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4 Top Skills a Digital Leader Needs to Succeed in 2023

Wednesday, May 25th, 2022

Young woman presenting on digital leadership skills

Digital leadership traits and skills are in demand across all businesses and industries. The ability to lead transformational change in an organisation in the age of IT is a prized addition to the CV of anyone working in technology. 

But what is a digital leader, and what skills do they need to be effective? 

Let’s take a look at the most important digital leadership traits and where they can lead you in the competitive tech-led world. 

What is a digital leader?  

Digital leadership is about mastering technology and embracing change. You don’t have to be a technology expert, but in the days of the internet, social media, digital marketing and e-commerce, you clearly can’t be a technophobe! 

It helps for a digital leader to have a firm understanding in all or most types of technology relevant to your industry. You don’t need to be the resident expert in every digital area, but if you can keep up when your organisation’s specialist talk about their concerns and ideas, then you can at least fulfil your role of managing and making effective decisions for the departments involved. 

A digital leader has to have an appreciation of the role that technologies play in your business and in the wider market. You need to be excited about the opportunities that digital technologies represent, and be able to come up with strategies that utilise them in a creative, efficient and profitable way. 

More than anything, a digital leader is a good manager of people and is generally able to inspire and lead teams. The ‘digital’ part is just the area they are particularly focused on for the business. 

What do digital leaders do?  

Some companies have official Chief Digital Officers or Digital Change Managers. Regardless of whether you have a dedicated title, anyone who creates strategy involving technology, or who is in charge of transformation in the organisation through tech can be thought of as a digital leader. 

Delegation, ideation, and strategic thinking are all important, as is the ability to see the organisation’s objectives as a whole and have excellent general business acumen. 

Let’s focus on a few key digital leadership skills that will put you in good stead in 2022 and beyond. Here are our top 4: 

1. Leading digital transformation 

Leading transformation with a technological focus is probably the most important of the digital leadership skills you can bring to a team. Technology moves quickly, and being able to harness the latest digital developments for your organisation can put you at a significant advantage versus your competitors.  

Leading digital transformation means not only understanding how to use new technologies, but it also requires: 

  • getting buy-in from your colleagues 
  • quickly training and upskilling staff 
  • changing processes to incorporate new ideas, hardware or software 
  • managing organisational culture 
  • keeping personnel and systems agile so you can move at speed 

2. Stakeholder management 

Digital leadership traits include great people skills. If you’re asking a whole team or even a whole company to follow you in something completely new, you need to be inspiring – or at least trustworthy. 

Managing stakeholders means keeping everybody well informed at all stages of digital transformation. Good communication is vital – for example, speaking to technologists in their own language or translating complex IT concepts into clear messaging for the marketing department.  

It also involves handling objections and answering queries. You’ll never convince everyone that a big transformation is a great idea straight away, but you need to demonstrate to people that their input is received, their opinions are respected, and your proposals are sound. 

As your organisational changes involve clients or external stakeholders, you must also be able to address their concerns about if and how they’ll be affected by digital transformation.  

All this requires not only powerful people skills, but a deep understanding of business.: 

3. Business analysis 

As a digital leader, you aren’t likely to be the chief expert in each business area, and will often be leading others who are more knowledgeable than you. However, you’ll need to be able to understand their queries and have answers for them. 

A sharp eye for business analysis is an absolutely crucial digital leadership trait to add to your toolkit. Everything you do as a digital leader has to have a business case. If you’re asking people to undergo major structural changes or adapt to new processes, it’s vital that you’ve got the insight to show that it will make things better for the company.  

Business analysis for a digital leader means understanding costs, profit margins, business opportunities, as well as implications for different departments such as legal, HR, marketing and sales. It’s no good to say you’re going to introduce new software if it’s too expensive or you can’t get the personnel to run it.  

A holistic view of your organisation and the marketplace is essential, as is the ability to parse complex datasets and report your findings and forecasts to other stakeholders. 

4. Managing complex projects 

When it comes to what digital leaders do, achieving big changes is what makes them successful. Leaders don’t deal with small matters but they must be able to handle and manage complex projects with professionalism and efficiency. 

For example, this could be leading your teams onto a new e-commerce platform or completely changing the way the business records its data. 

Whatever the technology you’re trying to embrace, transforming a large organisation is complex and at times unwieldy and asks you to keep multiple plates spinning at once. A digital leader must take this in their stride, with the experience to handle bumps in the road with a cool head and a solutions-based approach. 

Build the digital leadership skills needed for a tech-led world with Ulster’s MSc Business in Tech 

The digital leadership skills needed to meet the tech challenges of the coming years will likely come from those already within the industry. If you work in tech and feel you have the potential to take up these kinds of senior leadership positions, brushing up your business acumen could take you far. 

Our online Business in Technology Masters course will give you the flexibility to learn without taking a break from you job. You’ll also have the chance to put some of the key skills in this blog post to real-world use.

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