Five Soft Skills You Need as a Partnerships Leader

Five Soft Skills You Need as a Partnerships Leader

Eric Sangerma 4 min

A few years from now, competing companies will get replaced with competing ecosystems. We will all need to find our place in this new, more cooperative way of producing value for our customers.

But not everyone has what it takes to build a career in partnerships, let alone to lead partnership initiatives. Partnership ecosystems have a logic of their own.

Let’s talk about the interpersonal skills that you need in order to attract partners and build a good relationship with them. Please note that I don’t want to scare anyone away. Soft skills can be learned too! But you have to take them as seriously as every other part of partnership building.


When you’re working on building a partnership, your efforts won’t yield measurable results for a long time. Partnerships grow at their own pace (and sometimes they don’t). You can’t fast-track the process. And you won’t know in advance which potential partners are worth your time.

While this is intimidating, it’s exciting too.

You’re sowing seeds from an unmarked box. You can only guess what’s going to grow out of them – but while you wait, you need to keep tending to your garden.


In the corporate world, leadership implies a sort of ruthless solipsism. You’re supposed to focus only on the needs of your company, and everything else is secondary to that… including the wishes of your customer base. That is exactly why trust is disappearing from public life.

That’s not how we do things in the partnerships community. We understand that everyone’s needs are interconnected. Genuine empathy is at the core of all good partnerships: understanding exactly what your partner needs and delivering it without demanding instant reciprocation. This is how you build strong foundations.

To quote Jean-Jacques Rousseau:

“Since men cannot create new forces, but merely combine and control those which already exist, the only way in which they can preserve themselves is by uniting their separate powers in a combination strong enough to overcome any resistance, uniting them so that their powers are directed by a single motive and act in concert.”


When you’re in charge of partnerships, conflict management is part of your job description. At times, you need to juggle conflicting demands. Your job requires diplomacy and finesse.

Internal mediation is especially important. For a partnership to take off, you need to ensure smooth communication within your own company. For example, Development, Sales, and Marketing all have to work in tandem to perfect a new integration. It’s on you to make sure that happens. The same skills you use to strengthen your ecosystem can form the basis of a better, more transparent office culture.


If failure is unacceptable to you for whatever reason, you should reconsider working in partnerships. In this community, you have to give yourself the chance to experiment and f*ck up.

Some partnerships aren’t meant to be. Unfortunately, you can’t tell from the get-go who is going to waste your time and your team’s time.

Over time, you get better at spotting the danger signs. But to get to that point, you’ll make some bad guesses. You need to be able to accept that, dust yourself off after every fall, and just keep working.


If you’re new to building partnerships, you likely have a ton of questions. Don’t keep them to yourself. Don’t rely on your best guesses and intuition–at least not at first.

There are experts out there with a wealth of experience, and they’ll be happy to give you guidance. You can’t excel at building partnerships without having conversations with others, whether you prefer a mentor or a community of your peers.

In my experience, people who work in partnerships are typically very generous and open-minded. If you approach them with an open mind (and some tact), most of them will be happy to answer specific questions and give you some constructive feedback.

Everything starts with self-knowledge

It’s important to mention that not everyone has the circumstances to build a career in partnerships. You need the backing of your company. You need the time and space to learn freely, make mistakes, and sow seeds that will only sprout months or years down the line.

If none of that poses a problem for you, you can start learning about partnerships today. There are plenty of high-quality resources out there, so you can go into the specifics. You’ll pick up on the basics within weeks.

But before you take the plunge, ask yourself if this is right for you. Will you be able to find joy in working without immediate, tangible results? Do you have the people skills necessary to make everything run smoothly? Is there a chance your ego will get in the way?

Be ruthlessly honest with yourself before you set foot on this journey.

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Eric Sangerma 4 min

Five Soft Skills You Need as a Partnerships Leader

Let’s talk about the interpersonal skills that you need in order to attract partners and build a good relationship with them.

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