Jan Wilmaers

Leading as an architect: ten must-have competences


These days, architects are far from being locked away in an ivory tower. As an integral part of the organization, the architect is increasingly taking on a leading role, and with that come new expectations. This requires a combination of technical and soft skills on a level that wasn’t necessary before. As the success of an architecture’s practice soars or fizzles depending on the individuals leading it, knowing what competences to look for in new employees or nurture in existing ones is key. At XPLUS, we’ve determined ten must-haves that we’ll share with you in this blog.

A competence model in four levels

We’ve divided our model into four parts: core, how, interaction, and engagement. ‘Core’ deals with the essentials skills that no architect can do without. ‘How’ pertains to the manner in which you do your work. As the word suggests, ‘interaction’ is all about how you work together with others. Finally, ‘engagement’ is all about how flexible and empathic you are. We divide these levels further into ten competences which together form a well-rounded architect.

Competence model to lead as an architect


1. Core

Within the core level, we have three competences:

  • Horizon: How good are you at dealing with different time horizons? An architect needs the ability to work short, middle, and long term.
  • Scope: Architecture isn’t limited to one specific part of the organization. As such, the ability to deal with different scopes – whether they are business, IT, or otherwise – is essential.
  • Architectural practice: You can’t be an architect without having knowledge of common methods and techniques. Being able to apply the relevant methods to situations is the rock on which you build everything else.

2. How

‘How’ compromises three skills that an architect should have in their individual toolbox:

  • Problem analysis and judgement: Rather self-explanatory, this competence deals with how well an architect can break down a problem they are confronted with and judge the best ways to deal with it.
  • Decisiveness: When an architect perfectly dissects a given problem and comes up with several solutions, one course of action needs to be chosen. This requires architects to be decisive in picking the right one and not just leave it up to others.
  • Work management: Includes the effort needed to analyze, come to a decision, and perform the concrete execution. As such, it’s important that an architect can coordinate the architectural work with others, while also managing their own agenda.

3. Interaction

As we alluded to earlier, architecture doesn’t happen on an island separate from the rest of the company. So the architect also needs to be able to work and interact with others.

  • Effective contributions: To make the most of a project, an architect needs to help other people shine. Architects must be capable of guiding others so that their contributions to a project are more effective.
  • Stakeholder concerns: Lots of different stakeholders are involved – each with their own expectations and concerns – in architecture projects of any size. If you want to lead as an architect, you therefore need the skills to manage these expectations and make sure all worries are properly addressed.

4. Engagement

Two final competences comprise the engagement level that determine how you fit in the organization:

  • Company empathy: This skill pertains to your ability to understand the company’s ambitions, and consequently be able to translate them into pathways to get there.
  • Adaptability: From scopes and technology to the way your organization works, things are constantly changing. As an architect, you need to be flexible to adapt to whatever changes come your way.

Must-haves… eventually

While you need to take these skills into account during the hiring process, it’s not necessary for every candidate to have all of them right away. The potential to acquire these competences is just as important. At XPLUS, we use the Dreyfus model to measure proficiency in the above. The model’s five stages – novice, knowledgeable, skilled, master, and expert – are then used to shape growth trajectories that will eventually see all architects equipped with the right skills to lead.

If you want to know more about leading as an architect, the above competencies, and how to nurture them in yourself and your current and future teams, be sure to watch our webinar below.