Essential Team Leadership Skills: What Drives a Dev Team to Success?

A team lead is an essential role for any software development project. But how do you make sure that the candidate is the right fit? In this article, we discuss key team leadership skills and explain how this role differs from a tech lead and a project manager.

Essential Team Leadership Skills: What Drives a Dev Team to Success?

Defining the team lead role

Since software development is a complex process that includes the work of different departments, it’s natural that there are several roles involved in working on the project. Though being highly important, the team lead’s role often gets confused with a tech lead or a project manager. Thus, let’s first define the role and its main responsibilities.

A team lead is a person responsible for managing the development team, assigning tasks, and ensuring the deliverables are met. Most often, this person manages both frontend and backend engineers, while the tech lead manages only the team that they are responsible for.

The main responsibilities of a team lead normally include:

  • Defining how exactly the tasks will be performed
  • Assigning tasks to the right people 
  • Monitoring the quality of work
  • Managing task performance

As you can see, a team lead controls the quality of work and assigns tasks to the people who are most skilled for them. Note, though, that a team lead also performs coding or works on an architecture – thus, this person has to have solid technical skills.

Team lead vs tech lead vs PM

Software development is a highly fluctuating environment, so different roles often overlap. But for the sake of clarity, let’s also define the roles of a tech lead and a project manager.

A tech lead is very similar to a team lead but focuses more on technical tasks and their efficient performance. A tech lead does not usually work on allocating tasks or organizing a workflow. Instead, this person is normally responsible for a certain tech area: backend development, for example. Thus, a tech lead has a narrower focus.

A project manager, on the contrary, is a jack of all trades. This person should have a certain knowledge and understanding of technical aspects of the project but at the same time, a PM has a much broader focus and is responsible for various aspects of the project development. Examples of such responsibilities include:

  • Communication with stakeholders and translation of their vision and requirements into tasks;
  • Definition of milestones and deliverables;
  • Allocation of budget and resources;
  • Definition of the project scope;
  • Change management and risk management;
  • Allocation of people and resources.

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Essential team leader skills: technical knowledge

Now it’s time to discuss what team leader skills are essential, and we’ll first talk about the hard skills. Since there can be many different technical roles and a variety of departments, we’ll focus on the most general ones that answer the “what makes a good team leader” question. 


A team lead is usually a highly skilled professional in their department, so naturally, this person should have solid coding skills among other characteristics of a team leader. There are a number of reasons why coding is so important.

First, a team lead often performs a certain amount of work, and most often it involves coding. Second, this person is responsible for the quality of delivered work – and without solid coding skills, it will be impossible for the team lead to identify issues, errors, and areas for improvement. Finally, if a team lead knows how to code, it adds more authority and credibility to the role.


Same as with coding, good architecture skills are essential. Think about the following: a project’s architecture defines the product’s scalability, reliability, and performance. Hence, it’s up to the team lead to define its components, their ways of interaction, and its structure. As well, if the product does not perform as expected, an experienced team lead can look into its architecture and see whether anything can be improved.

Development methodologies

Every software project is unique and while it’s not a must to know and master all development methodologies, a good team lead should be familiar with the most common ones, which are waterfall and Agile. Since the software development process is incredibly fast-paced, a team lead should effectively prioritize and manage the tasks to avoid the creation of bottlenecks and to ensure that the milestones are delivered right on time.

What makes a good team leader: soft skills

We’ve discussed that a good team lead is also a very professional tech expert – but it’s the soft skills that make one a truly effective leader. Let’s walk through the main soft skills expected from a person who manages a team and see why these team leader qualities are so important.


When talking about team leader characteristics and leadership, communication is often the first thing that comes to mind. There are numerous guides and courses on how to become better at communication, and every person in charge of others should know how to communicate effectively. But why is that so important?

Every person is unique and has the own preferences, ways of work, and listening and speaking skills. So when you put several people together, they most likely will face challenges when trying to exchange ideas and information, make decisions on critical issues, and interpret the requirements of stakeholders.

A team lead is a mediator between the PM and the development team and is responsible for ensuring that everyone is heard and everyone remains on the same page. For that, it is vital to be able to hear others, understand their point of view, and explain why a certain thing will work.

As well, good communication skills include the ability to provide relevant and valuable feedback to people. It is also highly important as feedback helps motivate the team and drive it forward through improvement.


One of the primary responsibilities of a team leader is to assign the right tasks to the right people. This is where the skill of delegating comes into play.

To be able to successfully delegate tasks and ensure that work will be done in the most efficient manner, a team lead has to have a really good understanding of team members and their strengths. By knowing who excels at what, a team lead can distribute tasks in such a way that little to no mistakes and bottlenecks happen.

Delegation does not only impact the work results but also one’s productivity and motivation. When people feel valued and appreciated, they deliver great results and are often willing to take an extra step to exceed set expectations.


Conflicts and issues are inevitable, especially in such complex environments as software development. If handled properly, conflicts can even fuel further progress or help find a perfect solution – and that’s the responsibility of a team lead to correctly resolve issues and mitigate conflicts.

A good team lead should know how to detect conflicts and issues at early stages and how to quickly resolve them before they cause a negative impact on the project. For that, a team lead should be aware of various problem-solving techniques and strategies, since every situation is unique and a unified approach won’t work for two different scenarios.


People are the cornerstone of the project’s success. Their input and enthusiasm are the driving force behind outstanding results, but this motivation needs to be fueled. When talking about motivation and the role of a team lead in providing it, we can list down several responsibilities:

  • Detect burnouts and take necessary actions to help people overcome their struggles;
  • Consult people on professional growth opportunities and provide them with career advice;
  • Provide regular feedback and focus both on strengths and areas for improvement;
  • Set the own example and find factors that drive people forward.


While some decisions can be made collaboratively, a team lead usually has a final say in most of the decisions. That means, a team lead understands and owns responsibility for their decisions and is able to define what’s best for the project and the team.

There are various decision-making models, each being suitable for different situations. Also note that some models imply making a decision together as a group, which is often the case in software development.

Emotional intelligence

EQ, or emotional intelligence, is somewhat a buzzword – but in reality, it is a highly important skill for anyone in the managerial position. Among other qualities of a team leader, emotional intelligence defines one’s ability to understand other people and recognize their needs, but it also includes self-awareness and empathy. 

So, why is EQ important? 

With the help of this skill, a team lead can successfully recognize the state and emotional well-being of the team, identify the level of satisfaction and motivation, and effectively communicate with people. In this way, a high level of EQ helps establish relationships, based on trust, reduce the level of stress, and mitigate conflicts. And that’s what every good team lead strives for, isn’t that right?

Bonus: tips on how to be a good team leader 

We’ve discussed the essential hard and soft skills that make an effective team lead – now, let’s talk about how to be a good team leader and achieve outstanding results in work.

Never stop learning

Continuous learning and improvement is a must for one’s professional and personal development, if talking about the qualities of a good team leader. Since team leads are usually the most proficient experts on a team, it’s natural that you’d want to level up your skills. Hence, do not hesitate to learn new techniques and methods of work and try completing relevant courses in your field of work.

As for the soft team lead skills, do not hesitate to ask for advice and for feedback. It’s always valuable to hear advice from colleagues or more experienced managers, and feedback helps better understand what your own strengths are and what can be improved.

Always communicate your thoughts and ideas clearly

While this point is important for everyone, it is especially vital for managerial roles. Since you are the one managing a project, the team will depend on your decisions and ideas. Hence, if there is a slight misunderstanding or confusion, it may significantly slow down the whole development process. To avoid bottlenecks and mitigate risks and failures, always make sure that you are well understood and that everyone stays on the same page. Also, clearly set expectations both for the product and the team, as they will serve as the base for milestones and deliverables.

Be open to ideas

While you are the one who finalizes decisions, it doesn’t mean that only your decisions are to be considered. A great team lead knows how to listen to people, encourages them to share their ideas, and accepts actionable suggestions. This helps not only motivate the people, but to find new and creative approaches to tasks. Hence, a win-won both for you and for the project!

Lead by example

This point is one of the most frequently mentioned and has become somewhat a buzzword: but what exactly does it mean?

By saying “lead by example”, we imply that a team lead should take the responsibility for their actions, set high performance standards, and inspire team members through knowledge and skills. If your team sees how you manage the challenges and the overall work, they will most likely be inspired to keep up and do the same. 

Summing up

A team lead is a significant role in software development that requires a set of specific team leadership skills. Whether you are looking for a new career opportunity or need to hire such professional for your project, it is helpful to know the main team leadership skills that a person should have to successfully overtake the development of your product.

Expert Opinion

One thing that you need to be ready for when switching to the Team Lead position is the acceptance of your new managerial role. For everyone, it sure takes some time, and this “acceptance stage” will include both rises and falls in terms of your emotional state. A common reason for that is that when you don’t code so much anymore, it becomes harder to assess the value of your management tasks and activities.

Another common fear is to get out of practice in terms of one’s skills, since you don’t have much time for coding. So I’d say the main challenge during the transition to the Team Lead role is finding the balance between technical and managerial aspects of the role. Just remember that everyone goes through this and that you are not the reason why a challenge or an issue occurs. Just look for the balance, keep learning, and you’ll see progress in no time.

Lead iOS Developer at SoftTeco

Pavel Vilbik

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