4 Essential Types of Skills that All Leaders Need

by Phillip Braddy

Ask any leadership coach or expert what’s needed to be an effective leader, and many of them will provide a laundry list of skills to master.

Although it’s true that leaders need to be equipped with numerous skills, fortunately these skills can be simplified and more easily understood by grouping them into a typology that consists of 4 broad types or categories of skills.

This typology was discovered by Steve Scullen, a professor at Drake University, and colleagues by factor analyzing leadership skill ratings collected via two 360 assessments.

The 4 skill types include:

4 Skills In Leaders Need Infographic

  1. Technical skills – the specific methods and techniques related to a leader’s functional area. They may include but are not limited to:
    • Mastering vocabulary, work unit knowledge, and operating rules in order to understand how a business works.
    • Understanding the technical knowledge that is needed to do one’s job.
    • Mastering new job-related skills quickly.
  2. Administrative skills – include areas such as planning, organizing, delegating, coordinating, and staffing. More specific skills may include but are not limited to:
    • Setting direction for one’s work group.
    • Linking one’s work responsibilities to the organization’s overall mission.
    • Taking charge and/or action when needed.
    • Engaging in problem solving.
    • Delegating appropriate tasks to direct reports.
    • Hiring and building teams with talented people.
    • Adapting operational plans as needed.
    • Making good decisions in a timely manner.
  3. Human skills – refer to a leader’s ability to work effectively with his or her work teams. More specific skills may include but are not limited to:
    • Remaining calm and positive when things are not going well.
    • Being pleasant and having interpersonal warmth.
    • Showing interest in others’ needs and goals.
    • Investing in and developing others.
    • Inspiring others to be committed to their work.
    • Maintaining good working relationships with others.
    • Gaining the trust, cooperation, and respect of others.
    • Resolving conflict without alienating people.
  4. Citizenship behaviors – capture other beneficial aspects of work behavior that are typically voluntary in nature. They may include but are not limited to:
    • Helping direct reports and team members with non-work-related problems.
    • Displaying enjoyment and enthusiasm for working hard.
    • Volunteering to assume new job responsibilities when the organization is in need (without extra compensation – at least in the short-term).
    • Being loyal or committed to one’s organization.

How do we know that these skills really matter?

A recent study at CCL and Davidson College expanded on the work by Steve Scullen and colleagues and demonstrated empirically that all 4 skill types are related to leaders’ actual effectiveness, or success, at work.

That is, leaders with more technical, administrative, and human skills, as well as higher levels of citizenship behaviors, were perceived by their bosses to be more effective leaders as compared to leaders who were not as adept at these skills.

Additionally, although leaders need all 4 skill types, some are more important than others. Our study revealed that administrative and human skills are more critical to a leader’s perceived effectiveness than are technical skills and citizenship behaviors.

Are these skills equally important regardless of gender and organizational level?

We found all 4 skill types to be equally important for both men and women leaders. Men and women were also equally adept at utilizing human, administrative, and technical skills, but women engaged in more citizenship behaviors than men.

Human skills, technical skills, and citizenship behaviors appear to be equally important to the success of middle-level leaders and upper-level executives; however, while administrative skills are important for middle-level leaders, they are even more critical to upper-level executives’ effectiveness at work.

Middle-level leaders and upper-level executives seem to be equally adept at utilizing human, administrative, and technical skills, but upper-level executives engage in more citizenship behaviors as compared to middle-level leaders.

Key Lessons

The main lesson from our study is simple: virtually anyone occupying a leadership position should try to develop their skills in the 4 areas previously described. If a leader’s time is limited, however, he or she would likely be better served to focus on improving his or her administrative and human skills.

While all 4 types of skills may need to be applied differently depending on leaders’ specific work contexts, these skills should help most leaders achieve greater effectiveness at work and, in turn, improve their work team’s performance and productivity.

*The content of this blog is based on the following publications:

Scullen, S. E., Mount, M. K., & Judge, T. A. (2003). Evidence of the construct validity of

developmental ratings of managerial performance. Journal of Applied Psychology88, 50-66.


Tonidandel, S., Braddy, P. W., & Fleenor, J. W. (2012). Relative importance of

managerial skills for predicting effectiveness. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 27, 636-655.



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