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Leadership Skills for Work

10 Skills of Effective Leaders in the Workplace

You’ve got the passion it takes to be a great leader; now it’s the time to hone the skills needed to be an effective one. Whether you’re the leader of a project, running your own company or looking to become a better leader in life, there are certain soft skills — key leadership skills — that are important for any leader to develop!

From communication to the ability to delegate work, we’ve developed a list of 10 skills needed to be a leader and help you grow in your abilities.

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

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 will 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 skills should a leader possess when it comes to communication?

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

2. Agility

Things in business (and life) are constantly changing. 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!

Photo of a team laying out business materials (print-outs, paperwork, post-it notes, sticky notes, diagrams, charts and graphs) during a meeting to update their strategy.

Agility is one of the most important skills to have as a leader because no matter how much you plan, you’ll have to make shifts, 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!

Agility-related skills a leader should have:

  • Flexibility
  • Prioritization
  • Embracing and managing change
  • Problem-solving
  • Decision-making
  • Responsibility
  • Positive thinking

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!). And 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 have when it comes to earning respect and trust?

  • Dependability
  • Collaboration
  • Making time for your team
  • Accepting responsibility
  • Strong work ethic
  • Respecting others
  • Leading by example
  • Asking for feedback

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 that you can delegate tasks and projects effectively and fairly across your team.

Without allotting tasks properly, your team could feel burned out, accuse you of playing favorites and projects could take longer to do than necessary — delegate work to play 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 cannot only get the work done themselves but help the group get the work done as a unit — and remember to give credit to the team for getting it done.

One way to implement this skill as a leader is by asking your team members what they enjoy doing in their roles. If you have someone on your team who excels at creating data analyses, make sure to include them when data work is needed. You’ll play to your team member’s strength and it shows you listen. Here are some key skills related to delegation:

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

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!

Motivation 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.

Photo of a man in a business suit providing encouragement to two women in business attire, sitting at a table and working on their laptops.

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.

Here are some motivation-related leadership skills at work:

  • Passionate
  • Positive attitude
  • Persuasive
  • Providing interesting and challenging work
  • Requesting feedback and input
  • Incentivizing
  • Recognizing accomplishments of others
  • Mentorship
  • Allowing for autonomy

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 they’ll respect your transparency.

What are some skills related to accountability?

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

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 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. The better you as a leader are at this, the better your team will be!

How 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 as a PDF, and make sure to send future reports in that format too?” instead. A slight change in tone can be a difference maker in how your employee receives the message!

Here is how you give and receive feedback:

  • Transparency
  • Honesty
  • Clarity
  • Positive reinforcement
  • Requesting feedback
  • Active listening
  • Following up
  • Coaching
  • Mentoring

8. Creativity

When it comes to establishing a vision for a group, tackling an abnormal problem, coming up with something innovative or working to strategically meet a goal, creativity is key. The ability to think outside the box is essential for any leader that seeks to grow and help their team work more effectively. As a leader, your ability to think big and bold can facilitate 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 you all can bounce ideas off each other without needing a concrete solution. This innovative strategy will help employees share their thoughts and facilitate creative solutions.

Photo of a person in a suit taking notes with post-its or sticky notes on a paper pad on an easel as part of a brainstorming session.

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!

What are some leadership skills related to creativity?

  • Innovative
  • Daring
  • Critical thinking
  • Imaginative
  • Open-mindedness
  • Observation
  • Sound judgment
  • Ability to connect abstract concepts

9. Empathy

For any leader to be effective in communicating and understanding 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 well. Being able to empathize with things like burnout, home stressors and work-life balance will help you gain trust and respect with 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 that their child is home sick, look to see if your company offers flexible policies that would allow them to work from home for the day or take the afternoon off. 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!

Photo of a working mom in her kitchen, assisting her young child while also completing work on her laptop.

Here are some leadership skills related to empathy:
  • Caring
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Compassion
  • Understanding
  • Fostering communication
  • Emotional expression
  • Active listening
  • Intuitive

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 that you place yourself as a part of the team, not above it.

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

So, what does humility look like?

  • Giving credit to your team
  • Accepting responsibility
  • Asking for input
  • Using team-oriented language
  • Teamwork
  • Delegation
  • Lead by example

Ready to Become an Impactful Leader?

To review, 10 skills you need to be an effective leader in the workplace include:

  1. Communication
  2. Agility
  3. Trust & Respect
  4. Delegation
  5. Motivation & Passion
  6. Accountability
  7. Give & Receive Feedback
  8. Creativity
  9. Empathy
  10. Humility

None of these skills can 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 1-2 of these skills over the next few months, then come back and reflect on how you’ve improved and set a new focus. Dedicate yourself to growing in these areas, and it will surely pay off!

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

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Related Topics: Career