Developing Change Leadership Skills and Why They're Useful

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated October 6, 2022

Published October 18, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Managing change is an inevitable aspect of leadership. Leaders who are able to predict, handle, and champion change can help their staff not only handle it but thrive with it. Understanding how you can develop your change leadership ability to improve your workplace is key to becoming a leader who can use change for progress. In this article, we define change leadership skills, explain why they're beneficial, list the skills of change leaders, provide tips for putting them into practice, and give examples of change leaders in different fields.

What are change leadership skills?

Change leadership skills are the tools that managers and supervisors use to guide their staff through developments and changes in the workplace. While workplaces are constantly changing, change leadership is a style of management that champions improvement and adaptability. Change leaders use new technologies and innovative resources to develop their workforce to meet their maximum potential. Leaders who emphasize the benefit of change motivate forward-thinking strategies and inspire progress among their teams. The skills change leaders possess also include interpersonal and project management abilities.

Related: How To Be an Inspiring Leader in Six Steps (With Traits)

Why it's beneficial to develop these skills

Change leadership is a proactive style of management, which allows leaders to manage staff in a dynamic and progressive way. Developing change leader skills means that managers can be more flexible and forward-thinking in their roles. Managers who focus on growing their change leader skills excel at handling changes in the workplace and putting new systems, processes, and technologies in place.

Change leadership skills for managers to develop

Here are a few change leader skills that you can develop to lead in forward-thinking ways:

Active listening

Effective communication involves not only communicating your ideas and opinions but actively listening to those of others. Change leaders who engage in active listening are better able to understand the needs of their staff and more effectively direct the implementation of new processes. Active listening means engaging with the people you work with and hearing them fully to understand their viewpoint. In the context of change leadership, developing active listening skills means being receptive to how staff are handling changes, or if they have any input.

Leaders can facilitate active listening by directly soliciting feedback, which staff can offer in meetings or feedback focus groups. If change leaders establish an understanding among their staff that they're open to feedback, they tend to be more likely to offer it, even if not explicitly requested. One of the best ways to track the progress of a new system or process is by having those who use them every day report on their experience. Feedback is only as useful as the degree to which the recipient is open to receiving it.

Related: 10 Common Leadership Styles

Communication

Aside from listening, other communication skills are also essential to effective change leadership. Being able to inform, instruct, and direct staff or colleagues clearly is essential when introducing a new organizational element to a company. Communication is key to smooth transitions in the workplace and developments that don't give rise to problems. You can establish regular and effective communication in a range of ways, including frequent correspondence such as emails or calls or in-person meetings. Communication relies on clear and proactive messaging from all levels of an organization.

Strategic thinking

Implementing changes and motivating developments in a work environment relies on a high degree of strategic thinking. Planning is essential to making productive changes, especially those that involve many people or departments. Strategic thinking means having a broad view of the entire process and understanding the intricacies of every stage.

Thinking about change strategically helps to create an order of operations to maximize efficiency. Effective change leaders can involve the right people at the right time in a process to benefit the company overall. Strategic thinking also means being able to anticipate potential or inevitable issues throughout the change process.

Research

Implementing change is not without its share of risk. You can mitigate this risk by conducting thorough research on the change that is being implemented, how others have done it in the past, and alternative approaches, if necessary. By the very nature of motivating change, new and unfamiliar elements are usually the main import of change leaders. Because of this, being able to research not only innovative changes to implement but how to fix any problems that may arise is essential to succeeding as a change leader.

Related: How To Be a Lead at Work (With Steps)

Engaged leadership

Being a change leader isn't simply motivating innovations but being a proactive leader of people, too. Effective leaders combine their interpersonal skills with decision-making and the execution abilities they have. Change leadership is a highly productive way to lead and requires key leadership qualities, such as initiative and engagement. Managers who maintain a high level of involvement throughout the implementation of changes are better able to control their success by recognizing issues and opportunities alike.

Progress analysis

Change leaders usually implement changes to achieve specific goals. Being able to measure and analyze the progress of new systems, procedures or policies is fundamental to evaluating the success of those changes. This can also inform future changes based on how successful or not developments have been.

Being able to prove that a change has resulted in a positive outcome is also key for motivating teams to trust your change leadership. For example, imagine that you're a restaurant manager who has implemented a new system for clocking in and out. Being able to present a result of fewer underpaid staff proves that the changes you made have benefited them, which in turn grows their trust in you.

Tips for putting change leader skills into practice

Here are a few helpful tips to help you put change leader skills into practice among your team:

  • Delegate: Implementing changes is a complex process, so delegating some responsibilities can help share the burden. You can delegate tasks such as monitoring the progress, conducting research, or collecting feedback about the change being put in place.

  • Facilitate communication: Facilitating regular opportunities for feedback about changes being made is vital to understanding how they're progressing or if staff or management can take any further action to improve the process. You can do this by hosting regular work-in-progress meetings or forums or issuing feedback forms.

  • Celebrate little victories: Part of motivating staff to accept change is proving to them that the result of the change is positive. Regularly celebrating small wins is highly motivational and creates a positive association with a new organizational element.

  • Conduct internal research: Before implementing any changes, it's wise to know the current system and how it relates to staff or other processes intimately. Just because a change has worked for one company, doesn't mean it necessarily works for all.

  • Clarify your goals first: Having precise outcome expectations is key to motivating a change and understanding if introducing it was a success. These goals may be productivity, staff retention, revenue, or any other measurable metric.

Examples of change leaders in different fields

Here are two examples of change leaders in different fields to give you an idea of what change leadership looks like in various scenarios:

Example 1

Here's an example of a change leader introducing new software tools to benefit the company:

José is the accounting supervisor for a coffee producer. The company relies on handling paper invoices to carry out its accounting systems, which is time-consuming, inefficient, and allows errors. After researching different options, José implements a digital accounts receivable system, which allows his accounting team to enter accounts receivable information, and track accounts payable transactions from electronic invoices and reports. Introducing this whole new process took a few weeks of installation and training, and cost the business an initial investment in the software.

José's change to the company's accounting system means that his team now processes invoices 30% faster and with 40% fewer errors. His team now has more time available to carry out more tasks and compile more comprehensive financial reports. Because José lead this change among his team, both the employees and the company benefitted.

Example 2

Here's an example of a change leader introducing a new training scheme:

Mary is the retail manager of a department store. When Mary hires new staff to work as retail assistants, they're usually trained over the course of two weeks in an unstructured process of shadowing existing staff members. Mary works with senior staff members to create a checklist of the key skills in which to train new staff. She constructs a plan to teach new retail assistants each of these skills over their first week, with a senior staff member training them.

With Mary's new training scheme in place, new employees learn how to do the job in half the time and have a more comprehensive knowledge of the skills they require. The new system also makes it easier to identify areas where new staff need help or where they excel. Mary's checklist also helps new employees to understand the tasks they can carry out without having to be directed by another retail assistant.

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