Who is the data manager of the future?

We’ve written plenty of times over the years about the importance of soft skills for data managers and data scientists. Coding, data and technical skills are incredibly important for these roles, after all you couldn’t do the job without them, however we believe soft skills can be just as important. We see a lot of job specs asking for the technical skills but very often the soft skills are forgotten about.

Earlier in the year we ran an industry wide ‘State of data’ survey, and as part of this we aimed to reaffirm what we already know about soft skills: they are incredibly important and you can’t be a successful data manager without them.

The soft skills to focus on

As part of the survey we wanted to know which soft skill is deemed the most important for data scientists and data managers of the future to have. Overwhelmingly, 72.86% of respondents stated ‘listening and questioning skills’ are the most important, while ‘long-term vision’ comes in second with 47.14% of the votes.

Soft Skills

Listening and Questioning

Arguably one of the most important soft skills to have, regardless of the role. Being able to effectively listen to and question others can really set data managers apart. Critical thinking is a major aspect of any data managers role, and without the ability to fully listen to others within the business can hinder success. On the other hand, the ability to question what they hear and what they see can bring a real benefit to any business.

Long-term vision

For any data manager, long-term vision is incredibly important. Having this soft skill can allow a concentrated and systematic approach to the business and be able to make long-term progress and success.


A data manager must be able to influence others in the business, whether this is the team around them or stakeholders. Being able to influence a team of people can be incredibly rewarding and those that do it well are seen as leaders rather than managers. Data managers must also be able to influence stakeholders within the business, a lot of the time data managers will be communicating their findings to non-technical people. Having the ability to tell a story with data so that everyone in the room can understand and influence decisions can provide real insight into any business.

How do you hire for soft skills?

Soft skills are a lot harder to recruit for than technical skills. Soft skills are not generally taught or trained; they are to do with someone’s personality which can be incredibly hard to spot on a CV. If all the technical skills are there on paper, the interview can be a great way to tell if a data manager has the soft skills your business needs.

During the interview process, whether over the phone, face-to-face or a video call there are certain personality traits you can look out for:

  • How are they communicating?
  • Do they have experience of dealing with difficult decisions? How did they deal with them?
  • Have they successfully managed a team before?
  • Do they have any examples of strong teamwork?
  • Have they influenced business decisions before?

Be sure to look out for any themes with communication, problem solving and teamwork.

What next for the data manager of the future?

A successful data manager needs more than just technical skills and statistical knowledge – soft skills will set those apart within business. As more data is being collected by organisations the ability to influence, communicate and make critical decisions will drive any business forward. It’s all about the insight a data manager can bring.

The results to our survey reiterate what we have always believed: soft skills can be just as important as technical skills for any data leader.

To learn more about these results and the state of data in 2020, download our whitepaper here.

KDR Recruitment is the home of the best data, tech and analytics jobs. For more hiring advice follow us on LinkedIn.

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