10 Characteristics of an Outstanding L&D Professional

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Workplace learning has changed almost beyond recognition in the past ten to 15 years.

Learning and Development departments are now no longer the gatekeepers of training and education at an organisation.

Instead, thanks to the explosion of digital technology, classroom-based learning has taken the backseat. Digital learning, controlled directly by learners and needing just a simple internet connection to take part in, is in the ascendancy. 

Recent market forecasts for example have estimated that the global digital learning market could be worth a staggering $350 billion by 2025 – and that was before COVID-19 and the rise of remote, digital-based work.

Naturally, these changes have had a huge impact on the L&D profession. What makes a perfect L&D professional today is hugely different to what made a perfect L&D professional 15 years ago.

So, what traits make the perfect professional? We’ve outlined what we think are the top 10 characteristics of the perfect, modern L&D professional in this blog.

Happy L&D professional

1.   Open and curious

L&D needs to model the behaviour it wants to foster in the organisation.

To share a famous misquote from Gandhi, “Be the change you want to see in the world”.

If you want open, curious, inquisitive learners who are prepared to try new things, you have to show that behaviour yourself. After all, why should others do as you say or recommend if you or your department aren’t willing to model the behaviour you want to see in your organisation.

Some simple ways to model particular types of behaviour (like being open and curious) in a workplace include:

  • Communicate your expectations clearly
  • Be honest and transparent
  • Accept criticism and learn from it
  • Be a good listener
  • Be consistent in what you say and do

If you’re looking for some more advice, this article by Forbes has some great insights into how to build a work culture that’s open to change.

2. Business nous

We say it every time but it’s so important. L&D has to understand the needs of the business – its drivers and objectives. Otherwise, how can L&D design training that suits business needs?

To be able to identify business needs, you’ll usually need to develop three essential skills:

  • Critical thinking: assessing a situation objectively
  • Analysis: examining the specifics of a situation
  • Strategic thinking: thinking about how to achieve a goal or set of goals

It takes effort to get right, but it’s well worth devoting time and resources to how well you know your business. Having more information about the specific strengths, weaknesses and objectives of your organisation can inform your own practice as a L&D professional. Knowledge is power, after all.

This blog goes into useful detail about the process of identifying business needs, so give it a read if you’re looking for more information on what to do.

on the computer

3. Digital skills

Learners are using technology to learn – podcasts, YouTube, community portals – L&D needs to embrace digital learning – and digital skills – as well. Classroom learning still has its place, but technology-enabled learning is where it’s at.

The pandemic has shown beyond a doubt that the work of most office-based roles can be completed from home if absolutely required, so it’s no surprise that the same holds true when it comes to professional learning and the way that we study work-based qualifications.

When the pandemic hit, classroom-based learning at schools, colleges and universities was no longer an option, and institutions were forced to move all of their teaching online.

With learners only really needing access to a digital device and a stable internet connection, the shift to digital learning in recent years probably represents a long-term trend, and it’s one that L&D professionals would do well to get ahead of the curve on.

4. Understanding how to measure impact

The business wants L&D professionals who talk the language of business. L&D needs to be able to use data to measure impact, showing solid evidence that training initiatives are delivering results – if you can’t learn from the past, you’re doomed to repeat the same mistakes.

Measuring impact is more than just crunching numbers though. It’s about being able to use evidence to inform your strategy and improve on performance.

When it comes to using data to measure impact at a company, this article outlines the process really well.

Some key things to remember when it comes to measuring impact are:


  • Ensure your data is as accurate as possible to begin with
  • Develop a fast and efficient way to gather data
  • Prioritize key measurements to save your budget and resources


Although this blog uses HR as its main focus, the principles of how to use data to measure impact that it discusses can be applied directly to L&D too.

Measuring needs

5. Influencing skills

The modern L&D professional needs to influence people around the business, particularly senior management. They have to be able to put a compelling business case as to why investment in a training package is needed. They also need to help move senior and middle managers towards new ways of learning.

That’s why influencing skills are an essential trait of an outstanding L&D professional.

Influencing skills aren’t exactly something that you can just learn overnight – it takes time to get right. If you’re looking for a few pointers about how to develop them this TEDx Talk, ‘The Secret to Having Influence’, is a good place to start. Ron Carucci, a consultant and best-selling author, delves into the findings of his 10 year longitudinal study into the factors that influence people and identifies four key patterns.

6. Problem solvers

Training is often about solving a problem that an individual, team or department has. L&D has to help find solutions to problems, finding the best, more effective and appropriate training answer – if indeed training is the answer. L&D needs to proactively help solve problems, not be order takers.

You’ll develop problem solving skills that are focused on the specifics of situations you’ll encounter in work on professional qualifications like those offered by CIPD. For example, CIPD Level 3 Foundation Certificate in People Practice, the CIPD Level 5 Associate Diploma in Organisational Learning & Development and the CIPD Level 7 Advanced Diploma in Strategic Learning & Development all develop your problem-solving skills, giving you the confidence to tackle problems at work when they occur.

Problem solving

7. Horizon scanners

L&D needs to constantly look forward, finding out what is coming up, what skills will be in demand, what innovation will be necessary.

Horizon-scanners – those L&D professionals who always have one eye firmly on the future – are in short-supply and are a real asset to the companies they work for. An outstanding L&D professional will do just that.

One of the best ways to stay on top of innovation in your industry is to keep up to date with the relevant news in your field. There are a number of different ways you could do this, besides just browsing L&D online publications like People Management or Training Zone.

To make the process of being informed about future trends easier, you could:

  • set up a Feedly or similar RSS feed to collate relevant news, comment articles and videos
  • create Google Alerts for a specific subject, sending you a notification everytime anything new about that subject is published
  • attend (virtual!) conferences and network with others

8. Science of learning

There are so many new findings about how we humans learn and how the brain works. L&D need to understand these findings and incorporate the best, most appropriate of them into their own learning delivery.

This means doing your own research!

If you’re looking to develop your understanding of the science of learning, devoting a few hours each week to desktop study can be really useful in expanding your knowledge. Scientific and sociological journals related to learning are an essential resource to consult, as well as government or third sector reports, which can be useful for their citations of relevant studies and learning.

Meeting with work colleagues

9. Well connected

L&D needs to be well connected, both internally and externally. They need to know the right people and have good relationships with them and foster peer networks. In other words, outstanding L&D professionals need to have great networking skills.

But how do you network?

This blog goes through the process in a lot of detail. If you’re a shy person who struggles with talking to people you don’t know, this article is super helpful too.

10. Confidence

L&D needs to have the confidence to challenge accepted ways of doing things. It needs to ensure the business learning environment is strong, modern and deeply embedded. Changing and challenging the corporate learning culture takes skill, effort and confidence.

Studying a professional qualification usually helps to develop your confidence and enable you to feel that you have right blend of knowledge, skills and experience to excel in the role.

At work

Unlock your ambition with a CIPD L&D qualification from DPG. Get in touch with our team today and start your journey.



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