Research update on the most in-demand soft skills

Following my past research (some of which was published in my 2020 book Essential soft skills for lawyers ( I keep an eye out for the latest information relating to the soft skills (particularly leadership skills) most in demand and how these relate to the professional services sector. So here is a research update on the most in-demand soft and social skills. (I used the “Worry monster” to explain soft skills previously: What are soft skills? And why are they so important? (Video) (

C-suite skills that matter most

In August 2022, Harvard Business Review published an article on succession that addressed the C-suite skills that matter most.

It used data from Russell Reynolds of nearly 5,000 job descriptions between 2000 to 2017 – for positions including CEO, CIO, Head of HR and CMO.  Traditional capabilities – notably the management of financial and operational resources—remain highly relevant.

But since 2007 companies advertising C-suite openings have increasingly emphasised the importance of social skills and de-emphasised operational expertise.

“Social skills” are specific capabilities, including a high level of self-awareness, the ability to listen and communicate well, a facility for working with different types of people and groups, and what psychologists call “theory of mind” (empathy concerns our ability to share affective states with others; Theory of Mind represents our ability to interpret their mental state, their intentions and beliefs (Blair et al., 1996)).

As well as the two main reasons for change – increased firm size and complexity and information-processing technologies there are two additional drivers – social media and networking technologies – which drive the need to be able to interact with an increasingly broad range of internal and external constituencies personally, transparently and accountably. Diversity and inclusion (communicating for D&I) is covered well here Book review: Digital Body Language – How to build trust by Erica Dhawan (

The authors suggest that more is done to systematically assess (e.g. with psychometric tests and simulation exercises) and build (with executive development programs and at all levels) social skills.

They mention Eightfold and Gloat using AI to improve matching between candidates and employers. Pymetrics is mining behavioural research to see how particular candidates fit with an organization or a specific position.

LinkedIn in-demand soft skills for 2023

In February 2023 The Most In-Demand Skills for 2023 | LinkedIn argued:

“Global talent shortages have reached a 16-year high, as 75% of employers can’t find the talent they need with the right blend of technical and soft skills”.

LinkedIn Learning reported the 2023 most in-demand soft skills as:

  1. Management
  2. Communication
  3. Customer service
  4. Leadership
  5. Sales
  6. Project Management
  7. Research
  8. Analytical skills
  9. Marketing
  10. Teamwork

Amongst a list of the most in-demand hard skills were finance, data analysis, operations and customer relationship management.

Five essential soft skills to develop in any job (Harvard Business Review)

Another February 2023 article 5 Essential Soft Skills to Develop in Any Job ( listed:

  • Effective communication
  • Teamwork
  • Influencing without authority
  • Problem-solving
  • Leadership

 Six core leadership skills (Harvard Business Review)

In March 2023 Anthony J Mayo wrote How to Help Superstar Employees Fulfill Their Potential (

This was an analysis of more than 3,000 applications over nearly 20 years to Harvard Business School’s High Potentials Leadership programme which identified five consistent leadership challenges: Leading teams, leading change, leadership style, leading at scale and driving business results.

He notes that early career success relied on the ability to drive results and functional/technical expertise. But to reach the next level candidates must learn to recalibrate to a definition of success based on the team’s collective performance. Stepping up to higher levels of leadership requires six key skills:

  1. Strategic management
  2. Emotional intelligence
  3. Communication
  4. Leading at scale
  5. Leading teams
  6. Relationship management

This aligns with the previous research from the Center of Creative Leadership:

Research on leadership and emotional intelligence (EQ) ( September 2021

Future Marketing Manager – success and how to get promoted ( May 2019

Association of MBAs – Skills for future success

In April 2023 Skills for future success – Association of MBAs there’s mention of career paths that don’t yet exist due to the disruption and impact of AI. And lists the following top traits that will be needed:

Pearson top skills

In this report Pearson Skills Outlook: Employee View | Pearson plc it shows that employees are currently developing these skills in the UK: Problem-solving and team work (US = problem-solving and decision making).

The top two skills UK employees would be interested in developing in the future are: Leadership and problem-solving (US Leadership, entrepreneurial skills and project management).

Other interesting insights are than more than three in four employed workers expect to continue learning and training opportunities throughout their career. Most workers (74%) prefer to learn via their employer. Most employed workers (92%) expect that their workplace will increase or maintain learning and development opportunities.

Seven sought-after soft skills – AI’s response

For fun, I asked ChatGPT “What are the most sought-after soft skills in 2023 for senior professionals?”. And I thought its answer was pretty good:

  1. Leadership: The ability to inspire and motivate others, delegate tasks effectively, and make sound decisions under pressure will continue to be highly valued in senior leadership roles. 
  2. Adaptability: The ability to quickly adjust to new situations and remain flexible in the face of change will be important as businesses continue to face disruption and uncertainty. 
  3. Communication: Effective communication skills, including active listening and clear, concise writing, will be critical for building relationships, resolving conflicts, and ensuring that everyone is on the same page. 
  4. Emotional intelligence: The ability to read and respond to others’ emotions, manage one’s own emotions, and build strong interpersonal relationships will be essential for senior professionals in 2023. 
  5. Strategic thinking: Senior professionals will need to be able to see the big picture, identify trends, and make decisions that support the long-term success of the business. 
  6. Creativity: The ability to think outside the box, generate new ideas, and approach problems from multiple angles will be important for driving innovation and staying ahead of the competition. 
  7. Collaboration: The ability to work effectively with others, build consensus, and manage diverse perspectives will be crucial as businesses increasingly operate in global and cross-functional teams. 

It’s interesting that consciousness, creativity, collaboration and curiosity were identified by Greg Orm in 2019 The Human Edge – How curiosity and creativity are your superpowers (

Stephen M Kosslyn makes similar points – focusing on emotion and context – in the article Are You Developing Skills That Won’t Be Automated? ( in September 2019 “Our ability to manage and utilize emotion and to take into account the effects of context are key ingredients of critical thinking, creative problem-solving, effective communication, adaptive learning, and good judgment. It has proven very difficult to program machines to emulate such human knowledge and skills, and it is not clear when (or whether) today’s fledgling efforts to do so will bear fruit”.

Intentional Leadership – The Big 8 Capabilities Setting Leaders Apart

In this book (author Rose M. Patten published by University of Toronto Press, 2023) it says that critical challenges can make leaders stronger. It argues that there are three game changers that affect leadership: Stakeholder demands, the workforce and changing strategies.

It also argues there are four fallacies about leadership which make adaptability and rapid change more difficult. Time spent doing a job doesn’t improve a leader’s soft skills; that requires deliberate prioritization. Most senior leaders believe they do not need mentoring.

The “Big 8” leadership capabilities are:

  1. Adaptability
  2. Strategic agility
  3. Self-renewal
  4. Character
  5. Empathy
  6. Communication
  7. Collaboration
  8. Developing other leaders

It says talent development is, arguably, the most vital of the Big 8 capabilities.

Managing Partners’ Forum New Leadership Development Programme (Consensus through Collaboration)

I undertook other research during 2022 while working with the Managing Partners’ Forum  to identify six key topics to help firm-wide leaders in professional services firms achieve “Consensus through Collaboration”.

The programme was launched in March and comprises six modules delivered by world-class speakers:

  • Emotional Intelligence – The skills that matter most for effective leadership
  • Building Vision and Strategy – Leadership and Change
  • The Management Shift for Individual and Organisational Transformation
  • Developing internal relationships – The Connected Leader
  • Board simulation – An Introduction to the Institute of Directors Certificate in Company Direction
  • Digital Transformation Fastrack for Leaders

See further information: Leadership Development Programme from the Managing Partners’ Forum ( Contact