7 Leadership Skills of Successful Women

“A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.” – Rosalynn Carter, former First Lady

Women are successful leaders in every industry, from government to business, entertainment, and sports. They all have leadership skills in common that make them stand out. Although these are not all-inclusive, here are seven leadership skills we can develop to make us more successful.

Effective Communications

The ability to communicate effectively is arguably the most important skill for a successful leader. Communication isn’t limited to speaking, but includes listening, writing well, and being able to read and use nonverbal language. These skills help us build relationships and influence–not only within but outside our own team. Communication isn’t one way—it’s up to us as leaders to ensure our team understands our vision and goals.

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Develop this skill

When you give guidance, ask questions and get feedback. Ask your team: “what do you think I mean, in your own words? What do you think–have I left out anything?” This saves valuable time and resources that can be wasted when we think we are understood, only to find out later the team is headed in the wrong direction.

Strategic Vision

Successful women leaders are able to influence other leaders and effect organizational change. Leaders deal with difficult issues that often have little data, and are influenced by market forces and other external organizations. Successful women leaders have learned to anticipate what’s next, and encourage that kind of thinking from their employees.

Develop this skill

Ask, “What is the issue facing my boss’s boss? What outside forces are affecting our industry?”

Creativity and Innovation

Today’s business environment is all about uncertainty and competition. Planning for the next quarter is a challenge. Even more difficult is committing to decisions that will play out in one to five years. Successful women leaders bring creativity and innovation to the challenges by bringing diversity, different working styles, and viewpoints to their teams.

Develop this skill

Ensure your employees have the tools they need: computers, software, and training. When employees dare to be creative and innovative, risk some failure—it’s part of the creative mindset. Ensure your climate doesn’t penalize those who come up with innovative and creative ideas, even if those ideas aren’t always adopted.

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage our own emotions, and those of the people around us. According to Daniel Goleman, a psychologist who helped popularize emotional intelligence with his book, the key elements are self-awareness, motivation, empathy and social skills. The better a leader relates to and works with others, the more successful she will be.

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To develop this skill

Find ways to help you manage stressful situations and negative emotions, so they don’t overwhelm and affect your judgement. Some examples are taking a five-minute walk, or closing your door and breathing deeply. This helps women leaders be assertive rather than reactive, and poised rather than frazzled.

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

Critical thinking to solve problems means asking vital questions around a problem, gathering and assessing relevant information, and coming to a well-reason conclusion. Successful women leaders think open-mindedly about their assumptions and possible consequences.

Develop this skill

Learn to make decisions as fairly and objectively as possible, based on information that is relevant to the issue. Hold your decision against the standard you have set. Understand your own human biases, so you can guard against them.


At the end of the day, leadership is about having the confidence to make decisions. If a leader is afraid to make and commit to decisions, all the empowerment in the world won’t make a difference. It’s human nature to want to failure-proof our business by ensuring we have thought of everything, but in an ever-changing environment, that’s not possible. What separates the successful leader who inspires us into the unknown from those who need a mountain of statistical analysis is confidence.

Develop this skill

Gather a reasonable amount of data, involve other people’s ideas, then do what you think is right. Once you decide, commit and go for it, rather than second guessing yourself. If you have to change course, know that you can do so. Accept the fact that you will fail on occasion–that’s human. While the fearful agonize over decisions, the successful woman leader will take action. That is the definition of leadership


Successful women leaders are trustworthy, first and foremost. When you establish a climate of trust, your team commits to goals, communications improve, and ideas flow more freely. Perhaps most importantly, your employees are more comfortable with change and are more willing to embrace a new vision.

Develop this skill

Be credible: tell the truth and be willing to hear it from others; honor your commitments, and admit mistakes, with a plan to correct them. Be reliable: share information, give credit to employees, and maintain confidences. Be fair: make decisions on merits and facts, and be consistent from one day to the next.

Successful women leaders have these skills, and every one of the can be developed. They aren’t difficult to learn but they do take practice. The better we become at mastering them, the more we will be noticed as successful in our own organization. You can also find out your leadership strengths by taking the Leaders in Heels Leadership Checklist!


Susan C. Foster is an Executive Coach, former NASA and Army executive, and a recovering 24/7 workaholic who believes everyone can learn to be a great leader. She is the author of the book, It’s Not Rocket Science: Leading, Inspiring, and Motivating Your Team To Be Their Best. You can reach her at www.susancfoster.com.