Many people regard pharmaceutical firms as a necessary evil—they deliver life-saving products but are also to blame for rising healthcare costs. With the industry facing subsequent and serious image problems, strong leadership matters more than ever.

But are the industry’s marketers ready to lead the way? They are not, according to data collected by the Center for Creative Leadership. CCL asked over 500 bosses of pharma marketing managers how important 16 key competencies are for leadership success in the industry. Then we compared those competencies to the level of leadership skill pharma marketing managers actually have in the view of their co-workers—who are often in the best position to judge. We found a significant leadership gap.

Five of the most important leadership competencies are among the lowest-ranked skills for today’s marketing leaders. In other words, these leaders fall short when it comes to directing, motivating and involving others, remaining calm during difficult times and using effective strategies to drive change.  

Conversely, our survey shows that many marketing leaders’ strengths are in areas not considered important for success in the industry. Over 4,600 of marketers’ co-workers say their biggest strengths involve respecting individual differences, being a quick study and putting people at ease. Those are good skills—but they aren’t game changers given today’s challenges.

Still, the news isn’t all bad. CCL data shows pharma marketing managers are good at several leadership skills that will matter in the future: resourcefulness, decisiveness and doing whatever it takes.

Given this assessment of their strengths and weaknesses as leaders, what should pharma marketers do next? The first step—practice the five skills that matter most:

Leading People gets to the heart of attracting, motivating and developing employees though providing prompt feedback, pushing decision-making to the right level and developing employees’ confidence. Getting better at this skill often requires training programs and developmental assignments.

Participative Management calls for getting buy-in for new ideas and encouraging others to share ideas. To improve, meet regularly with your direct reports to solve problems and brainstorm ideas.

Building and Mending Relationships comes down to relating well to people, gaining support and building trust. Consider taking a personality assessment so that you can better understand how your style is perceived by others.
Straightforwardness and Composure means remaining calm in a crisis and recovering from mistakes. To develop skill in this area, practice exercises that help you control impulses during difficult times. Also look for opportunities to better manage stress.

Managing Change involves using effective strategies to drive organizational change, such as adapting plans as necessary and managing resistance to change. To improve, look for books on managing change. Also, create experiences in your job that require new directions or fixing problems.  

As we know, change is only going to come faster in our industry. Think about it: you already find yourself in situations where these skills are needed every day. Working on these skills today prepares you for success now and in the future.

Jean Brittian Leslie is senior fellow at the Center for Creative Leadership