SHRM Survey of Executives Reveals Gap in Leadership Competency

Bosses call competencies critical to business success but note they are missing in many workers

Mar 3, 2016

ALEXANDRIA, Va.— Leadership stands out as a business competency critical for success, executives from across business units told the Society for Human Resource Management in a new survey. But a significant number of executives reported that many employees and candidates lack this competency.

More than one-third of survey respondents (39 percent) to SHRM’s Using Competencies to Achieve Business Success: The Executive Perspective survey reported a deficiency in the Leadership and Navigation competency in their talent pools.

“Over the years, many business leaders have openly voiced their concerns about a leadership gap in their organizations,” said Joe Jones, SHRM’s director of HR competencies. “The survey results provide further evidence that business executives are seeing a disconnect: competencies — particularly the Leadership and Navigation competency — are critical for the overall success of business units, yet many employees and job candidates lack them.” 

A leadership gap also was identified in the Business and Human Capital Challenges report released late last year by SHRM. The report found that both HR professionals and non-HR C-suite executives said that developing the next generation of leaders was considered the top human capital challenge over the coming decade.

“Because competence in Leadership and Navigation impacts the entire organization, HR will not only have to work on developing this competency within specific business units, including HR, but will need to develop organization wide leadership development strategies and initiatives,” Jones said. “This requires thinking of leadership from more of a systems perspective.”

Leadership and Navigation is one of nine competencies identified in the SHRM Competency Model created for the HR profession. SHRM describes competencies as individual characteristics — knowledge, skills, abilities, self-image, traits, mindsets, feelings and ways of thinking — that allow individuals to be successful in their roles. A well-defined set of competencies aligned with business strategy is useful for businesses to differentiate good from poor performers and for individuals to assess their career readiness. Besides leadership and Navigation, competencies include Communication, Relationship Management, Business Acumen and Ethical Practice.

The survey also showed:

  • 93 percent of the executives surveyed said competencies are important for the overall success of their business units.
  • All of the respondents in customer service said they use competencies for business and talent management. Many of the other business units agreed: research and development (90 percent), IT (84 percent), and purchasing and procurement (80 percent).

Competencies and HR:  Business unit executives said the use of competencies is almost equally as important for HR departments as it is for their own business units. About one-third (37 percent) cited Leadership and Navigation as the most lacking competency in the HR talent pool.

Ten years from now, respondents said, HR expertise (cited by 47 percent), communication (44 percent) and relationship management (37 percent) will continue to be the top three competencies critical to HR professionals. 

Methodology: The survey of 510 non-HR business unit executives in organizations with 100 or more employees was conducted in December 2015 and January 2016. It has a margin of error of 5 percentage points. 

For survey details, visit Additional information about HR competencies also is available online.

Media: For more information or to schedule an interview, contact Kate Kennedy of SHRM Media Relations at 703-535-6260 and or Vanessa Gray at 703-535-6072 and

About the Society for Human Resource Management

Founded in 1948, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) is the world’s largest HR membership organization devoted to human resource management. Representing more than 275,000 members in over 160 countries, the Society is the leading provider of resources to serve the needs of HR professionals and advance the professional practice of human resource management. SHRM has more than 575 affiliated chapters within the United States and subsidiary offices in China, India and United Arab Emirates. Visit SHRM Online at and follow us on Twitter and Instagram @SHRMPress.


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