12 Best Soft Skills for Leadership Success


Soft skills. What have you done about yours? In the world of work, possessing great job skills leads to promotions, sometimes to the management or leadership level. You’ll also need to develop soft skills to succeed at this level. These skills are all about how well you can communicate with and work with other team members. We’ve identified 12 soft skills that leaders must possess if they’re to succeed in the workplace.

Soft Skills List – All About Communication

1. Emotional intelligence

Without emotional intelligence, many other soft skills wouldn’t be possible. Some experts believe that emotional intelligence doesn’t belong on a list of leadership soft skills, but we’re including it here because this quality is vital to workplace success. The National Soft Skills Association defines this quality as "a learned ability to identify, experience, understand, and express human emotions in healthy and productive ways." 

Let’s review a hypothetical situation in which a department manager may need to intervene and consider the role emotional intelligence plays in the eventual outcome. In this scenario, one of your consistently low-​producing employees has accused a high producer of making a mistake that caused a customer to stop doing business with your company.

If you start yelling about the loss of a customer, your employees are likely to shut down and not tell you the truth about what happened. They may refuse to speak calmly with each other. You’ll need emotional intelligence to stay cool while you appeal to the employees to let go of their anger. Praise them for what they’ve done correctly. Then you can chat with them about the best way to resolve their differences and work amicably going forward.

2. Empathy

Emotional intelligence won’t be available to you unless you have empathy for the team members involved in this situation. Empathy is all about understanding or feeling what others are feeling. If one of your feuding employees is crying, you’ll want to assure them that you understand how upset they are. Remain steady and don’t rush to fill quiet spaces with meaningless words. That’s especially true if an employee is furious. You can let them know you understand how they’re feeling without letting your own temper flare and possibly escalating a potentially explosive situation.

3. Communication

Our research confirms that nearly 70% of sales managers believe communicating, up and down, is a key skill to possess. Verbal communication is often the way managers show their empathy for employees. With the right words and tone of voice, you can sooth an employee, whether they’re distraught or furious. Communication goes far beyond simple verbal exchanges.

A good communicator also has the ability to listen. When your employees describe what led to their confrontation, listen to them as individuals. Don’t let your mind wander to other matters. To show you’re paying attention, paraphrase what they’ve said and ask if you’re correctly understanding them. Doing so reassures them that they’ve been heard.

Your posture and facial expression also communicate your attitude. If you cross your arms and frown, your team members won’t feel comfortable talking with you. If you stare at them aggressively, they may be too intimidated to tell the truth. Likewise, checking your phone frequently and looking at your shoes signals that you’re not particularly interested in hearing what they’re trying to say.

4. Delegation

One reason you ascended to a leadership position likely stemmed from your ability to complete tasks well. As a successful leader, you’ll transition to delegating tasks to team members. If you don’t, you’ll fall behind. At the same time, your team members will grow frustrated because you’re not depending on them to carry out their roles. Research shows that when employees feel they are contributing in a meaningful way, they’re generally happier and less likely to leave the organization.

However, there’s an art to delegation. Besides considering who has the skills to take on a task, you’ll need to spend time explaining the parameters of the work, specific deadlines, and the process for asking questions and delivering the final product. Creating clear guidelines will help your team member work confidently to a successful completion.

Leadership Soft Skills 

5. Interpersonal

Other soft skills will help you lead your organization effectively and build a reputation as a place that attracts the best employees revolve around interpersonal connections. Is this the same as good communication skills? Not exactly. A person with great interpersonal skills knows what to say and who to say it to. When there’s a lull in a group conversation, the team member with great interpersonal skills will bring the discussion back around to the issue they’ve been discussing.

Excelling in interpersonal skills also means excelling in working with a cross-​department group that has been tasked with designing a new product, for example. As a leader, you’ll use your interpersonal skills to make each member feel that their contribution matters.

6. Decision-​making

As a soft skill, decision-​making often goes hand in hand with problem-​solving. Business leaders are confronted with questions every day. Should they hire another employee? Should they launch a new product line? Should they buy or lease a new piece of equipment?

Good decision-​making ability stems from your ability to think critically. To think critically, a manager gathers information and identifies potential opportunities and challenges associated with taking a specific course of action.

The next step eludes many managers: They must make a decision and take action to optimize the outcomes. For example, you might require your feuding employees to take training on how to control their emotions in the workplace.

It’s worth asking why managers don’t make decisions. Endless hesitation may come down to fear of a bad outcome. Committing requires you to put your reputation at risk. If you make a mistake, you have to deal with the consequences of hiring an employee you can’t afford.

Failing to make decisions leads to bad outcomes too. Unresolved problems, such as the toxic work relationship between two employees, usually become more difficult to fix as time goes on.

If your psychometric assessment results show that you hesitate to make decisions, sign up for coaching. Then set deadlines and use automated reminders to stay on track.

7. Problem-​solving

Good decision-​making also means being able to solve problems. In our hypothetical situation of two employees arguing over a lost customer, your problem-​solving skills will be called into question. Most of us would agree that the first step is to clearly identify the problem. In this case, you might decide you have two issues: arguing employees and the loss of a customer.

The action you take to solve the first problem might include listening to the employees, encouraging them to find common ground and asking them to come up with a plan for how they’ll work together going forward.

For the second problem, you’ll need to fall back on your decision-​making skills. By gathering information about the lost customer’s relationship with your company, you’ll be able to determine why they left. The customer may have felt they didn’t receive good service, as one of your employees claims. If you determine that this is the likely cause, implement changes to reduce the chances of losing more customers.

Possible changes range from hiring a different customer service agent, adding more touches to your customer care workflow, or improving automation to flag when customer complaints surface.

8. Organizational

Good organizational skills don’t come naturally to all leaders. With practice, you can improve weaknesses in the areas of time management and resource allocation. One way to address poor time management is to first accept that you have a problem. You may find it helpful to track how you spend your time every day for a week. If you’re having trouble being honest with yourself, install a keystroke logger. At the end of the week, you’ll see how much time you’re spending on your social media sites. Using that data, you can allocate time periods to complete tasks. Top managers divide their time between coaching their employees, setting department goals, and interfacing with other company managers to track progress and shift focus.

Likewise, managers can improve their department operations by allocating resources efficiently. This skill requires you to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each team member. In addition, you’ll need a decent guesstimate on how long each task should take. With that information, you can assign tasks with the aim of working efficiently and also developing the skills of team members for future promotions.

Soft Skills List to Take You to the Next Level

9. Political savvy

Can there be a soft skill that worries leaders more than political savvy? 

  • If they don’t have it, they fear being outfoxed by their Machiavellian peers who try to “to control others, manipulate, and gain power.” 
  • If they do possess savvy, they must be careful not to cross the line and be seen as an individual who’s willing to break any rule to reach their goal.

Research outlined in the Journal of Personnel Psychology suggests that leaders who can “be strategic with their social behaviors and exercise impulse control,” possess political savvy and can achieve goals that elude other leaders.

Being aware of your tendencies in competitive situations and being reflective before taking specific actions may help you maximize your outcomes. This is especially true when you’re trying to gain more resources for your department or lead your organization through a difficult transformation and require support from key individuals.

10. Resilience

If you’re feeling crushed after your company lost an important deal or a key employee, you’re not alone. The difference between average and best-​in-​class leaders often comes down to resilience. We all encounter huge disappointment more often than we like. It’s important to come back from these disappointments.

But to truly motivate and lead employees, we should analyze what led to the loss. With the information, we can resolve not to make the same mistake. And we can set a new goal. The transition from acknowledging loss or failure to identifying and committing to a new goal doesn’t happen overnight.

11. Motivational

35% of sales professionals we researched said the top weakness of their manager is their inability to motivate. Sales managers’ responses to our questions about necessary skills in a separate survey underscores a big disconnect on the topic of motivation. Only 65% of managers marked team engagement and motivation as a key skill for effectiveness, far below the 72% who said goal setting and accountability was their top priority.

It’s important to understand how a leader can motivate their staff members. And you’ll need to distinguish inspiration from motivation. Recently, we’ve found the actions of the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to be highly inspirational. He’s been in the trenches with his people fighting for the continued independence of Ukraine. He’s stayed on the job at great personal danger to defend his country. While team members in an organization can be inspired by a leader’s commitment to the corporate cause, they also need the motivation to take specific actions that make a difference. At indeed​.com, analysts point out that “motivation represents a pushing force.”

Your team members may be inspired to do something positive to support the company because of a speech you made. To motivate them, you’ll need to do more. You can assign them tasks that, when successfully completed, will lead to achieving a goal such as a 20% revenue increase. For some team members, knowing their CEO is aware of their hard work will be motivation enough. Other team members may need the promise of a bonus once they achieve a big goal.

12. Adaptability

If you’re determined to set a process in place and then expect people to follow it for years, you might need some work on the soft skill known as adaptability. As knowledge expands and global connectedness increases, processes must change. Businesses that stay a step ahead of their competitors by introducing new product features survive.

Letting go of the mindset and processes you used to move up in your organization can be difficult. If you don’t, you’ll ultimately reduce the opportunities for success as the world changes around you. Mark Wheatley, an EY​.com director, points out that “Leaders with a learning orientation tend to see challenges as opportunities to improve, and so are more accepting of failure as a necessary step towards better performance.” Knowing that doesn’t make improving your adaptability any easier. Wheatley goes on to say that “adaptability skills can be developed in several ways including increasing self-​awareness and deliberate practice.”


When you're ready to work on your soft skills, review the items on our list and determine which one will help you excel as a leader. These skills are interconnected. You'll find that improving one of the skills will yield improvements in other areas and allow you to take another step in the direction of being a successful leader.

Photo by Fauxels on Pexels.

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Kathy Crosett
Kathy is the Vice President of Research for SalesFuel. She holds a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Vermont and oversees a staff of researchers, writers and content providers for SalesFuel. Previously, she was co-​owner of several small businesses in the health care services sector.