Robert Katz identifies three critical skill sets for successful leaders: technical skills, interpersonal (or human) skills, and conceptual skills. Leaders must possess specific technical skills that assist them in optimizing managerial performance. While these three broad skill categories encompass a wide spectrum of capabilities, each describes how these skills interact with management at various levels.

Skills of Successful Leaders

Defining Technical Skills

Of the three skill sets identified by Katz, technical skills are the broadest, most easily defined category. A technical skill is a learned capacity in just about any field of work, study, or even play. For example, the quarterback of a football team must know how to plant his feet and position his arm for accuracy and distance—both technical skills. A mechanic needs to be able to deconstruct and reconstruct an engine, employ various machinery (lifts, computer scanning equipment, etc.), and install a muffler.


Leaders also need a broad range of technical know-how. All industries need management, and management must exist at various organizational levels. A technical skill for a leader might include a working understanding of a piece of equipment: the ability to coach the employee on its operation, as well as communicate to people the essential functions of the machinery.

Leaders in other corporate roles and at higher levels require critical technical skills. These can include office-based competencies such as typing, programming, website maintenance, writing, giving presentations, and using software such as Microsoft Office or Adobe. Office environments require complex communicative, technological, and data-organization skills to optimize managerial performance.

Successful organizational leaders must learn to use technological assets, collecting critical information and data to communicate upward for strategic planning. An example of information management is a mid-level manager in the automotive industry responsible for recognizing global marketing potential. This individual must realize the legal, demographic, social, technological, and economic considerations of entering a market; the manager will use effective research and delegation skills and consolidate the information into a helpful presentation using technological and communicative skills.

Katz postulates that the higher up in the organization an individual rises, the more conceptual skills (and fewer technical skills) are necessary. Senior managers need fewer technical skills because strategic decision-making is inherently more conceptual; mid and lower-level skills such as data collection, assessment, and discussion are more technical. All management disciplines require various skill sets for effective business processes.

Conceptual Skills

Conceptual skills revolve around generating ideas through creative intuitions and a comprehensive understanding of a given context.

Conceptual skills represent one of the three skill sets identified by Robert Katz as critical to a leader’s success in an organization. While each skill set is helpful in different circumstances, conceptual skills tend to be most relevant in upper-level thinking and broad strategic situations (as opposed to lower-level and line management). As a result, conceptual skills are often viewed as critical success factors of leadership.

Conceptual thinking is difficult to define but can generally be considered the ability to formulate ideas or mental abstractions in the mind. Conceptual skills primarily revolve around generating ideas, utilizing a combination of creative intuitions and a comprehensive understanding of a given context (i.e., incumbent‘s industry, organizational mission and objectives, competitive dynamics, etc.). When combined with a variety of information and a degree of creativity, conceptual thinking results in new ideas, unique strategies, and differentiation.

While all levels of leaders benefit from conceptual thinking, upper leadership spends the most time within this frame of mind (instead of thinking more technically—looking at and working with the detailed elements of a given operation or business process). Leaders are primarily tasked with identifying and drafting a strategy for an organization’s broader operational and competitive approach. This strategic planning includes generating organizational values, policies, mission statements, ethics, procedures, and objectives. Creating this complex mix of concepts to use as an organizational foundation requires many conceptual skills—formulating concepts and predicting their effects in an organizational setting.

While upper-level leaders may use conceptual skills the most, all leaders must understand and participate in generating company objectives and values. Of particular importance are the abilities to communicate these critical concepts to subordinates and gather helpful information to convey to upper management so that the concepts can evolve. Collecting the results of conceptual thinking represents a feedback loop. Conceptual skills are essential in empowering leaders at all levels of an organization to observe the operations of an organization and frame them conceptually as an aspect of that organization’s strategy, objectives, and policies. Conceptual thinking allows for accurate and timely feedback and organizational adaptability.

Interpersonal Skills

Over the years, the standard definition of management has become less specific, as managerial functions can include staffing, directing, and reporting. Modern companies have fewer layers of management, as these companies instead rely on delegating responsibilities and authority to achieve goals. As a result, businesses often speak of leading or guiding people rather than giving instructions for every action. Leading people represents a central component of human skills. Interpersonal skills differentiate a manager from a leader. A manager is simply manipulating resources to achieve a given objective, while a leader appeals to the human side of employees to generate creativity and motivation. These concepts of “manager” and “leader” can be distinguished within a team setting. A team leader who is unconcerned with team members’ needs or who has a personal agenda perceived to be more important than the team’s goals is more of a manager than a leader and may alienate team members. Conversely, team leaders who are admired and loyally followed show concern for the team members as individuals with real needs who place their team above their agendas.

Realistically, most organizations need leaders who can view their teams analytically and objectively, evaluating inefficiencies and making unpopular choices. However, it is misleading to think that a manager has to be distant from or disliked by subordinates to execute these responsibilities. Creating a healthy environment conducive to development, criticism, and higher degrees of achievement requires solid human skills, particularly in communication.

Skills of a Retail Manager. https://courses.lumenlearning.com/wm-retailmanagement/chapter/skills-of-a-retail-manager/  From: Additional Roles and Skills of Managers. CC BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike 


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