Key business skills for L&D professionals

Cath Convery outlines her philosophy for business and personal success for L&D professionals. Bob Little reports.

Whether you’re an in-house L&D professional or you’re selling your services to organisations as an L&D specialist, you’ll know that – to be successful – you need more than L&D-specific knowledge and skills.

Cath Convery, Head of Learning at the L&D consultancy, Explosive Learning Solutions for the last 12 years, believes that these extra – business – skills encompass leadership; marketing and PR, along with some financial awareness of what’s ‘good business’ and what’s not. Furthermore, Cath believes that success in any aspect of business, including L&D, is based on being trustworthy.

“As Alison Cottrell, CEO of the Banking Standards Board, has said, ‘Trust is given to you by others but trustworthiness – a mix of honesty, reliability and confidence – is something you develop for yourself’,” Cath explained. “I’d also include competence on that list.

“Amid the hustle and hassle of L&D life, developing and honing your own leadership skills can be forced into the background,” said Cath. “Yet these skills, along with some experience of business life outside the L&D department, are key to personal business success for the L&D professional who aspires, for example, to join an organisation’s main board.”

L&D professionals need to connect ‘soft’ skills with ‘hard’ business reality in the minds of main board members

Maybe L&D professionals are too focused on their ‘silo’ to provide the levels of service that their customers need. Maybe they’re too focused on fulfilling their vocation of helping others that they never get around to developing their own skillset.

“L&D professionals need to connect ‘soft’ skills with ‘hard’ business reality in the minds of main board members,” continued Cath. “Notably, they must show key stakeholders how they’ll benefit from, for example, the L&D programmes they’re proposing to run – and that involves being a strategic thinker.”

With the caveat that “you can’t train anyone to want to do something, so every L&D professional who would be successful in business needs to really want to succeed,” Cath’s tips for L&D professionals becoming successful in business include:

  1. Develop your understanding of, and ease with, ‘financials’, through gaining experience of business areas other than HR/L&D – because you can then view L&D issues more strategically, think outside the ‘L&D silo’, and stress the business outcomes of L&D programmes.
  2. Make the business case for L&D – stressing the benefits to the organisation from any L&D programme.
  3. Share the benefits of L&D – with people-focused reasoning and with scenarios based on what could happen if the L&D programmes aren’t run. This works well for compliance and regulatory L&D programmes and, with thought, the principle can be applied to almost any programme.
  4. Build your personal brand – so that all key stakeholders recognise you as your organisation’s ‘go-to’ L&D specialist.

“Building your personal brand is part of the marketing/ PR skillset which you must have on a departmental and/or business basis,” said Cath. “A personal brand – like a business’s brand – is derived from who you are, who you want to be and who people perceive you to be. It tells people what they can expect from you and it differentiates your capabilities from those of your competitors.”

In Cath’s view, this means that you must:

Define your brand

This involves answering such questions as:

  • What’s my mission?
  • What are the benefits and features of my products or services?
  • What do my ‘customers’ and prospective customers already think of me – and my abilities?
  • What qualities do I want them to associate with me?

Develop your brand strategy

This involves what you communicate visually and verbally, as well as determining how, what, where, when and to whom you plan on communicating and delivering on your brand messages. Where you ‘advertise’ yourself is part of your brand strategy – as are the distribution channels you’re going to use. To succeed you must be:

  • Yourself.
  • Consistent. Done well, this adds value to you and makes you recognisable.

Promote your brand

It may help to:

  • Write out your key brand messages and keep these in the forefront of your mind.
  • Develop a tagline of ten words or less – a memorable, meaningful and colourful statement that captures your brand. Then, make sure you use it at every opportunity so that it becomes recognised as ‘yours’.
  • Integrate your brand into every aspect of what you do at work – including how you answer the telephone, how you interact with others and so on – to create a distinctive ‘voice’ for yourself.
  • Remain true to your brand; always deliver on your brand promise, and be consistent.
  • Branding is about delivering consistently in every aspect of your life. Jeff Bezos, the founder of, is credited as saying, “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”


About the author

Bob Little is the founder of Bob Little PR. Cath Convery is head of learning at Explosive Learning Solutions​, the L&D consultancy.


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