Skills Leadership Theory: Definition, Uses, Pros and Cons

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 31 May 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

The skills leadership theory helps identify skill sets that make leaders more effective. It helps companies increase workplace productivity and business growth. Learning about this theory can help you recognise potential leaders within a company or become a better one yourself. In this article, we explore what the skills leadership theory is, discuss its importance in the workplace, list some tips to help improve your effectiveness as a leader and explain the advantages and disadvantages of this approach.

What is the skills leadership theory?

The skills leadership theory states that anyone can develop the skills necessary to be a leader. It defines a leader's performance by teachable skills. This theory implies that anyone who has an interest in leadership positions can attain them by developing the right abilities. The theory outlines three types of skills most useful for an effective leader:

Conceptual

Conceptual skills refer to the ability to work with broad ideas and concepts. They help leaders come up with solutions to important problems and devise ways to help their team achieve a company's goals. These skills include:

  • decision-making

  • goal-setting

  • innovation

  • planning

  • strategising

  • visualisation

  • critical thinking

Read more: Critical Thinking Skills: Definition and Examples

Technical

These are certain skills a leader uses to perform the everyday tasks of their specialised roles. They define a leader's ability to work with resources that help them execute their assignments effectively. By using these skills, a leader understands how processes work in a company and can give colleagues and employees in various departments advice about how to solve specific problems. These skills vary depending on a particular job but often include:

  • computer software skills

  • creating digital art

  • devising project management schedules

  • operating industrial machinery

  • trade skills

  • writing reports

Human

Skills in this category measure how well you can work with people. They comprise interpersonal skills that help leaders manage a team. Successful leaders use these abilities to motivate team members and boost their morale. Human skills include:

  • strong written and verbal communication

  • conflict resolution

  • motivational skills

  • social judgment

  • active listening

  • compassion

  • empathy

The importance of the skills approach leadership theory

This theory is important because it identifies new criteria for leadership. It allows companies to recognise leadership potential and training requirements. Some of its benefits include:

Recognising accomplishments

The skills approach leadership theory is helpful because it uses a leader's existing and potential skills rather than their personality traits to measure their performance. Executives and other management personnel who use this approach can better understand what methods can best achieve desired results. By using it, leaders also get a broader understanding of their roles. They can assess the skills they possess, identify the abilities they can develop and determine which skills are most helpful for certain situations.

Promoting inclusivity

One of the most important aspects of this theory is that it defines learnable skills for success. It implies that anyone can be a leader, irrespective of their background. Companies that use this approach can give all their employees the confidence to assume leadership positions. They typically achieve this by developing relevant skills in employees and teaching them how to use them once they're put into a leadership role.

Related: 12 Leadership Examples for the Workplace

Promoting effective leaders

Companies can use this theory to give their executives and other management personnel guidelines to identify leadership candidates. Companies can first determine specific skill requirements for certain roles and then design training programmes to meet those needs. These programmes can use team activities or put employees in leadership situations so they can develop relevant skills and knowledge.

Encouraging balance

This approach shifts the focus from specific traits to balanced and varied abilities for effective leadership. It equips leaders with the skills necessary to accomplish their tasks and manage a team, besides giving them an understanding of why they're useful. Leaders can also determine which combination of these abilities they can use in different situations and to what extent they can apply them. For instance, prioritising technical skills over human skills may make a team more efficient, but this practice can demotivate its members.

Who uses the skills approach leadership theory?

Many employees of a company can use the skills approach leadership theory in different capacities. They can use it to improve productivity, decide how to mentor future leaders, learn useful skills from colleagues and encourage coworkers to take on leadership positions. This theory is useful for:

Key decision-makers

This method gives upper management an understanding of the abilities that create successful leaders. They can use it to identify whether a candidate for a position can develop leadership skills with the right training. This can help improve productivity and motivate employees to aspire to advance within the company.

Mentors and current leaders

According to this model, it's crucial for leaders to assess what skills employees already have and those that they can learn. This can help them determine which employees have the potential for growth so that they can mentor them and improve workplace productivity. When leaders have this understanding of their employees' capabilities, they can help improve their chances of getting promotions and prepare them for their new roles when they move to higher positions within the company.

Colleagues

This approach allows colleagues to learn from one another, which contributes to increasing a team's strengths and improving workplace morale. Coworkers can benefit by teaching each other useful skills and learning new abilities that can improve their productivity and efficiency. It encourages cooperation and collaboration, which helps employees achieve the company's goals.

Potential team leaders

Coworkers can use this approach to build an effective and balanced team. They can determine each other's strengths and skills and call upon relevant team members to tackle specific issues. It's also helpful in identifying employees who can help lead a project if a team leader requires help.

Related: Essential Qualities of a Powerful Team Player

Tips for using the skills approach leadership theory

There are a few ways to apply this theory effectively in the workplace. Different employees and departments can use it, depending on their requirements. Consider the following tips:

Remain observant

The best way to assess the capabilities of leaders or employees is to observe them. Companies can track the skills they use when they execute their daily tasks and how well they use them. Once you determine a team member's skill set, you can assist in their development and guide them towards potential career advancement.

Be proactive

If you see a team member requires help to learn a certain skill, you can take an active role in their improvement. When you notice that someone is a potential candidate for a promotion, consider teaching them about the skills approach leadership theory so they can develop abilities that can help them in a role with more responsibilities. A leader who helps team members can motivate employees to enhance their skills to be more productive.

Encourage growth

Leaders who use this approach with employees encourage them to understand their own abilities and identify areas for improvement. Employees become more confident when they realise they have or learn a new skill, which can improve their productivity. This theory can also improve teamwork, as it encourages coworkers to help one another learn new abilities or form well-rounded teams to ensure the successful completion of a task or project.

Related: Career Growth vs. Career Development: What's the Difference?

Advantages and disadvantages of the skills approach leadership theory

It's beneficial for a company's leaders to be aware of the advantages and disadvantages of this approach to employ it more effectively. Here are some advantages and disadvantages of this theory:

Advantages

One of the biggest benefits of this leadership theory is the belief that anyone can become a leader. It suggests that if employees work hard, they can develop the skills to be effective leaders. This is helpful for people who aspire to leadership positions within an organisation, but don't have the innate abilities defined in other leadership theories. This approach helps a company choose leaders by taking inventory of each candidate's skills in important areas.

Disadvantages

This model doesn't consider how personal traits influence the development of leadership skills. For instance, human skills are often easier for naturally extroverted people. It also doesn't address how these traits affect the ability to learn skills. This theory focuses on identifying the skills that create good leaders but doesn't explain why and how they influence leadership.

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