The most successful leaders have not only mastered technical skills, they’ve also mastered soft skills.
Commonly known as “people” or interpersonal skills, soft skills like negotiating, building morale, and maintaining relationships are key to a leader’s success.
In the age of automation these skills are becoming even more important. Although some tasks at work will be automated, soft skills like emotional intelligence and the ability to teach, won’t be. Learning to foster these skills may be key to succeeding regardless of how much of your job is taken over by tech, according to Harvard Business Review.
In fact, LinkedIn’s CEO Jeff Weiner said soft skills are more important than knowing how to code in today’s job environment. A recent study even found that when managers can’t effectively communicate with their employees or help them accomplish their career goals, workers jump ship.
Here are 20 soft skills leaders need to be successful — as well as tips to hone them — from ResourcefulManager, a website dedicated to helping managers become more effective at their jobs.
Katherine Noel contributed to a previous version of this article.
The best communicators are not just skilled at articulating their own thoughts, they’re also great listeners
We tend to associate being the loudest voice in the room with power and control, but successful leaders understand the importance of listening to others’ thoughts and ideas.
Tip: Give the speaker your undivided attention, take notes, reserve judgment, and be open to opinions.
The ability to communicate well is essential to forming and maintaining relationships.
Leaders who have mastered the exchange of ideas can more effectively manage employees and create a productive work environment.
Tip: Communicate with courtesy, show confidence, back up statements with facts, and try to avoid tentative language like “might,” “maybe,” “possibly,” and “ASAP.”
A person’s body language can often be more important than what he or she is actually saying
A classic piece of research, while sometimes contested, posits that the words we choose have just a 7% impact on the listener’s interpretation, while body language has a 55% impact.
Tip: Maintain eye contact while speaking to show respect and sincerity, hold good posture to project confidence, avoid gestures that are distracting or convey disinterest such as crossed arms or fidgeting with clothing/jewelry, and make sure facial expressions align with the message being communicated.
Good leaders can deliver bad news tactfully
No one wants to be the bearer of bad news, but any leader knows that it’s all part of the job. The ability to deliver unfortunate news tactfully is what sets good leaders apart.
Tip: Deliver bad news in person rather than via email or memo, take responsibility, be as honest as possible, and give employees an opportunity to respond and discuss how the news affects them.
Knowing how to say no to people is a mark of good communication
In any leadership position, saying no to employees and ideas is a huge part of the job. The ability to turn people down sensitively is critical.
Tip: Empathize with people when saying no to let them know you understand the situation, explain your reasoning for saying no, and end the conversation on a positive note by offering another way to help.
Leaders have good negotiation skills, and know how to find solutions that work for everyone.
Most leaders are negotiating throughout the day — with clients, with employees, and with friends and family. The most successful negotiators remain fair and considerate of others’ desires while pushing for what they want.
Tip: Look at the situation through the other person’s eyes, be prepared to offer several options, show that you’ve heard and understood the other side, and offer to help out in some way to demonstrate that you’re a team player.
Connecting with employees and colleagues is imperative for effective communication
Cordial relationships between managers and their employees are absolutely essential to creating a cohesive and productive work environment.
Tip: Always use people’s names when speaking to them, show interest in employees’ lives, express appreciation and recognize contributions, and make your colleagues feel important.
Leaders can criticize others respectfully and productively
For leaders overseeing employees who may not be performing at the optimum level, giving criticism is extremely important in maintaining high standards and producing work that meets those standards.
Tip: Give criticism in private, don’t point fingers, don’t sugarcoat the problem, be specific about what you want to change, and ask for the person’s input so they feel they’re part of the solution.
Leaders must know how to deal with difficult employees whose behavior and attitudes can jeopardize workplace harmony.
Leaders must know how to deal with these employees, especially because others will judge the leader based on how he or she handles the situation.
Tip: Tackle the problem as soon as possible instead of waiting to deal with it, rely on documented information when pointing out unacceptable behavior, implement a plan for correcting the behavior, and follow up daily to ensure the positive change is permanent.
Good leaders are friendly, but they don’t get too personal at work.
Maintaining professionalism can be extremely difficult for leaders who are friendly with many of their employees, but recognizing the line between work life and personal life (and striking a balance in between) is critical.
Tip: Establish clear boundaries if you work with friends, be fair to all subordinates regardless of friendships, and avoid any special treatment or favors.
Good leaders adapt to changes.
People respond to change in many different ways. In professional settings, employees will often look to their leaders during times of change for reassurance, guidance, and a sense of stability.
Tip: Give employees the opportunity to share their thoughts, focus on the positive, and remain available to answer questions.
Effective communicators can respond to resistance without getting defensive.
Leaders will always face resistance, and the way they handle opposition determines a great deal about how they are perceived.
Tip: Handle resistance gracefully by focusing on the issue and remaining non-confrontational, taking responsibility if you contributed to an issue, and asking for the resistors’ help in coming to a resolution.
Leaders are constantly receiving and responding to complaints from employees.
Strong leadership skills mean handling complaints with tact and fairness.
Tip: Set the example by not complaining yourself, ask complainers questions to turn them into part of the solution, and consider establishing a rule that you can’t complain unless you also offer a resolution to the problem.
Communication and good manners go hand-in-hand.
People who are polite stand out and are well liked. Not only do good manners help cement positive relationships with employees, they also set an example for the rest of the office to follow.
Tip: Respect people’s time and be early for meetings. Don’t use the speaker phone except when necessary, don’t interrupt, and be sure to say please and thank you.
Communicators stay respectful during arguments.
The way a leader conducts him- or herself in an argument says a lot about people skills. The best leaders always keep their cool, remain open to other points of view, and strive for fairness.
Tip: Find middle ground, be polite, keep a calm and steady voice, avoid pushing the other person’s buttons during an argument, and focus on moving forward.
Delegating helps leaders make time for urgent tasks.
While delegation may seem like a simple task, it actually requires a great deal of finesse and people skills to motivate employees to do the work and get it done effectively.
Tip: Make the goal clear and be specific about the expected results, lay out challenges and discuss obstacles employees may face, and offer available resources.
One of the most important responsibilities of leaders is building and maintaining morale in the workplace.
Employees at every company sometimes get discouraged and stressed, and they need a strong leader who prioritizes their emotional needs.
Tip: Regularly communicate information, changes, and company news so employees don’t feel out of the loop. Provide growth opportunities, and explain the impact your employees have on the company and its mission.
Leaders know how to recognize and verbally praise good work.
The best leaders are adept at expressing recognition beyond a simple pat on the back.
Tip: Recognize people for different types of accomplishments, celebrate good work at meetings where others can congratulate them, and make the praise personal.
Leaders don’t let bad behavior ruin corporate culture.
Leaders need to be able to identify and eliminate bad employee behaviors that could have a negative impact on clients, productivity, or office morale.
Tip: Watch out for behaviors like tardiness, interrupting others, invading other people’s personal space, inappropriate humor or remarks, and incessant complaining.
Good leaders know when it’s time to take a break and recharge.
Work-life balance is not only key to keeping employees happy, it’s also crucial for productivity. Leaders recognize that allowing employees time to rest and recharge outside of the office will help them be more productive when they are on the clock.
Tip: Lead by example. Leaders should make sure they’re spending time away from the office as well.