The New Year has brought in new levels of optimism, but also continued challenges as businesses across the UK continue to adapt to the changing landscape. We spoke to 500 senior leaders to find out which skills they think are the most important for the challenges ahead. In this article, we take a look at the 21 most in-demand skills destined to set you up for success in 2021. Get ready now and transform yourself into the type of candidate employers are looking for.

COMMUNICATION 

It is expected that many will return to working in offices, at least some of the time, once the vaccine rollout accelerates later in 2021. However, professionals at all levels will need to continue to develop the way they communicate in a blended setting, both in person and remotely with colleagues and customers.

ADAPTABILITY

Adaptability has been much more than a nice-to-have over the past 12 months – it has been a necessity for everyone, inside and outside the workplace. The pace of change is not expected to slow down in 2021, with uncertainty remaining around the ramifications of Brexit, and the next phase of the pandemic. A person’s adaptability can be developed over the course of a career as they overcome different challenges, but those who want to master it must be willing to learn. 

MANAGING AND MOTIVATING STAFF REMOTELY 

In an increasingly globalised world, it has not been uncommon for leaders to manage teams across different time zones and locations. The consensus is that a blended approach between home and the office will be the long-term legacy of the pandemic and will require managers to adapt their approach to ensure that staff feel supported, tasks are completed, and performance is managed effectively.

RESILIENCE 

Resilience is an ever more important skill in times of adversity – and many have faced multiple challenges over the past 12 months. To truly appreciate the importance of resilience to the individual, it is key to understand its meaning. Those who possess resilience are more likely to find opportunities, and emerge stronger for the experience – crucial at a time of huge upheaval and change.

COLLABORATION 

Effective teamwork is essential across a wide range of business functions.
Many modern technologies have made it easier than ever to communicate and collaborate, with tools such as Microsoft Teams and Trello coming to the fore during the pandemic within many businesses. Individuals that can navigate the challenges of collaboration in the current market will find themselves at a strong competitive advantage.

LEADERSHIP 

Great leaders never stop learning – and there have been plenty of lessons over the past 12 months. Leadership is a multifaceted skill and there is no one-size-fits-all approach that suits every organisation. Clear communication from leaders is more important than ever. Leaders who not only learn lessons from the pandemic, but effect positive, long-term change within their organisations, will be future-proofing their organisations and also their own careers.

PROBLEM-SOLVING 

The ability to work swiftly and efficiently is crucial as systems and new ways of working evolve. Problem-solving usually requires lateral thinking, as well as an innovative approach to challenging scenarios. It is a key skill at all levels of seniority. However, adept problem-solvers will need other skills too, such as emotional intelligence, research skills, and risk management proficiency – and achieving a workable balance of all three can be more challenging than you might first think.

PROACTIVITY 

Proactive individuals do not wait for an opportunity to arise or a problem to present itself; they are already thinking ahead and are actively willing to find a solution. Dynamic and proactive individuals can easily adapt when necessary. High proactivity improves productivity, which can then lead to greater rewards for an organisation overall.

CONTINGENCY PLANNING 

Planning for the unexpected is a key skill and it almost goes without saying that the previous 12 months have highlighted the importance of strong contingency planning. Those companies that possessed a contingency plan for all staff needing to work remotely, had a clear head-start on those who did not. In such a changeable market, those with the ability to prepare for the unexpected will be in high demand

PRIORITISATION 

With budgets tightening and resource often at a premium, prioritisation is an ever more important skill across all sectors and at all levels. Competing priorities can quickly become overwhelming for individuals if they are not able to assess their workload with a clear head and tackle the most pressing issues first. It is key to then communicate these decisions and get buy-in from colleagues, which is where the aforementioned skills in collaboration can become particularly valuable.

EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE 

Effective EI must begin with the individual. You cannot enhance other people’s wellbeing, improvement, and sense of self without first understanding how you yourself operate on an emotional level. What distinguishes leaders is usually their level of emotional intelligence and it is those skills that help to develop a more collaborative, happy, and motivated workforce.

EMPATHY 

Empathy is a learned skill and those who have developed it tend to build better working relationships, be more productive, and make better leaders. Indeed, according to research from The Empathy Business, the most empathic companies outperform those that demonstrate the lowest levels of empathy by 50%.

INNOVATION 

Whether it is developing new product lines or simply finding ways to drive efficiencies, innovative thinking is more in demand than ever. The key to successful innovation is turning great ideas to solid business cases – and fostering a creative and collaborative environment where everyone can bring their ideas to the table.

PROJECT MANAGEMENT

A skilled project manager must be able to evolve to their environment and effectively multitask, ensuring that each phase of a project runs to time and budget. This, in turn, requires excellent interpersonal abilities in terms of liaising with key stakeholders at the right time and ensuring that customers are kept in the loop on progress. Project managers must also have an appreciation of risk and proactively assess any potential pitfalls.

INTRAPRENEURSHIP

Intrapreneurship could perhaps be seen as going one stage further than adaptability; that is, it refers to not just changing your style to suit what is going on around you, but thinking like an entrepreneur – looking for new opportunities and taking calculated risks in the pursuit of big rewards. We are seeing that this level of proactivity is increasingly valued within established organisations.

ATTENTION TO DETAIL

Successful teams need strategic thinkers who can see the bigger picture, set direction, and inspire; they also need tactical professionals with an eye for the small details. In a challenging market where the margins between success and failure can be very slim, it is no surprise that professional perfectionists are in increasing demand from business leaders.

FAST LEARNING

Technology is evolving at an accelerated pace. In order to keep up, businesses not only need people who can adapt and learn new skills fast, but also pick up new hardware, software, and programmes efficiently. It is also key that professionals can blend their approach across office and home environments. This means not only absorbing information and processes, but doing so quickly.

COMMERCIAL ACUMEN (INCLUDING DEMONSTRATING ROI)

who possess commercial acumen often adopt a pragmatic mindset, identifying, and then balancing, opportunities and threats by analysing trends and monitoring competitors. Senior stakeholders want to know the potential ramifications of their actions - how can they get to the quickest commercial solution whilst taking on the least amount of risk? Key in this is not to be seen as “someone who always says ‘no’”, but rather as someone who enables the business to achieve its goals.

ANALYTICAL SKILLS

While digital transformation was happening at pace before the pandemic, it has accelerated beyond all recognition for many organisations over the past 12 months. Professionals skilled in using insights to drive sales or increase efficiencies are in high demand at the moment – reflected in the fact that more than half of our poll respondents said it was more important than ever for 2021.

PRESENTATION SKILLS

Professionals at all levels have grappled with the complexities of presenting remotely over the past 12 months, with many adding extra strings to their bow in this regard. The next stage of this evolution will be the development of an ability to present to blended teams as staff gradually return to offices, holding attention, and landing key messages with stakeholders in the room, as well as those dialling or logging in.

DATA-LED DECISION-MAKING

The real skill comes in knowing which data is important enough to build strategies around and base key decisions on. Not only is there currently more data available to decision-makers, but more of it is in real-time, which allows for an increased speed of change and adaptation. People with the skills to decipher key information and subsequently change behaviours and strategies accordingly are becoming highly sought-after at all levels of organisations as a result.

The skills you possess are the best tool in securing the job that you want. Employers require candidates who can come in and make an immediate impact, especially in these challenging times. Our consultants are experts in their discipline and region, so get in touch with one today and find out how we can support you in making your next important career step. 

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