The Essential Skills of a Change Leader

Not only does a successful change strategy require good planning, but also the drive of a good leader. Change leadership is a specific type of leadership that is required to ensure a change strategy is supported throughout the organisation and everyone understands what is trying to be achieved. Even a perfectly planned and necessary change strategy can fail to realise if its employees are not behind it and a change leader can play a big part in ensuring this does not happen.

Six characteristics are repeatedly cited as essential for a change leader and we will discuss them in further detail below.


Possibly the most important ability of a change leader is to envisage a future where the organisation is performing at a higher level. Identifying how organisation will be performing differently and how they can get there is the key skill for the leader. This is not simply copying the practices of a competitor or advancing processes in the same way as they have done in the past, but seeing a vision that goes beyond traditions and accepted practices.

Coalition Building

Although we have emphasised the importance of a change leader, they certainly cannot drive the change on their own. It is essential the change leader assembles a coalition with the right mix of expertise, contacts and experience to carry out the task. Having senior members on board that can liaise with different departments, bring different skills to the table and raise the profile of the strategy will make the task easier for the change leader.

Communication Skills

Excellent communication skills will be vital throughout the process for the change leader. Firstly, they must sell their vision across the organisation. Explaining the reasons for the strategy and the final outcome will often generate support, however, convincing some individuals may require more effort. Although it is important to initially get support from senior management, spreading support throughout the organisation is equally important for its long-term success. It is then also essential that the change leader continues to remind all individuals of the initial vision and the progress through the strategy.

Interpersonal Skills

As well as communication skills, the leader must be a good listener and delegator in order to lead the change as successfully as possible. These are general leadership attributes, but are particularly important when leading a change strategy.


Motivation throughout the process is key. Often support for the strategy can diminish as deadlines are pushed back or the initial excitement is lost. An effective change leader will continue to remind employees of the initial vision and encourage them to continue to work towards it. Targets throughout the process can be set to motivate employees at different stages of change.

Big Picture

The change leader should have the ‘big picture’ of what is trying to be achieved throughout the process. This keeps all tasks aligned with the overall objective and helps to motivate employees.

These skills will give any change leader a strong foundation to drive their strategy forward. However, the situation will generally dictate when and if these skills should be used.

Kotter, John P. (1996) Leading Change. Boston, Mass.: Harvard Business School Press, 1996. Print.

Kanter, Rosabeth Moss, Barry Stein, and Todd Jick. (1992). The Challenge of Organizational Change. New York: Free Press, 1992. Print.