Skills to Evolve from Technical Expert to Impactful Leader

Many of us are familiar with this career scenario. We work hard to learn and master every technical part of our job in order to be recommended for the next promotion.

We receive praise for the value we added to a project where we were able to utilize every bit of technical knowledge we were taught. We consider ourselves a SME (subject matter expert) in our field and hope this will help move us along our career path. Up until now, we have been rewarded for our expertise and knowledge. But then we get tripped up with this feedback:

“Although you have strong marketing skills, it seems like you are having a difficult time communicating your message.”

“We really appreciate how you streamlined that process, but to move to the next position you need to be less pushy and more open to other people’s suggestions.”

“Your technical skills are top notch but to lead the team forward you need to gain experience with being patient with different types of personalities.”

At this point we may want to scream- “I’ve done everything they’ve asked and always turn out a professional product. What am I missing that will prevent my next move?” Leadership skills.

Here are five leadership skills that may make a difference between growing into an impactful leader or staying a technical expert:

1. Listen Strategically

We may be experts in our areas but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be listening to others. Listening is a very powerful skill because when we use it properly we learn what our team members are thinking and feeling. A few ways to show that we are strategically listening are:

  • Allow your co-worker to speak their entire message without interrupting
  • Make sure to use eye contact as that shows we are involved in the conversation
  • Ask appropriate open-ended questions that begin with who, what, where and how
  • Don’t jump to conclusions but listen to really understand
  • 2. Respect Others' Suggestions & Opinions

    Even if we feel our ideas and procedures are best, it is always a good idea to ask others for their suggestions. They might just tweak one of our strategies to make it even better. But more than anything else, when we respect what our colleagues have to share, we build stronger connections with them. Without respecting each other’s input, collaborations are dead on arrival.

    3. Learn Your Preferred Style of Interacting

    To understand our own unique style of leadership, we need to first become aware of how we are communicating and behaving. Do you know how you are coming across to others? To grow in our careers and lead from wherever we are, we need to become aware of our actions. Using an assessment such as DiSC or Myers-Briggs can provide each of us with extraordinary insights of how others may see us. It is a great place to start our leadership exploration.

    4. Flex to Different Behaviors

    Once we discover our natural or preferred style of communication and presentation, it is critical to understand the other styles to connect with others in a meaningful way.

  • If we are working with someone who needs to build a relationship before partnering on their project, we may want to spark a conversation first
  • If we are giving feedback on research we did for someone who isn’t particularly detailed oriented, then present your findings in bullet points
  • If we are meeting with someone who isn’t loud even though we may be, just tone it down a bit and give them an opportunity to speak
  • 5. Answer the Question: What Type of Leader Do I Want to Be?

    To move into that next leadership role, decide on the type of leader you want to represent. How do you want to be viewed by co-workers and bosses? It’s helpful to be as authentic as possible and play to your preferred style. Thinking of leaders in your life who have had a positive impact on you can help also.