Top 10 Emerging Skills for the C-Suite

Gartner TalentNeuron™ data shows that C-suite executives are increasingly expected to have both technical skills such as advanced-tech knowledge and design thinking “soft” skills.

“Every day I have to influence someone I’ve never met before,” says a senior executive at one technology company. “‘People skills” have long been on the must-have list for the C-suite, but senior executives today have to influence, negotiate and innovate at speed to steer their organizations through fast-changing, volatile business conditions.

This need is borne out in Gartner TalentNeuron data, which shows demand for design thinking tops the list of emerging soft (cognitive and social) skills needed by the C-suite today. Also increasingly in demand: High-tech “hard” (technical) skills needed to lead in increasingly digitalized terrain awash in emerging technologies.

It’s important to know what characterizes the high-performing leader of today and tomorrow

“Organizations are integrating emerging technologies more than ever to drive innovation and growth,” says Amanda Joseph-Little, Director and Team Manager at Gartner. “Such rapid digitalization leads to changes in the skills that organizations need in the workforce, including C-suite roles.”

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Data shows sharp growth of certain in-demand skills

Gartner TalentNeuron analyzed over 400 job postings for C-suite executives from 2015 to 2018 from locations around the world, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, the U.K. and the U.S. The analysis revealed the top 10 hard and soft skills — those with the highest emerging demand since 2015 for all C-level job titles.

Building the leadership bench is a major priority for human resources (HR) leaders, but to attract and develop the right team, it’s important to know what characterizes the high-performing leader of today and tomorrow — and, therefore, where the greatest demand will lie, especially given the tendency of demand to converge on critical talent.

Top 10 hard skills  

Demand has increased most for C-suite hard skills around artificial intelligence, data science, machine learning techniques and cybersecurity — skills that enable senior executives to drive digital business strategies more effectively and advocate for enterprise process automation to drive efficiency.

Gartner TalentNeuron data shows in-demand hard or technical skills for the C-Suite

Skills related to platform use exemplify the need for all C-suite leaders to access and use data to make informed decisions about their talent.

The rising demand for cybersecurity skills demonstrates the need for all C-suite executives to support the risk management that accompanies a greater use of technology and data.

Top 10 soft skills

Design thinking, strategic management and adaptability are the soft skills with the highest growth in demand for C-suite executives. The focus is also on customer centricity — with demand for complaint management, customer satisfaction and customer relations skills, as well as sales skills and sales leadership. These skills all reflect the need for the entire C-suite to really understand how to acquire, retain and sell to customers effectively.

Gartner TalentNeuron data shows in-demand soft, that is cognitive and social skills for the C-Suite

The Gartner 2019 CEO Survey showed that leaders rank simple growth, IT-related items, corporate (structural development), financial, workforce and customer as top strategic business priorities for 2019 and 2020. This data confirms the breadth of skills that will be expected in high-performing C-suites.

This article is based on insights that are part of an in-depth collection of research, tools, templates and advice available to Gartner clients.


Gartner for HR clients can read 3 conversations every CHRO and CEO must have about network innovation and watch a webinar on trends and innovations in leadership development. Also available are Gartner Labor Market Insights and the Labor Market Portal for global labor market insights, benchmarking and implementation tools.

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