Top 4 Characteristics That Make Individual Contributors Indispensable

Flat Support Structure Lets Individual Contributors Succeed

With more and more frequency, companies have adopted a “flat” organizational structure as a way not only to reduce costs but also to become more agile.

In recent years we have seen the availability of management positions decrease and as a result, numerous professionals are electing to make careers through individual contributor roles that allow more influence and accountability, without cumbersome titles or management duties.

Given this trend, rd&partners examined 360-degree performance appraisal data on over 300 individual contributors surveyed over the last several years.

Some quick background on the respondents:

  • This group was made up largely of “for profit” organizations with revenues between $200M to over $2B annually
  • Most of these organizations were in the manufacturing and financial/insurance industry sectors
  • Those surveyed represented a 65% female 35% male demographic

The Top 4 Most Indispensable Competencies

What we consistently found was that there were four key competencies that the best individual contributors exhibited that proved to be the most indispensable for the companies that hired them.

Here are the top four competencies that consistently ranked for effectiveness in the role of individual contributor:

# 1 Able to Effectively Plan & Organize Their Work:

Effective individual contributors are competent at managing their time and the time of others.

In addition, they effectively handle multiple demands and competing deadlines.

They excel at identifying goals, developing plans, estimating time frames and monitoring their progress without much oversight by management.

Those that plan & organize well demonstrate the following behaviors:

  • Effectively manage their own time as well as the time of others
  • Develop contingency plans in anticipation of possible problems & adverse consequences
  • Use technology to effectively track & steer their work
  • Effectively manages multiple projects/demands and competing deadlines

# 2 Strong Interpersonal Communication:Control panel

Individual contributors who are competent at making relationships work, listen effectively and develop rapport with others.

They are able to articulate their thoughts and ideas clearly, present information in a straightforward and logical way, and they ensure that they are understood.

They are also very good at sharing information with others in order to improve overall work progress.

Those that have effective Interpersonal Communications demonstrate the following behaviors:

  • Readily share useful information and knowledge with others
  • Consistently close the information loop by making sure they understood others and that others understood them
  • Are truthful, realistic and constructive in the communication messages

#3 Effective at Collaboration:

Individual contributors who effectively collaborate are able to maintain cooperative work relationships with others.

They complete their own tasks for group projects in a timely and responsible manner and directly contribute to reaching the group goal.

Those that do this well demonstrate the following behaviors:

  • Assist others in the completion of their tasks to support the group goals
  • Build and maintains cooperative work relationships with others
  • Effectively collaborate in meeting and in informal interactions

#4 Able to Deliver Consistent Results:Package with "fragile" and "rush" stickers

Individual contributors who are effective in delivering results assume personal responsibility for achieving outcomes and work effectively with little direction.

In short, they are dependable and responsible.

Those that do this well demonstrate the following behaviors:

  • Work on the right tasks by ensuring they know their top deliverables
  • Finish what they start
  • Assume personal responsibility for achieving outcomes

Going Forward

Being an effective Individual Contributor is learnable.

Further, with the expanded roles of individual contributors in many companies, it is becoming more and more vital to hire effective individuals that can handle larger roles and be more self-directed.

The key to finding and developing the right people is understanding your company’s core competencies ahead of time, as well as the competencies that are needed in order to be effective within your organization.

This effectiveness can be increased by taking the time to actively go through the four competencies above that our research has shown lead to the most desired outcomes and the most qualified individual contributors.

If you would like to find out more about your organization’s existing talent and whether you have the type of individual contributors with the competencies we’ve found lead to the most successful outcomes, please contact us, or try one of our employee assessments free of charge.

About The Author:

Rob Denker is the Managing Principal of rd&partners. He helps leaders consistently see tangible, real-world benefits by making behavioral changes that are directly linked to the organization’s strategic initiatives, and their own effectiveness as a leader. Connect with Rob and rd&partners on LinkedIn.


  1. I found this article to be very informative. Definitely helpful for I.C.’s that are trying to increase the value they add to their org. and for managers that want to develop I.C.’s that report to them.Great job, thank you.

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