10 Important Business Skills Every Professional Needs

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Why Is It Important to Improve Your Business Skills?

A foundation in business can not only lead to greater confidence in the workplace but open the door to a myriad of career opportunities. For those who’ve broadened their knowledge by taking a Harvard Business School Online course, the experience has led to such outcomes as:

1. An Understanding of Economics

A baseline knowledge of economics can be valuable in any industry. In addition to an in-depth understanding of pricing strategies and market demand, studying economics can provide a toolkit for making key decisions at your company.

“I knew investment in solar was a good opportunity, but the concept of willingness to sell (WTS) helped me to understand and explain why,” Grecco says. “Because of extra incentives from the city program and group purchasing power, the electrical contractors were willing to sell solar energy systems for a much lower price than usual, thereby increasing our consumer surplus. By explaining WTS, I was able to convince the owner to move forward with this project.”

2. Data Analysis Skills

According to LinkedIn, analytical reasoning is one of the most sought-after hard skills in today’s job market. Knowing how to summarize datasets, recognize trends, and test hypotheses can provide an analytical framework for approaching complex business problems and help you make informed decisions that benefit your firm.

“Using data analytics is a very effective way to have influence in an organization,” says HBS Professor Jan Hammond, who teaches the online course Business Analytics. “If you’re able to go into a meeting, and other people have opinions, but you have data to support your arguments and recommendations, you’re going to be influential.”

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3. Financial Accounting Skills

“I’ve been keeping track of my company’s annual reports, and the accounting that I learned helps me in understanding where the business may head in the future,” Prashant says. “I’ve also been tracking a few other companies for investment purposes, and I’ve realized I can make more informed decisions with my improved knowledge of company financials.”

4. Negotiation Skills

Whether you’re just beginning your professional journey or operating at a senior level, it pays to be an effective negotiator. In a report by the World Economic Forum, negotiation was identified as one of the top 10 people skills needed to thrive in the future workforce.

“However you happen to see yourself as a negotiator, most people you deal with likely have a different style, at least to some degree,” Wheeler says. “To succeed, therefore, you must be agile. That means flexing yourself so that you deploy different skills depending on the situation and whom you’re dealing with.”

5. Business Management Skills

Strong managerial skills are intrinsically linked to organizational performance. A study by Gallup found that managers account for 70 percent of variance in employee engagement, underscoring the need for companies to develop leaders who drive team productivity and morale.

“I’m more aware of looking at things through a larger lens, from a variety of perspectives,” Higgins says. “I’ve always been a fan of asking thoughtful, learning questions—as opposed to making declarations—and I’m now a big fan of playing devil’s advocate.”

6. Leadership Skills

Whether you hold a management position or not, leadership skills are vital to workplace success. While some people think of leadership and management as one and the same, there are differences between the two. Whereas management is centered on implementing processes, leadership is more focused on the people and vision that guide change.

In addition to honing your management skills, building your leadership skills can be beneficial in any profession. From learning to keep calm during times of pressure to developing your own leadership style, these skills can help you understand how to bring your vision to life and position your team for success.

7. Effective Communication

In any business setting, professionals rely on communication to coordinate efforts and accomplish organizational goals. Ineffective communication—or a lack of communication altogether—can prove catastrophic.

Along with developing your skills, a large contributor to success is understanding and adapting to others’ communication styles. Other key communication skills include active listening, empathy, and reading body language.

8. Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is another essential business skill, and research shows it’s a leading indicator of performance in the workplace. According to a study by TalentSmart, 90 percent of top performers have a high degree of emotional intelligence.

How to Improve Your Management Skills

1. Strengthen Your Decision-Making

Sound decision-making is a crucial skill for managers. From overseeing a team to leading a critical meeting, being an effective manager requires knowing how to analyze complex business problems and implement a plan for moving forward.

  • Constructive Conflict: This involves engaging your team members in the decision-making process. It invites diverse perspectives and debate, and stimulates creative problem-solving.
  • Consideration: All stakeholders involved in a decision should feel their viewpoints were fairly considered before a solution is determined. Without this sense of acknowledgment, they may be less inclined to commit to and implement the solution.
  • Closure: This is a function that ensures stakeholders are aligned before proceeding. It requires defining what constitutes a project or initiative as “done” within a set period, determining if anything remains to be accomplished, and ensuring everyone agrees as to whether the outcome was a success.

By ensuring your decision-making process encompasses these qualities, you can become a key contributor at your organization and influence the context in which decisions get made.

2. Cultivate Self-Awareness

This core tenet of emotional intelligence requires introspection and an honest evaluation of your strengths and weaknesses. Through engaging in self-assessment and turning to trusted colleagues to gain insight into your managerial tendencies, you can chart a path for your professional development that hones in on areas where you need to improve, enabling you to bring out the best in yourself and others.

3. Build Trust

Seek to forge deeper connections with your colleagues by engaging in small talk before meetings and learning more about their lives outside the scope of their work. In addition, encourage inclusive dialogue about personal and professional differences, and be open to diverse viewpoints in discussions.

4. Be a Better Communicator

Strong communication skills are a hallmark of any successful manager. Being in a managerial role involves tackling complex business situations and ensuring your team has the information and tools required to succeed.

When facing such challenges as navigating organizational change, be transparent about the tasks at hand and instill your team with a shared vision of how your company can benefit from the impending transition. Continually provide updates and reiterate the plan for moving forward to ensure your employees are aligned and understand how their work factors into larger corporate objectives.

5. Establish Regular Check-ins

Make it a habit to regularly check in with your employees outside of their annual performance reviews. According to research by Gallup, team members whose managers provide weekly feedback are over:

Keep the conversation informal when delivering feedback to your employees, and focus on the person’s progress toward organizational goals, rather than their personality. In addition, help them set an action plan for moving forward, and affirm your role as a trusted advisor as they tackle next steps.

6. Carve Out Time for Reflection

Beyond regular check-ins, set a consistent cadence for reflecting on and reviewing your team’s work. In one study by Harvard Business School Professors Francesca Gino and Gary Pisano, it was found that call center employees who spent 15 minutes reflecting at the end of the workday performed 23 percent better after 10 days than those who did not.

“If we don’t have the time and space to reflect on what we’re doing and how we’re doing it, we can’t learn,” Edmondson says. “In so many organizations today, people just feel overly busy. They’re going 24/7 and think, ‘I don’t have time to reflect.’ That’s a huge mistake, because if you don’t have time to reflect, you don’t have time to learn. You’re going to quickly be obsolete. People need the self-discipline and the collective discipline to make time to reflect.”

Schedule reflection sessions shortly after the completion of an initiative or project and invite all members of your team to participate, encouraging candor and debate. Hone in on problems and issues that can be fixed, and plot a corrective action plan so that you don’t encounter the same pitfalls in your upcoming undertakings.

7. Complete Management Training

Through additional training, such as an online management course, you can learn new techniques and tools that enable you to shape organizational processes to your advantage. You can also gain exposure to a network of peers with various backgrounds and perspectives who can inform your managerial approach and help you grow professionally.

“My favorite part of the program was interacting with my cohort members,” Porch says. “I received valuable shared experiences and feedback, and was able to be a thought partner around strategies and best practices in varying scenarios.”

Elevating Your Management Skills

An ability to manage people and implement projects on time and on budget is a business skill that all professionals should strive to master. Through sharpening your soft-skills, building self-awareness, continuing your education, and other strategies, you can gain the skills needed to excel as a manager and lead both your team and organization to success.

Do you want to become a more effective leader and manager? Explore our online leadership and management courses to learn how you can take charge of your professional development and accelerate your career. To find the right course for you, download the free flowchart.

About the Author

Matt Gavin is a member of the marketing team at Harvard Business School Online. Prior to returning to his home state of Massachusetts and joining HBS Online, he lived in North Carolina, where he held roles in news and content marketing. He has a background in video production and previously worked on several documentary films for Boston’s PBS station, WGBH. In his spare time, he enjoys running, exploring New England, and spending time with his family.

Frequently Asked Questions

Managers are responsible for running the organization effectively and ensuring everyone works together toward a common goal. Managers can not manage employees to achieve the organization’s goals without managerial skills.

Project management, sales management, product management, operation management, business development, risk management, financial management, event management, retail management, wholesale management, supply chain management skills, etc.

Conflict resolution skills or conflict management skills, communication skills, negotiation skills, teamwork skills, delegation management, employee relationship management, customer relationship, partnership management, stakeholder management, effective team management, coaching and training skills, etc.



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