Skill Set vs. Mindset – Why Mindset Matters More as You Advance


Personal and professional development are fundamental pillars at SME Water. We believe investing in the advancement, development and wellbeing of our people is a direct investment into the success of the company. We provide each employee a significant amount of time and support for their own learning and development. Although we pride ourselves on our technical abilities, we understand that simply having a line-up of ‘smart’ people is not enough. We need to keep evolving, looking inward as well as outward and continuing to challenge ourselves to produce excellent services and products.

In order to achieve this, we produce learning and development plans that balance both skill set and mindset. Skill set and mindset are two distinct but interconnected aspects of personal and professional development.

Skill sets are usually tangible abilities that can be acquired through education, training, practice, and experience. They are often measurable and can be demonstrated through actions and outcomes. They are usually specific to a role or industry which means they may not be transferable and can become obsolete.

Mindset pertains to an individual’s attitude, beliefs and ways of thinking. It reflects one’s perceptions and attitudes toward oneself, others, and challenges in general. Mindset is not necessarily directly observable. It tends to manifest itself in behaviour and decisions. It significantly influences how you approach challenges, setbacks, and learning opportunities. Mindset is not limited to a specific field or area of work. It can impact various aspects of life, including personal development, relationships, career, and overall well-being.

This article delves into the importance of developing both skill set and mindset. And why it is important to focus on developing one’s skill set in the beginning but how expanding and working on one’s mindset becomes increasingly important as you progress through your career.

The importance of skill set early in a career

Skill set is typically more important in the beginning stages of a career. Here are a few reasons why:

Learning the basics

Early on, you are more likely to be learning the fundamental aspects of your field. Acquiring technical skills and gaining practical experience is essential to building a solid foundation upon which you can later develop further expertise.


Your role may involve solving well-defined problems that require the application of known techniques and procedures. Strong technical skills are key for addressing these challenges.

Building credibility

Demonstrating competence through your skill set and technical know-how is crucial for earning the trust and respect of colleagues and superiors. This establishes your credibility and lays the groundwork for future opportunities.

Career advancement

In the early stages of a career, advancement is often based on your ability to perform tasks both effectively and efficiently and how they contribute to your organisation.

Why is skill set alone not enough?

However, it is important to note that as your career progresses, the relative importance of mindset begins to increase. Developing a growth mindset is especially important right from the outset.

A growth mindset:

• Fuels ambition and motivation. When you believe your abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work, you are more likely to set ambitious goals and work persistently to achieve them.

• Encourages a thirst for knowledge and an eagerness to learn from others. It keeps you open to new ideas and approaches, facilitating faster skill development.

• Helps you make the most of these experiences by viewing them as opportunities for skill development and personal growth.

• Fosters humility and the willingness to seek feedback and learn from others, which can enhance your interpersonal skills and relationships.

The figure provides a summary of what is meant by a growth mindset as opposed to a fixed mindset:

Graphic showing the differences between a fixed and growth mindset outlook on challengaes, obstacles, effort, criticism and other peoples success

Figure 1 – The difference between a fixed and growth mindset.

As you move into more senior roles, leadership positions, or roles that require some form of strategic thinking, your mindset becomes even more critical for several reasons:

Effective leadership

Leaders must inspire and motivate teams, make decisions, and enforce the vision of the organisation. A growth mindset fosters qualities such as resilience, empathy, and the ability to learn from failures, which are essential for effective leadership.

Continuous learning

As you advance in your career, the pace of change accelerates. A growth mindset encourages ongoing learning and the pursuit of new knowledge and skills to remain relevant in your area of expertise.


In senior roles, you often encounter complex and unpredictable challenges. A growth mindset helps you adapt to change, embrace new ideas, and stay open to innovative solutions.


In leadership and decision-making roles, you are often tasked with identifying opportunities for innovation and driving cultural and organisational change. A growth mindset encourages creative thinking and a willingness to take calculated risks.


Skill set is more critical in the beginning of your career to establish a strong foundation and gain practical experience. However, as you progress and take on more complex roles, mindset, particularly a growth mindset, becomes increasingly important for leadership, adaptability, and continued success. Balancing both skill set, and mindset is key to a well-rounded and successful career.

You often find highly skilled and technically capable people promoted to senior and strategic roles completely on merit but who then struggle to adjust suitably because their new role requires a different approach and level of detail that they are not used to working at in their previous operational role. This is a common junction at which further training and mindset development is required.

Here at SME Water, we look at advancing and developing one’s mindset alongside one’s skill set. We work closely with each individual to create self-awareness, so they recognise the signs that they are beginning to reach their ‘skill ceiling’. A skill ceiling refers to the point at which an individual’s skills and abilities reach a plateau, beyond which it becomes increasingly difficult to make significant improvements or advancements. We want our staff to remain highly motivated in taking on new intellectual challenges because this ensures they continue to produce excellent products and services for our clients.

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