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ATD Blog

Essential Skills and Capabilities for Success in L&D

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Having spent my career in learning and development (L&D), it’s interesting to contemplate the skills and capabilities needed to be successful in this field. Recent graduates and people working in other fields often ask, “What do I need to know and be able to do to enter the L&D industry?”

Key Skills

Several transferable skills from education or work experience in other areas are key to the L&D field. They include:

  • Communication: Communicating clearly and successfully with individuals and teams—in small and large environments—is paramount. It involves oral, written, nonverbal, and visual communication, among other skills.
  • Collaboration and relationship building: In L&D, we get things done through relationships and collaborating with leaders, human resources personnel, clients, and others. If we haven’t taken the time to build relationships with key stakeholders, we won’t be successful.
  • Project management: Typically, we are juggling several projects at once. Our success is determined by our ability to lead those projects by applying project management expertise. Examples of project management activities include developing a project plan, a project charter, quality assurance processes, schedules, and more.
  • Business acumen: Are you business savvy? Do you understand the industry at large, the competitive landscape, and revenue and product possibilities? Do you know how your organization’s L&D efforts align with its strategic plan, budget, and company goals? Show that your programs increase the performance and productivity of your company and, thus, show your value.
  • Adaptability: As the saying goes, change is constant. In the L&D field, the ability to flex and adapt based on business and stakeholders’ needs is critical. For those who remember the toy Gumby, we need to be flexible like Gumby to be successful.

In your current role, how do you apply these skills? What can you do to improve your knowledge and expertise in these areas?

Industry-Specific Skills

Now that we have explored transferable skills, we need to consider specific L&D skill and knowledge areas that most organizations will expect you to have.

Learning needs assessment is the process of determining the learning needs of the organization or department through one-on-one meetings, focus groups, surveys, and more. Its purpose is to determine the skills gaps, performance issues, or department or organization problems that training can solve. To conduct a needs assessment, involve employees from all levels of the organization. This will avoid the misstep of creating a training program that only focuses on the question “What training do you want us to create?” rather than the question “What problem are you trying to solve?”

Instructional design is the process used to design learning initiatives by analyzing, designing, developing, implementing, and evaluating any instructional experience (in person, virtual instructor-led, or e-learning). It involves determining the objectives for the training; analyzing the audience and their knowledge level; identifying gaps to be addressed and materials to be created; and determining the types of participant interaction, how the training will be conducted and evaluated, and the training duration.

Facilitation is leading a group of people through a learning initiative, engaging them in the content, involving them in practice and sharing, and dealing with any issues that arise for a successful learning experience. In contrast to presentation—typically characterized by delivering content to an audience—facilitation usually involves asking questions, moderating discussions, introducing activities, and creating opportunities for participants to learn through their exchange of ideas and experiences and by allowing them to arrive at key lessons and information through their interaction.

Evaluation is the systematic process of analyzing training programs to ensure that they are delivered effectively and efficiently and meet their goals. Training evaluation identifies training gaps and even discovers opportunities for improving training programs. We want to be able to show the value of the learning experiences and receive feedback to improve them.

Learning technology includes the various types of technology used in learning, such as learning management systems that manage, distribute, and track employee training; learning experience platforms that provide a personalized learning experience by recommending and delivering content; and software used to create e-learning and microlearning. Using AI to create learning outlines provides a more personalized learning experience, automates assessments, provides recommendations, and more. It is important to acquaint yourself with the various technologies no matter what your role is.

Use the assessment in Table 1 to rate yourself on the skills and capabilities listed in this blog. To determine what you can do to gain additional knowledge and experience, check out the Talent Development Capability Model™ and other resources linked in the table.

Table 1: Personal assessment of skills

Skill Area

No Experience





Collaboration and Relationship Building

Project Management

Business Acumen


Needs Assessment

Instructional Design



Learning Technology

About the Author

Amy Dinning is a talent development leader with a passion for attracting, engaging, and retaining talent through creative and measurable talent development initiatives. Known for her leadership, facilitation, innovation, and relationship-building skills, Amy strategizes with leaders to create development solutions to achieve business objectives. Amy is committed to creating interactive and engaging environments that support learning and growth. Most recently Amy was the global learning and development manager at Quaker Houghton in Conshohocken, PA, where she led learning and development for over 4000 employees globally. Previously, she was the manager of education and development at Main Line Health in Radnor, PA, for over 12,000 employees.

A sought-after speaker, Amy is a recurring presenter at the ATD International Conference and Exposition. In addition to presenting in ATD webinars, Amy speaks at various professional associations and networking groups. She serves as a board member and orientation leader for My Career Transitions and is the creator and chief facilitator of a workshop, Jump Start Your Job Search, which is offered twice a year for those in job transition.

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Thanks Amy. All have been extremely helpful to me over my years in learning and development. A learning needs assessment is so critical for any new L&D professional to master. Even after many years, it is still easy to fall into the habit of being an "order taker" and overlooking the underlying business problem. Thanks!
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Amy- Great list of competencies for those in the industry or those just starting their journey. I am also seeking nuggets to share with the group I work with in helping them understand the benefits to performing well and connecting, collaborating, and communicating with a class to ensure engagement and transfer of knowldge.
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Great set of competencies for those who are interested in or those who are currently in the L&D space.
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