Which Skills Can Make You a Better Leader?

Lindsay Scott also shares tips for how remote workers can maintain influence and how to explain pandemic work gaps.

I’ve done a lot of technical training, but now I want to boost my people skills. Where should I start?

People skills are the bedrock of leadership, so when you boost those skills, you’re helping the entire project team grow. From a professional development perspective, it’s an opportunity to turn weaknesses into strengths and strengths into superpowers.

Start with self-reflection. For example, if your strength is building a high-performing team, seek out training that will help you get even better at that. Look for workshops that will help you sustain strong teams or perhaps even show you how to share your knowledge with others.

To determine which weaknesses you’ll address, prioritize those that might be fatal flaws—anything that has a significant impact on your immediate responsibilities. For instance, are your negotiation skills having a negative impact during strategic discussions with clients, resulting in lost business opportunities?

Then, take a step back: Think about situations where you have struggled most often. For example, is it a challenge to keep the team focused throughout a project? Conducting a deeper leadership audit—through a self-assessment or by surveying team members—will help you understand how to stretch your emotional intelligence skills through trainings that focus on empathy, self-awareness or motivation-related development.

Ultimately, any people skills training should align with your career path: How will these trainings help you elevate your role and add more responsibilities in the next year? If you understand where you’re heading, you’ll be able to see what is needed to get there.

Not sure what type of leader you want to be? Evaluate the project leaders you most admire. Seek out trainings that will help you emulate their traits and behaviors.

My office reopened, but I need to work remotely for health reasons. Will this hurt my career? 

Fear of missing out has certainly motivated people to return to work in their offices. Countless studies have documented how remote workers were overlooked for opportunities, promotions and bonuses. So you need to become a proactive advocate for your career—and others working remotely.

Talk to your manager and HR department. Even if they’ve approved a remote work arrangement, it’s possible that they simply haven’t considered how it might negatively impact your career. These conversations could help initiate supporting policies and actions that can help your situation.

You can adapt, too. Alter how you communicate with your manager and team, whether it’s increasing the frequency of check-ins or conducting more video calls. Those actions might encourage them to reciprocate in ways that help you feel more engaged during meetings or that replicate water cooler conversations in a virtual world.

If you’re still feeling out of the loop, look for opportunities to connect with your colleagues outside of the office. Consider setting up informal work chats at a coffee shop or at a park so you can catch up on office politics and day-to-day workplace developments.

Your organization’s leaders, like many around the world, don’t want to create a two-tier workplace. They just might need help to make adjustments that balance the needs of remote workers. Your input should be valuable in trying to make an environment that works for everyone.

I quit my job for nine months during the pandemic to care for my parents. How do I address that on job applications?

Even before the pandemic, the risk that any organization would hold a personal-related work gap against you was low. Now that stigma has largely been erased. Hiring managers recognize that life happens, and people need time out to deal with that.

On your résumé, CV or LinkedIn profile, call it a “Career Break” and list the dates of your gap. Add a description that says something like, “Caring for parent/partner/sibling/child during a protracted bout of illness.”

Elaborate on that gap in your cover letter and during your interview, too. Be ready to share why you’re ready to resume your career. But also explain how the life experiences you gained during the work gap helped you grow as a person—and a project leader.

Have a career question for Lindsay Scott? Email [email protected].

Lindsay Scott is the director of program and project management recruitment at Arras People in London.

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Have a career question for Lindsay Scott? Email [email protected]

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