show in owning up to your own mistakes, the more receptive your team will be when you hold them accountable to theirs.

Accountability also means following through on your promises. If you say you’re going to do something, you should do everything in your power to make it happen. And if an unforeseen circumstance prevents you from hitting a deadline, be proactive and communicate what’s happening with your team in advance. Your team will understand (life happens) and respect your transparency.

What are some skills related to accountability?

  • Owning up to mistakes
  • Following through on deadlines
  • Recognizing the achievements of others
  • Setting clear expectations
  • Correcting mistakes
  • Over communicating

Two coworkers having a discussion.

7. Give and Receive Feedback

Whether an employee missed the mark on a project, a team member suggests a new tactic to approach a task, or somebody isn’t satisfied with how the group is functioning, it’s important to be transparent and give constructive feedback. Feedback is an essential part of the development of a team. Learning to give and receive feedback with your team productively is a vital skill to learn as a leader.

Teams that know how to give and constructively receive feedback can help facilitate better outcomes and feel more cohesive. Making feedback part of your normal routines will help keep everyone’s minds open to new ways of thinking and helps them spot opportunities for improvement. As a leader, the better you are at this, the better your team will be.

The way you give feedback matters, too. If an employee sends a file in the wrong format, instead of replying with “This report was saved in the wrong format,” focus more on the opportunity to improve rather than the mistake itself. Try, “Thank you for sending this report. Can you please re-send it as a PDF, and make sure to send future reports in that format, too?” instead. A slight change in tone can make a big difference in how your employee receives the message.

When you give and receive feedback, try to be:

  • Transparent
  • Honest
  • Clear
  • Ready to offer positive reinforcement
  • Willing to receive feedback
  • An active listener
  • Proactive in following up
  • A coach
  • A mentor

Coworkers laughing together during a meeting.

8. Creativity

When it comes to establishing a vision for a group, tackling a challenging problem, coming up with something innovative, or working strategically to meet a goal, creativity is key. The ability to think outside the box is essential for any leader who seeks to grow and help their team work more effectively. As a leader, your ability to think big and bold can be an important asset to a team that excels creatively and finds innovative solutions.

You can boost creative energy on your team by setting up monthly, low-pressure creative huddles. Work with your team to identify some opportunities and areas of improvement, then set up some time where everyone can bounce ideas off each other without needing a concrete solution. This innovative strategy will help employees share their thoughts and facilitate creative solutions.

And remember, what may seem like a bad idea at first still deserves consideration — it may contain a hidden spark of brilliance when examined more closely.

A person with creative leadership skills is often:

  • Innovative
  • Daring
  • A critical thinker
  • Imaginative
  • Open-minded
  • Observant
  • Able to make sound judgments
  • Able to connect abstract concepts

Parent working from home while watching his children.

9. Empathy

For any leader to effectively communicate with and understand their team, they must be caring and empathetic. Empathy is the ability to hear where others are coming from and understand their feelings.

A great leader not only understands the professional skills of their team members but also seeks a deeper, personal understanding of them as people. Being able to empathize with things like burnout, home stressors and work-life balance will help you gain trust and respect from your employees. At the end of the day, we’re all human — and like all humans, your team wants to feel appreciated and heard.

If an employee approaches you and lets you know their child is sick, allow them to work from home or take the afternoon off, if possible. If you can, offer to sit in on a meeting for them or take over a small project while they are away. These small gestures make a big difference.

Here are some leadership skills related to empathy:

  • Caring
  • Emotionally intelligent
  • Compassionate
  • Understanding
  • Fostering communication
  • Emotionally expressive
  • Active listener
  • Intuitive
Two coworkers giving each other a fist bump.  

10. Humility

As a leader, it can be natural to want to pat yourself on the back or take credit for your team’s accomplishments.

But a great leader knows how important it is to remain humble. Humility shows you place yourself as a part of the team, not above it.

Humility is strongly tied to other key leadership skills. That means admitting when you’re wrong (accountability), acknowledging you have opportunities to improve (giving and receiving feedback), recognizing others’ contributions (establishing trust and respect) and staying open to change and new ways of working (developing agility and creativity).

So, what does humility look like?

  • Giving credit to your team
  • Accepting responsibility
  • Asking for input
  • Using team-oriented language
  • Fostering teamwork
  • Delegating
  • Leading by example

Ready to show off your amazing leadership skills? Learn about American Family’s culture and values — and be sure to ask if we have any open roles that match your unique talents.

This article is for informational purposes only and based on information that is widely available. We do not make any guarantees or promise any results based on this information.

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