Career Advice from the 2010 Sustainability Competency Survey

Socio-Eco Innovators rejoice!

The International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP) just published a very insightful report filled with outstanding career advice for you to succeed at doing business – better! The report combines an extensive literature review along with original data gathered through interviews with 10 hand picked sustainability leaders and a survey of 385 sustainability professionals across the globe. Their sample of global sustainability professionals was highly educated (93% of survey respondents have at least a bachelor’s degree, 60% have a master’s degree, and 10% have doctorates). Furthermore, 39% of respondents had completed or were completing a sustainability certificate.

Both the literature review and new results converge to provide a comprehensive list of hard and soft skills that you can use to define your skill development plan as a responsible business leader.

Hard Skills

  • Strategic Planning – How to determine (1) what the goals for the organization are for the next year or more, (2) what the objectives and strategies are to reach the goals, and (3) what are the milestones that will measure whether the organization is on track to reach the goals or not.
  • Systems Thinking – How to structure a particular problem or issue as a system of interdependent elements that are connected through direct and indirect feedback loops. The more one understands the system, the more one can set goals to leverage the feedback loops to enable the system to reach a new desired equilibrium.
  • Project Management – How to define the scope of a project, and how to leverage internal and external resources (people, time, and money) to optimally implement strategies to complete the project.

Soft Skills

  • Communication with stakeholders – How to engage internal and external stakeholders, by effectively articulating how the project will benefit them.
  • Problem solving – How to use innovative approaches and re-strategize when the initial strategy does not deliver the projected results.
  • Inspiring and motivating others – How to effectively influence others and get them to do things, especially when they have the choice not to.

I was surprised not to see more technical skills listed among the top hard skills results.  Skills such as financial analysis/ROI, public policy expertise, sustainability accounting and reporting skills are important when managing change in existing organizations.  However, as noted in the report, these skills are more relevant to sub-specializations within sustainability careers. Therefore, it is not surprising that they did not emerge as a priority for the profession as a whole.

Another interesting result I noted was that non-North American professionals showed less emphasis on training groups and establishing and managing priorities than North American professionals.  Future research is needed to investigate this difference and its impact on career development approaches for sustainability professionals around the globe.

In sum, this report is filled with outstanding career advice for socio-eco innovators working in existing local and global organizations! As always, I look forward to reading your comments and questions!

Photo Credit: