10 Professional Skills That’ll Set You Apart from the Competition

career advancement Dec 24, 2023
close up of man holding a table with icons above it.

If you asked anyone to list off necessary professional skillsets, you’ll hear the same buzzwords over and over again. 

  • Communication
  • Time management
  • Leadership
  • Teamwork
  • Management 

These are all important, for sure. But there are several other skills that will set you apart from the professional competition but get way less airtime.

In this article, I’m sharing 10 leadership-focused skills for you to develop to better your career, while simultaneously helping your work-life balance

1. Energy Management 

Personally, I believe that energy management is more important in many ways than time management. 

Often, people try to brute force their way through time management – forcing themselves to meet impossible deadlines, work through exhaustion, and live by their calendars. The results are a calendar packed full and a recipe for burnout. This strategy has zero respect for how your body or brain likes to operate. 

Instead, I suggest prioritizing tasks, key projects, long-term goals, and events through energy management. This means scheduling blocks for work at times when you have the most energy for that task.

For me, I figured out I do my best thinking work in the morning. So, I set aside several blocks a week in the morning for major project time. 

I also find I have the energy for coaching meetings later in the day, which also aligns with most of my clients’ calendars, so I set availability in the late afternoon and early evening for clients to book those sessions. 

Balancing energy is much kinder to your mind and body, which leads to more effective work overall. 

2. Boundary Setting 

Burnout happens when our lives begin getting out of alignment with our work. When you are nearing burnout,  you may feel powerless, with no personal control over your situation. 

This is what happens when boundaries are not set AND kept.

Whether you don’t set boundaries, or set them and don’t keep them, many of our boundaries are lacking in the workplace. 

Boundaries are an essential skill to have in any career; they not only teach people how to treat us, but they also teach us how to treat ourselves. 

One of my favorite podcasters, authors, and brainiacs, Tim Ferriss, talks about boundaries in terms of policies in his blog post Finding the One Decision that Removes 100 Decisions”.

Some policies I have:

  • I don’t take meetings before 9:30am.
  • I take a half day off each week - usually Tuesday afternoon.
  • I don’t do free public speaking at for-profit events unless I have an opportunity to market my products and services.

Not only do boundaries protect our well-being, but they also save us time and mental effort in the future. 

3. Effectiveness Focus

Most managers have two things in mind – efficiency and productivity. 

And while these focuses can be useful in fields with standardized operations, they don’t translate well to knowledge work. 

In knowledge work - even in STEM fields like engineering and software development -  there is a lot of creativity at play. They tackle different tasks daily with a lot less predictability, and they almost never create the exact same thing twice.

We need to step back from our addiction to output metrics and ask ourselves like

  •  What is our mission?
  •  What are we trying to accomplish?
  • What is the most effective way to go about it? 

Turning the focus to effectiveness and allows you and your colleagues to step off the hamster wheel for once and innovate.

4. Running Toward Trouble

Sometimes, even the highest-level executives will avoid troublesome situations. But I believe that the most effective leaders will run toward the problems, rather than ignoring them and hoping they go away. 

I got this idea from my friend Jeff Meyer, who owns Covenant Consulting, an IT staffing firm headquartered in the KC Metro Area. Jeff and his team believe in leaning into problems, running straight towards the conflict to problem-solve and maintain trust. 

My advice would be to take a page from Jeff’s book; don’t avoid a conflict because you’re uncomfortable or anxious. Confronting it immediately gets ahead of the issue and does wonders for your reputation. It’s an A+ trust builder.

5. Curiosity

When you are extremely busy, you rarely have much time for curiosity. It’s easy to slip into judgment mode or “get shit done mode” without taking a breath, or the opportunity to ask valuable questions. 

Curiosity is key in all fields. And if you don’t come by it naturally, this is a skill that can be cultivated in time. Simply asking questions instead of making assumptions is a great way to start.

Learning to ask excellent questions is doable, and has personal and practical effects. Curiosity can help you build relationships and find new ways to solve problems – two essential skills that’ll set you apart from the professional competition. 

6. Public Speaking

There is a lot of talk about communication being a key skill for leaders. But I believe communication is too broad of a term for most people to latch on to and develop. 

We all have to communicate in *some* way to survive, and simply telling people to communicate results in them leaning into skills they already have, not learning new ones. 

Public speaking is a specific, tangible skill that you can develop to grow your influence. 

Seeking public speaking opportunities can help you become regionally known, actively recruited, and more confident in your overall communication skills. 

Whether it means being on stage in front of hundreds of people, talking on a niche podcast, or giving a talk to 12 people at a local user group, public speaking forces you to get comfortable gathering your thoughts and putting them in front of people, increasing your credibility. 

7. Constructive Laziness

Many think that hard and long work is the best way to get ahead. And while this works to a point, it is not the be-all-end-all of career growth

In fact, you’ll plateau using this method, if you don’t burn out long before that. 

Consider putting your “lazy hat” on to help you reconsider your work. Investigate steps that aren’t adding value and look for more efficient processes. 

A prime example of this is the use of online calendars.  I’ve been using Acuity since 2018 for my business, so it’s normal for me.  

What’s new since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic is the number of regular professionals using free online calendars to let their friends book networking calls or virtual social chats. 

These bits of laziness can remove decisions and bureaucracy and can ultimately help drive innovation.

8. Handling Ambiguity

The further along you get in your career, the more decisions you will have to make and the more important this decision-making will be. 

You’ll often have to make decisions quickly, sometimes with incomplete information. 

Many of us struggle to handle ambiguity. But learning to get comfortable moving through your day-to-day when things aren’t certain is an important skill to cultivate. 

Figure out what you need to do to get comfortable making decisions quickly and with little information. 

9. Experimentation

Experimentation is the heart and soul of many industries like marketing, software product development, and more. 

It is one of the most important skills to develop, transforming your mindset to embrace the uncertainty that comes with experimentation. 

Some people, particularly in leadership roles, seek to control everything, even the unknown. They want to be able to plan ahead of time. 

But things move quickly, customers are constantly changing, and we may think we know what they want, but we really don’t.

Keeping up with this fast pace means working within the uncertainty and knowing how to test and experiment. Whether it be rough prototypes or email tests, this experimentation will ultimately lead to better outcomes. 

10. Resting and Encouraging Rest

When people are in their most stressed, irritable states, this can create high risks of toxicity in the workplace. 

And the biggest cause of this is a lack of rest. 

Rest is different from time management and boundary setting, though they definitely have intersections. 

It’s also not just about sleep or a getaway to the beach.  Psychology Today defines 7 kinds of stress people need to stay healthy.

Learning to rest means listening to your body, brain, and spirit to know when it’s time to take a break. The very worst thing you could do in many situations is to work harder, which many of us turn to. 

Rest is needed for creativity and innovation to come through, both essential to a high-performing career. 

Learn to take time for rest and encourage it in others, whether it be a team you’re managing or a common thread you spread throughout your workplace. Though it may seem simple, this is the skill that will truly set you apart from the professional competition.

Final Thoughts from the No BS Career Coach: Professional Skillsets We Need to Be Talking About

In the end, working harder than anyone in the room can only get you so far in your career. In order to reach your career goals, you must develop specialized skills that transcend domains to make you an exceptional leader. 

By cultivating these 10 skills, you’ll become more effective in your craft and reach new leadership opportunities all while improving your relationship with work.

If you’re interested in charting a path to build these and other leadership skills, you may be a great candidate for one of my coaching programs. To learn more, book an intro call today.