What are Leadership Competencies?

leadership competencies

There are many education and experience requirements for leadership positions. However, leadership competencies don’t fall into the category of qualifications you possess to get hired for a position. Instead, leadership competencies are a combination of knowledge and abilities that make you an effective leader in a given position or organization. When you consider the varied roles that leaders fill in an enormous number of industries, it quickly becomes obvious that the same competencies might not work for every leadership role.

Many researchers prefer to divide leadership competencies into categories that define types of leadership. For instance, SHRM divides competencies into the three categories of leading the organization, leading the self, and leading others. USDA adds two categories, managing programs and managing projects, to the mix. Some of the competencies in these groups overlap and some of them are useful in any leadership role.

While it’s safe to say that many leadership competencies can be learned and honed, mastery is rooted in personal behavior. So, when striving to bring out your best leadership qualities, it’s important to assess your natural leadership competencies and find ways to nurture and expand those skills.

Core Leadership Competencies

Learning about core leadership competencies valued across a range of positions can help you get a better understanding of how competencies differ from qualifications. Identifying these competencies can also help you recognize them in yourself and other individuals within your organization. While this is by no means an exhaustive list, these core leadership competencies are recognized in efficient leaders across a variety of industries and positions.

Emotional Intelligence

A crucial component of leadership success, emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage one’s own emotions and the emotions of others. Emotional intelligence is made up of these components.

  • Awareness of your own emotions
  • Control over your emotions
  • Empathy for how others are feeling
  • The ability to identify the emotions of others through their actions
  • Strong communication skills
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Conflict Management

The ability to peacefully manage and resolve conflicts is essential in many workplace roles. To manage an organization or members of a team, a good leader can listen without judgment, avoid taking sides, and help both parties come to a fair resolution. Managing conflict effectively requires different approaches and excellent communication skills.

Leaders who excel at conflict management will practice active listening, make others feel heard, and set an example through calm behavior and speech patterns. Ultimately, most conflicts will be solved through a compromise that adopts the best parts of what both parties have to say.

Managing Change

Organizations, companies, and industries are always advancing and changing. Since humans derive comfort from familiar actions and routines, many individuals tend to resist this change. Introducing technical or staffing changes in an organization can be difficult. Leaders who avoid facing these challenges head-on are more likely to face distrust, dissatisfaction, and even anger in the face of change.

Leaders who are competent at change management begin by preparing their teams for upcoming changes. As changes are being implemented, good leaders offer information, guidance, and support to help employees and team members adjust.


While many people think of leaders as supervisors or bosses, the word leader doesn’t convey this message. A leader leads others in a beneficial direction through passion for a cause and solid communication to share a vision. An effective leader doesn’t strive to achieve goals at an organization for good wages or recognition. They believe in the benefits provided by reaching goals and wish to share them with others.

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Understanding the Organization

To be an effective leader within an organization, it’s crucial to understand organizational goals and the inner workings and culture of the organization. Good leaders align their goals with the goals of the company and inspire others to work toward these goals. With a firm understanding of the way the company handles disputes and rewards employees, a leader will use incentives to inspire and encourage workers and boost company morale.


Do others see you in the same way you see yourself? Self-awareness may be one of the most difficult traits for any individual to master. Yet, a leader must know their weaknesses as well as their strengths. Understanding your weaknesses provides you with an opportunity to advance your skills. Awareness of your emotions will provide you with the ability to lead and solve conflicts without anger or judgment. Leaders who are self-aware know what they bring to the table and use this knowledge to better perform their responsibilities.

The Ability to Empower Others

A good leader knows that the team doesn’t serve them, they serve the team. Instead of seeking the spotlight and searching for credit, good leaders step back and place other team members in a position to grow. The ability to delegate tasks, inspire others to come up with good ideas, and collaborate with groups is essential for effective leadership. Good leaders inspire, encourage, and empower other employees.

How Do You Develop Leadership Competencies?

You may notice that the leadership competencies listed above have a common theme. They all transition the focus from you to others. So, how do you focus your development of competencies that mainly focus on others? Developing leadership competencies can be challenging, but there are certain steps you can take to hone your leadership capabilities.

  • Seek Feedback: Talk to your employees, peers, and team members about your current leadership position and ask for advice about areas you could improve.
  • Identify Areas for Improvement: You can identify areas for improvement by seeking feedback or conducting a self-assessment.
  • Define What a Win Looks Like: Defining what a win looks like is the first step to achieving your goals. There are many ways that you can define leadership goals, but there should always be clear and measurable metrics for your accomplishments.
  • Identify What You Will Do To Improve: To improve leadership competencies, you’ll need an actionable plan that addresses leadership shortcomings and leadership goals.
  • Ask Someone to Hold You Accountable: By taking a proactive approach and asking others to hold you accountable, you can ensure that you follow through on any leadership goal or initiative.

How to Identify Your Leadership Competencies

For most people, defining your leadership competencies will fall into two categories. The first is your natural competencies and the second is the competencies that will improve your abilities in your current or desired leadership position. An easier way to think of this is the skills you have and the skills you need. Luckily, you can define the skills you already have and target the ones you hope to achieve with a few simple exercises.

Take an Assessment

A formal assessment designed to pinpoint your natural leadership skills can help you identify the competencies you already have. A leadership assessment is great for showing areas you excel. It can also help you pinpoint areas that could use improvement. Formal tests can illuminate developmental areas you wouldn’t have considered otherwise. It’s also important to reflect on past success to understand what competencies helped you be successful.

Note Skills You Admire

We all have people in our lives that we admire. When these people are in leadership roles, they can be a valuable source of information. For instance, if you notice your supervisor practices empathy by recognizing what employees need without being prompted, this can become a development goal.

Request Feedback from a Variety of Sources

Early feedback gives you a starting point and routine feedback helps you assess your improvement. Talk to people who know your leadership skills and ask for specific information. If you’re uncomfortable asking directly, consider an anonymous survey. Comparing feedback from different sources can help identify themes in your leadership style.

Invest in Leadership Development

Leadership competencies are an important part of effective management and leadership. Identifying and honing your natural leadership skills and noting areas you want to improve will help you become a more effective leader in any role. While self-improvement is one way to advance your competencies, you don’t have to do it alone. Making the decision to invest in professional leadership development can help you advance your career.

Building Champions has spent the last 25 years helping thousands of individuals become better humans and better leaders. Our leadership development services provide critical insight into every dimension of our clients’ lives to help them become better leaders and positively impact their organization. Learn more about how leadership development services can help you hone your core leadership competencies.


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