Do you have the skills you need to succeed and excel as a data leader? 

In 2008, Google undertook an initiative to uncover the traits of its best managers. The initiative was called Project Oxygen and the project involved gathering over 10,000 manager observations including performance reviews, surveys, and nominations for top-manager awards and recognition. The study identified eight characteristics that all good managers have in common, and in 2018 the research was revisited when additional employee feedback was gathered, revealing two more major themes.

So, what does it take to be a good manager?  Well, it starts with coaching – the top attribute for any successful leader. Surprisingly, the study concluded that nine out of the top ten characteristics for success at Google were ‘soft skills’ such as coaching and communication, with hard technical skills coming further down the list in eighth place.  

The Top 10 Skills of the Best Managers, according to Google’s research:

The term ‘soft skills’ is actually a bit of a misnomer, as these traits are all hard-won and rigorously maintained abilities that could be better viewed as ‘power skills.’  When you think about it, the role of a data leader is to lead a data function, not, for the most part, to perform hands-on data work. Data leaders need to understand the context of the technical considerations, but it’s the ‘soft’ key leadership skills that are crucial to their success.

Often, career and salary progression paths in companies require a person to take on leadership responsibilities. However, great employees don’t always make the best managers. Whilst some data professionals may understand the domain and have the skills to execute well individually, many may prefer to just focus on their work and do not necessarily have the leadership skills needed to successfully manage a team. 

Alternatively, some data professionals might actually have the potential to become good data leaders but may not have been given the coaching and leadership support they need in order to succeed. 

Whilst data professionals spend over 10,000 hours honing their ‘hard skills’ (e.g., programming, mathematics, and engineering) effectively by doing their day jobs, studies have revealed, they spend less than 100 hours honing these crucially important ‘soft skills’.

In light of this, we are launching a five-part series to try and re-address this balance.  We will take a look some of the foundational enablers underpinning these ‘soft skills’, how they can be best applied in a data context and explore why they are so important for successful data leadership.  The series will cover:

  1. Data Storytelling
  2. Questioning and listening
  3. Gaining buy-in
  4. Giving feedback
  5. Collaboration

So, whether you’re looking to move up the career ladder, about to embark on your first managerial role or you’re a data manager in need of a little coaching, these skills, if honed correctly, will become some of your most valuable assets. 


If you found this article useful, and you’d like to help your best people and teams excel through data leadership coaching, please get in touch. We’d love to hear from you. To find out more email:


About Tony Lamb
Tony Lamb is a Director of Nua Training and Lamb Direct Consulting Ltd.  He has over 30 years’ experience of launching and running data businesses, and building high performing teams. His last inhouse role was as Head of Data Strategy at Royal Mail.

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