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Claire Savage


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L&D Leadership Traits


We've had many articles and debates recently about the general traits that make for a great (or not so great) leader, but what about the specific area of learning and development? What skills make for a successful training manager or consultant? How do you get to the top of the L&D tree?
I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Claire Savage
Editor, TrainingZONE

9 Responses

  1. Understand the business
    …and speak the language of the business, have absolute confidence in your professionalism and be prepared to stand your ground

  2. The best trainers/consultants hit the target quickly and succinc
    To be a leader in the field of training and consultancy you firstly must believe in what you have to give in terms of helping others to develop.
    Then you must always put yourself into the shoes of the learner/s so that you can specifically target your material to their interests and needs. This will motivate them to listen and take on your messages.
    Above all though the largest part of your contact with learners should be spent in giving them tools, tips and techniques they can use immediately for developing themselves – rather than acres of background analysis.
    The best trainer/consultants can ensure that learners are able to change their behaviours in a short but value packed period of time. (

  3. What level?
    I believe it depends on the level within the organization you are inquiring about. The traits that make a great trainer are not the same traits that make a great training manager.

    Trainers must be able to relate to the learner. Just like previous posts identify. The manager does not need to possess the ability to do so, but he / she does need to understand this requirement so he / she can lead the organization. Above that, the manager must be able to to communicate to senior management within the organization and be able to firmly grab the organization’s goals, then lead the training organization to support those goals.

  4. Leadership in L&D
    Traits of leadership are fairly consistent across disciplines.

    In L&D, I believe the first requirement is to have an in depth knowledge of the discipline (and hopefully some experience!). I’ve seen ‘generalists’ in L&D jobs who have no idea about our discipline.

    One needs the political/business acumen to ensure that the training targeted actually makes a difference in the business and promotes the department as being worthwhile.

    Marketing/promoting the dept as a critical element of a business is important and of course it is important to engage quality staff who will deliver good work and make the dept look good.

    Practising what one preaches is good too; keep the staff trained, self-develop them and ensure the dept is ahead of the pack and not behind it.

    Being proactive is also an excellent attribute in any management position.

  5. Sees potential for individual growth in every opportunity & chal
    Great Leaders in Learning & Development have all the competencies and attributes mentioned above – but the USP – unique “separating” point – is the ability to see potential for individual growth in every opportunity or challenge and to identify an appropriate opportunity to provide the potential for growth.

    And to add to a comment above – doesn’t just ensure her/his team walks the talk – but lives it him/herself. But that’s true of Leaders generally!

  6. Director Emerge Development Consultancy
    Visionary enough to know where the organisation has to be but practical enough to work with the needs and skills of the people in the business. High emotional intelligence with the ability to bring the best out in the team – practices coaching regularly on the job. Able to translate models and thinking into reality without people thinking they have just digested a textbook. Trusting of consultants who are delivering training programmes(!!) but with a strong eye on ROI. Able to mobilise management in the business to support and drive initiatives. Stays ahead of the game in terms of new thinking.

  7. An expert on the dynamics of transition
    Learning and development is essentially about making a transition. People have to let go of old ways of doing things, live with a degree of uncertainty and ambiguity while they change and then take on new ways of thinking and behaving. And they often have to do this while the business environment around them changes at break neck speed.
    To design and deliver effective learning and development processes our profession needs to fully understand these dynamics and to take account of them. The best people in our field know that sheep-dip training solutions do not have a sustained impact on people. In the real world development processes are often open-ended, tentative, fluid, exploratory and iterative! This presents many challenges in organisational life where simple and tangible processes, and magic bullets are much more palatable.
    Executive coaches like myself becomed skilled at navigating leaders through these complex development challenges.
    So, in summary, top practitioners in learning and development are masters at steering individuals and teams through transitions in what are often complex and ambiguous situations.

  8. Fundamentals
    I believe that there are some real fundamentals that truly great leaders in Learning and Development display
    My 10 point guide includes:
    1. Demonstrating a real understanding of the differences between Learning and Development.
    2. Using meaningful metrics about the added value that team brings to the business
    NOT numbers attending training courses or number of training days each month.
    3. Is recognised throughout the business as the “Champion” for Learning and Development of people.
    4. Lives and breathes Learning and Development, including using positive language e.g talks about investment rather than cost and ensures that solutions are an investment to the business.
    5. Constantly encourages development and growth of all team members – practices what is preached.
    6. Is progressive, open to change, uncertainty and transition.
    7.Operates at Strategic level and fully understands Business direction
    8. Encourages partnership and internal consultancy.
    9. Uses expertise of team members and actively encourages latest thinking and methodologies.
    10. Grows personally by using self reflection and learning opportunities.

  9. Leadership in L&D
    Great question, great answers!

    Personally, I do not observe leadership skills as being function-specific, though they may well be context-specific!

    All leaders surely need a clear mission/purpose, vision and values, coherent with their organisation’s? (Oh dear! – this sounds so hackneyed! – but I hope you will excuse jargon in the name of brevity?). But at different times, of course different people may lead! And so they should?

    In the end though, isn’t leadership a quality, rather than a job title?

    In terms of L&D specifically, I’d like to see some guardianship of the Holy Grail of the corporate ‘mission, vision and values’ – preferably in their conception, certainly in their execution!

    Does this help at all? (One of my passions is translating ‘managers’ into ‘leaders’. Preferably, this starts at the top, doesn’t it?)

    Best wishes!


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Claire Savage

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