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The Skills You Need for a
C-Level Position in any Industry

See also: Self-Motivation Skills

No matter the industry, aspiring professionals always have one thing in common: an intense desire to climb the ladder of success. For many, that means building a career that culminates in a position within the C-level of a leading company in their field.

That's a goal that takes quite a bit of personal and professional growth to achieve, as well as natural ability, a willingness to work hard, and a strong commitment to excellence in your chosen line of work.

It's also true, however, that maintaining a laser-focus on developing the particular skills needed to thrive in an executive position is necessary to make all of that aforementioned work pay off. That means understanding what those skills are, and how they relate to C-level job success, is the first step in the journey to becoming a member of the rarefied upper echelons of an industry's most prominent businesses.

Businessman looking up at a skyscraper with his arms open wide.

Fortunately, the needed skills are hardly a secret, having been discovered by the countless other C-level successes of the past – and for those seeking to join them, here's what they are.


Leadership Skills

In any business, leadership skills are one of the most prized assets that an employee can possess.

When it comes to positions at the C-level, they're considered an absolute essential. That's because C-level executives are charged with setting the strategic goals of the business and then inspiring the rank-and-file employees to deliver results that further those aims.

This sentiment is captured perfectly by Urjanet CMO Gary Brooks, who says, "Leadership and culture aren't about being the boss or being in control; they are about creating shared visions and goals, and then inspiring, empowering and influencing others to achieve more than they ever thought possible."

In short, at the C-level, knowing where to go is only a small part of the equation – knowing how to get others to follow you there is the harder and more important part.


Interpersonal Skills

Anyone taking on a C-level position will be working at the apex of their organization.

That means it is almost a certainty that they'll have to interact in several vital ways with the managers and employees further down the line. Doing that successfully requires a high level of interpersonal skills to ensure that the critical relationships necessary to work well with others are formed and nurtured at all times.

The importance of these skills cannot be stressed enough, with some research indicating that 75% of newly hired executives lack them, pointing to a deficiency that a successful candidate can use to differentiate themselves from the pack.



Communications Skills

In addition to interpersonal skills, having solid and well-developed communications skills is a prerequisite for C-level success. That's because executives spend a great deal of their time listening to and presenting information to others, and it is of paramount importance that they be able to do so in an effective way.

Within the C-level of many of the world's largest companies, executives are even turning to a field of study called neuro-linguistic programming, which allows them to understand things like non-verbal cues and emotional states. In that way, it is possible to have a deeper understanding of others and to establish free-flowing dialogs, which are essential for professionals at the C-level.

Risk-Assessment Skills

Becoming a part of a company's C-level means taking on the responsibility of guiding the business toward success, but it also means helping it to steer clear of risk.

To do that, it's necessary to develop the skills needed to spot potential trouble when engaging in decision making processes. This is, according to C-level recruiting experts, one of the most valued qualities of a CEO, and is also prized for all members of an executive suite.

Today, however, studies have shown that more than 80% of organizations provide no risk management guidance to executives – so many companies place a high premium on C-level candidates that bring existing risk-assessment skills to the table.

Change Management Skills

Today's most successful businesses are agile, forward-thinking, and willing to challenge traditional industry thought to create new value for customers and stakeholders.

In truth, however, those ideas fly in the face of the typical notion of what it takes to manage a stable business with predictable outcomes. To bridge the divide between those two competing business imperatives, C-level executives are now counted on to provide effective change management for any parts of the business under their purview. That means having the ability to:

  • Define the size, scope, and specifics of the desired change
  • Present a clear, business-focused reasoning for the change
  • Draft a plan to enact the desired change
  • Gather and analyze data on the progress of the initiative
  • Refine processes mid-stream in response to real-world results

Learning to be an effective change manager takes time, experience, and a great deal of focus. For those working their way up to a C-level position, an excellent way to sharpen those skills is to seek opportunities for project management in current roles. The concepts will be much the same, but with a more narrow scope and less of a learning curve.

An Ability to Learn and Grow

If there's any one skill that's common to every successful C-level executive, it is their ability to reinvent themselves and acquire new skills at every step along their professional journey.

That, more than any other skill, can be the greatest asset one can have to forge a career that culminates in a C-level position.

An openness to new information and a willingness to evolve preconceptions and customs is a part of that skill, as is a hunger to seek out new opinions, data, and competing methodologies – and it's something that should never cease.

Even Indra Nooyi, former CEO of PepsiCo and current Amazon board member sums up the concept thusly: "Just because you are CEO, don't think you have landed. You must continually increase your learning, the way you think, and the way you approach the organization. I've never forgotten that."

If one of the world's most influential and successful executives still sees a need to learn and grow, so too should every aspiring C-level executive.


The Bottom Line

In short, the skills needed to break into the C-level of a company cover a wide range of subjects, from working with and leading others to knowing oneself and striving to expand skills and knowledge at every career phase. In addition, one must be a master of the skills specific to their chosen field, in order to have the business acumen necessary to ascend to the pinnacle of an organization.

Together, the aforementioned skills and the experience gained from a career spent climbing the ranks are what makes a top-tier, prized executive. For anyone aspiring to such heights – you now have a roadmap – all you need do is follow it.


About the Author


Philip Piletic closely follows the impact of technology on education, and its evolution from traditional to modern methods that include e-learning, courses, gamification, and others. He has also helped the Sydney-based IT & Business school in developing their IT courses.

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