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Three Key Leadership Skills Required for Today's Government Contractors

As a government contractor, your ability to prosper often hinges upon your delivery of superb technical services. However, the landscape is rapidly evolving for organizations in the government contractor world. Given the increasing volatility in federal budgets and poorly defined layers of communication, the demand for soft skills is growing. Below are three key leadership skills required for today's government contractors.

 1. Active Listening

Outstanding listening skills play a vital role in relationships between government contractors and federal clientele. Top government contractors separate themselves from the competition by asking questions about their clients' needs and spending patterns. In her book, "How to Get Government Contracts", Olessia Smotrova-Taylor describes why active listening skills are important for government contractors:

"You will have to practice your active listening skills. The government universally despises salespeople, so your goal is not to sell yourself and your company; your goal is to become their trusted advisor." - Olessia Smotrova-Taylor

Fortunately, there are many ways that contractors can become a trusted advisor. Here are a few ways that government contractors can showcase their active listening skills:

  • Acknowledging the client's needs and requests 
  • Focusing only on the business at hand
  • Respecting the client by allowing the client to finish speaking 
  • Paraphrasing the client's needs to ensure that both parties are on the same page

2. Emotional Intelligence

Simply put, emotional intelligence is a collection of traits that enables people to successfully manage their emotions and the emotions of other individuals. Examples of these traits include the ability to think before acting and the ability to recognize your own strengths and weaknesses. Individuals with high levels of emotional intelligence tend to be more successful in business settings than people with a low emotional quotient (EQ). Below are some ways to sharpen your emotional intelligence to improve your relationships with federal clientele.

  • Exhibit empathy by putting yourself in the client's shoes when negotiations become heated
  • Avoid the urge to completely remove your personal feelings from the business matters
  • Recognize your strengths and opportunities for improvement when you interact with clients
  • Strive to strengthen your connections with clients so that you understand them better 

3. Conflict Resolution

Conflict resolution is essential for contractors who are frequently faced with fluctuating business scenarios and competition between rival contractors. Gen. Frank J. Anderson of the U.S. Air Force describes the need for all key players to master conflict resolution skills when negotiating government contracts:

"Since most of us grew up in a culture that treats negotiation and conflict resolution as a form of competition, we have a lot to learn about communicating more effectively in resolving conflict, especially conflicts arising out of government contracts." - Frank J. Anderson, Jr., Brig Gen, USAF Chair, Contracts and Procurement Section Interagency ADR Working Group

When conflicts arise, there are steps and processes that contractors can take to successfully resolve the disputes at hand. Failure to take action when faced with a volatile situation may result in disqualification from consideration or dissolution of the contractor-client relationship. Below are a few examples of conflict resolution skills in action:

  • Making a concerted effort to understand the priorities and concerns of the client
  • Resolving to address discrepancies and find a resolution that works for both parties
  • Recognizing triggers that could potentially cause conflict
  • Displaying a willingness to compromise with the client

The Bottom Line

As federal clientele experience rising levels of budgetary volatility, organizations in the government contract world are adjusting by placing a higher value on soft skills. Government contractors are increasingly seeking individuals with superb active listening skills, a high level of emotional intelligence, and effective conflict resolution skills. By sharpening these three skills, government contractors will increase the likelihood that they will succeed in earning the trust and business of federal clientele.

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