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What are analytical leaders and how can we develop them? - An academic view

Started ‎01-30-2023 by
Modified ‎01-30-2023 by
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Dr. Humphrey Brydon (University of the Western Cape, Cape Town/South Africa)

Chairperson: Department of Statistics and Population Studies

Senior Lecturer


This article is based on an interview.


How would you define analytical leadership?


An analytical leader is an individual within an organization who is able to lead and engage with a diverse team of analysts, computer scientists or statisticians. Diversity and different skill sets within an analytical team are important as they drive innovation. And innovation is very important as it is critical to success in a fast-changing world.


A leader also needs soft skills to be able to allow flexibility and critical reflection within the team. A leader should be able to convey the importance of the tasks that are being undertaken by the team to those outside of the team as well. Data extraction, data preparation, data cleaning, data modelling, data interpretation, model interpretation, all of these steps are very important in the data lifecycle and a leader should make sure the team understands this and the value that each team member brings to each of these steps.


Data Science is a team sport. No individual can have all of the skills needed. So, the leader is in the role of the trainer or coach and needs to make sure that every team member is competent within and understands their role. And furthermore, that the team “plays” well together to achieve results.


How can universities help developing analytical leaders?


Soft skills and real-world experience are very important in developing competent graduates for the 4th Industrial Revolution. Most data scientists, data analysts or statisticians are very good at  hard skills but can sometimes lack the needed soft skills to convey the importance of what they do. In terms of leadership, you need to know how your results are going to be interpreted, how are they going to be used and how you convey that message.  As universities and departments producing the next generation of leaders, we need to make sure that we also bring across the importance of soft skills development in the analytical fields.


What are your expectations to the industry?


It is important to involve industry partners in academic programs. These partners can assist with soft skills development and real-world experience. If we leave it to academia to decide on the skills – soft and hard skills – that graduates should have, our decision might be wrong. We need to partner with the industry who can assist on the “hot” skills needed in academic programs.


The pace at which industry is changing is too fast for academia to always know what skills are needed. We need to know what the skill sets are that students need in terms of employability.  If we work in a silo and industry works in their own silo, none of us will win.  Academia has the pipeline of employees, but we need the industry to assist with content development and to make sure we teach the needed skill sets.


 How could universities and industry collaborate in the best way?


Industry actually is already involved in our programs at the University of the Western Cape. They provide projects to the students and they are involved in every step of the process: data curation, data extraction, all the way up to the final model production.


Our projects run over a period of six months, sometimes longer. These projects can be time consuming and challenging for both academia and industry, to provide the guidance needed in such a condensed time. But we have found over the last 5 years, that it can be done if both parties (academics and industry partners) are motivated by the overarching goal of producing competent graduates. Partnership with the industry is important for academia to remain relevant in a fast-changing world.

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