Top Executive Management Skills Needed to Succeed in the C-Suite

Managers who aspire to a senior leadership role in the C-suite need a combination of management skills and leadership capabilities. However, not every workplace is able to facilitate the type of learning and growth required for success, which can make career advancement challenging. For many people, being involved in a philanthropic organization or advancing your education are good ways to gain the necessary knowledge, tools, and perspectives needed to prepare for the C-suite.

The guide below identifies what makes a good executive and highlights a list of executive skills required for senior-level leadership. Use this guide to see which skills you already have under your belt, and which ones need to be developed or improved.

1. Senior Leadership Skills

Leadership capabilities are the most important factor when advancing into an executive position. Organizations want leaders who can understand and encourage people. They seek leaders who can learn from past experiences, take on new challenges, and make decisions under uncertainty. Think about your past leadership roles. What did you do well? What could you have improved?

There is always room for improvement, but effective leadership takes practice. Can you take on more projects at work to refine your skills? If that isn’t an option, can you volunteer for leadership roles at a not-for-profit? Another route is to take a leadership-centric course.

2. C-Suite Communication & Presentation Skills

Effective senior managers need C-suite level communication skills. They need to be able to converse with people at every level of an organization. This includes presentation skills beyond a slide deck. Persuasion and influence are powerful skills for any executives and should be reflected in all aspects of communication.

To improve your communication skills, ask for feedback from colleagues. Observe other leaders you admire and note what makes them effective communicators. You also can take a class on communication and influence.

3. Change Management Skills

Change management is an increasingly important skill among senior leaders. They need the capability to identify opportunities for change and then lead their organization to execute a new path forward. An often overlooked part of the executive skillset, learning about change management can be an important differentiator for leaders.

4. Subject Matter Expertise

Don’t underestimate the importance of subject-matter expertise. At this point, you’ve likely built up knowledge in a particular area of your organization. But how much do you know about the other areas of the business? If you manage a department, how much do you understand about how other departments impact organizational decisions? If you’ve managed smaller teams, do you know what it takes to lead a broader unit?

Think about the knowledge and skills that you’ve accumulated in your career so far. Can you identify any gaps that might be keeping you from achieving your C-level goals? What knowledge and skills do you need to acquire and improve to make your goal a reality? An EMBA program can help advance your business knowledge without disrupting your career.

5. Strategic Thinking & Foresight

Being able to develop strategic, forward-looking plans is a key skill for senior leaders. This helps ensure future success for the business and is paramount to success in the C-suite. Leaders must be able to factor in the needs of every part of an organization — not just the areas in which they have the most knowledge and experience. If you don’t understand the organization as a whole, you won’t be able to implement change initiatives to move it forward.

6. Decision Making

Leaders have to make quick, informed decisions — even when they don’t have all of the necessary information. There are many opportunities to learn from other leaders in history how they made these types of decisions for better or worse. Developing effective decision-making skills now will benefit you as you move into senior leadership roles.

7. Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is generally considered an executive leadership quality, which can be developed. This is the ability to manage your own emotions as well as the emotions of those around you. Important aspects of emotional intelligence include empathy, relationship management, self-awareness, and social awareness. You can grow your emotional intelligence by practicing listening skills, being open to constructive criticism, and staying self-aware.

8. Employee Development

Good managers aren’t solely focused on their own career trajectories. They also focus on building up their team to strengthen the organization as a whole. A senior manager is only as good as their team.

When you identify opportunities for growth, consider how they might benefit your team members. Ensure that teams are comprised of people with diverse strengths and perspectives. Offer to help members showcase strengths and improve weaknesses.

9. Delegation

Finally, understand that delegation doesn’t mean offloading work. Delegation should be seen as an opportunity to teach and develop your peers. Effective delegation is a hallmark of a good leader.

Learning Top Management Skills at Wharton

When you come to Wharton’s EMBA program, you won’t just learn about management, you’ll learn how to become an effective senior leader. These skills are built into the first-year curriculum in courses such as Foundations of Teamwork and Leadership, Management Communication, and Responsibility in Global Management. In the second year, students can further explore management and leadership topics with electives.

EMBA students who want to dive deeper into this topic can also participate in:
Global Modular Courses on management themes
Leadership Venture Expeditions
The Executive Coaching and Feedback Program (ECFP), which supports MBA students in the pursuit of deeper self-awareness and improved leadership skills

After graduation, EMBA students join an alumni network comprised of business leaders around the world.

Josh Kanter, WG’15- How this Alum Advanced to the C-Suite

Jeff Hedges, WG’15 – Why this CFO Calls Wharton a Powerful Credential

Joan Lau, WG’08 – How Wharton Helped this Alum Transition from Scientist to CEO