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How to Become a Director: 5 Soft Skills to Develop to Lead

The most famous directors are film directors and company directors. Although there are obvious differences between the roles, there are also many similarities. The main one is that both are responsible for setting the direction and require exceptional leadership skills. Industry knowledge and experience is important. However, directors in all industries need to develop important soft (or human) skills. These include excellent communication, leadership, and critical thinking skills. These are all skills Fingerprint for Success can help you develop using our free personalized coaching. Our clients have achieved incredible results. 90% of our clients achieve the goals they set in their first program with us8!

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What do directors do?

The scope of the director role depends a lot on the specific type of director. For example, a film director doesn't just yell “action” they are also responsible for the film crew, managing scripts, and overseeing editing. Essentially, they manage the overall direction of the film as well as the film production.2

A director of an organization such as a company or non-profit is responsible for setting the strategy of the organization. As part of their role, they will help set goals and budgets and then track progress. Unlike management, they take a “big picture” approach to setting the direction and goals of the organization. Management is responsible for implementing the strategy set by the directors.

Organizations don’t just have board directors. In some organizations, the manager of a specific department may also be called a director. Common examples include the marketing director, finance director, or operations director. There can also be an art director, and director of nursing. Their role is to direct and manage the operations of the department they oversee. Film sets will also have different directors for different parts of the production. These involve the art director, director of photography, and assistant director.

There are lots of organizations that have directors. These include public organizations such as hospitals, universities, and within government departments. Private organizations such as companies and non-profits if large enough will have a board of directors. Directors can be appointed from within the organization or from outside of it. Many companies have independent directors on their boards which helps to bring in fresh thinking and a new perspective.

What are the soft (human) skills needed to become a director?

Directors need to be experts in their industry. For example, a finance director needs to understand every aspect of the financial industry so they can best manage the finances of their company. But, they also need to develop soft (or human) skills such as communication and decision-making. Developing this skill set can make you an even better director. The best directors combine creative skills with managerial skills.

Why are communications skills important?

Successful directors need to have great communication and interpersonal skills. This is because they will be interacting with a wide range of people. For film director this includes film editors and the production designer. Marketing directors will need to work with the creative director and other departments to develop marketing materials. Setting the direction and strategy of the organization is important. Directors will have to clearly explain their vision to the people responsible for implementing it. This means they need to master both written and verbal communication skills.

How can creative skills achieve greater success?

Great directors need to think with, or develop, creativity. The main aspect to master is thinking through problems using unconventional approach's to help find viable solutions. Using conventional knowledge about their industry is vital. But, adding their own creative thinking can pioneer new ways of filming, marketing, managing finances, etc. This helps them achieve better results. While creativity is a given in industries such as film, it’s also important in business. When you use creativity to find new ways of doing things, you will improve the performance of your organization. Most people have a creative side, so with the right coaching, you can unlock and develop this soft skill.

Why are leadership skills important?

To be successful, directors need to have good leadership skills. Directors are responsible for setting the strategy of the organization or team. This means leading the efforts to implement the strategy—in conjunction with management. While leadership comes to some people naturally, learning how to lead can improve your career prospects. 

How will critical thinking skills lead to success?

Critical thinking is extremely important for a director. You will be tasked with evaluating lots of information from both internal and external sources. In film, this may be from the production designer, location scouts or production assistants. You will need to critically assess the most creative but still cost effective ways to film each scene for example. A marketing director might be required to critically assess a range of media options based on reach, likely engagement or conversion outcomes.  It’s important that you’re strategic in your thinking and decision-making. 

Why are decision-making skills important? 

Directors need to be decisive. The decisions of film directors for example will shape every aspect of the film. Creative directors within advertising agencies may need to decide on the best creative ideas. When making decisions, it’s important to communicate well with team members and other stakeholders. Ultimately, you need to stand behind your decisions once you make them. This means taking responsibility when you get something wrong.

How to develop the soft skills to be a successful director?

At Fingerprint for Success, we have over 20 years of experience in personal development. We help people develop soft skills by using our proprietary people analytics platform to gain self-awareness of current strengths and blind spots that need to be developed.

Once you've taken the free assessment (which takes 15-20mins), you can set a goal and AI Coach Marlee will provide you with personalized insights related to your goals. You will receive feedback on your motivations and helpful insights related to your blind spots.


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How long does it take to become a director?

There are many pathways to becoming a director. When deciding your pathway, there are key factors to consider which will be different depending on what type of director you want to become. For example, formal education is important for finance directors but not necessarily required to become a film director. Let’s discuss the most important ones.

What higher education is required to become a director?

Many film directors go to film school and many company directors undertake a bachelor degree, such as business or commerce. Another option to advance is to complete a relevant postgraduate degree, such as a Master of Business Administration (MBA). But undergraduate and postgraduate degrees aren’t generally a requirement to become a director. Many work their way up into director roles. If you want to become a marketing director or finance director, then you will most likely need to have a degree (or higher) in those fields.

What licenses, certifications, and registrations are needed?

You don’t typically need a license to become a director. Film directors may need a certification for example to support screen funding applications. Certifications may be required in some countries to become a company director, or finance director due to the responsibilities. Other directors such as marketing and creative directors don't require licences. The same is true for registrations for company directors. The purpose of registering company directors is so the authorities know who oversees the company. 

What on-job internships are typically undertaken?

Directors manage and provide oversight for teams and organizations. Because of this, there typically aren’t internships for directors. However, if you want to become a film director, there are internships within the industry for film students and graduates. These will provide you with practical experience that can help you pursue a career in film. For other types of directors such as finance, creative, and marketing directors you can do an internship when starting out. Organizations of all sizes offer internships so you can gain first-hand experience working in different departments. This can provide you with a pathway to get into the industry and overtime develop the skills required to become a director.

What advancement or specialization opportunities are there?

This depends on what type of director you are. Film directors can start as assistant directors and then work their way up until they are in a position to direct their own films. Company directors often start in management and then take on governance roles once they gain experience in the industry. For both film and company directors, you can start with small companies or small-budget films. If you're successful in directing, then you will have more opportunities to direct larger productions or organizations. Films that are showcased in film festivals can increase the visibility of the director. Finance, marketing, and creative directors can also specialize in one particular part of their departments. For example, a finance director may choose to specialize in international finance.

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What are the career opportunities and outlook for directors?

Directors are required to manage and lead organizations of all sizes. A track record of success in your chosen industry will lead to many opportunities for you to become a director or take on new director roles. The biggest employer of directors are large companies such as Oracle, Salesforce, and Microsoft1. Major director roles include marketing director, technical director, and creative director. 

Are you currently employed as a director of a small entity? Do you want to take on director roles at larger entities? Then it’s a good idea to track the progress of your team or organization. When applying for new directorships, you will be able to showcase the results you've achieved during your time as a director.

The roles available for directors depend on your specific industry. In the entertainment industry, there are roles such as a film director, art director, costume director, and music director. In business, the roles vary. They include company director, marketing director, finance director, and operations director. In healthcare, there are roles such as nursing director, surgical director, and hospital director. Most of these positions require you to first gain experience in the industry.

Where can directors work?

Directors are required in multiple industries and organization types. For example, movie directors, company directors, marketing directors, nursing directors, football directors, and theater directors. Within these industries, there are many opportunities for directors to find work. When it comes to corporate director roles, the largest employers tend to be Fortune 500 companies such as Oracle, Microsoft, and Marriot International.9

In the film industry, for example, there are thousands of movies made each year. These will range from big-budget blockbusters to small indie films. Each of them will require a director and a range of assistant directors. In the corporate world, directors for finance, creative, and marketing are required to manage those departments. Each department may also have deputy directors to help the director carry out their responsibilities. This is an excellent way to learn how to do the job of a director. 

To become a director, it’s common to get industry experience first. Once you have developed industry knowledge and skills, you can apply for director roles. It’s also important to develop soft (or human) skills such as leadership, problem-solving, and critical thinking. These will make you a better candidate for director roles. Once you get your first director role, you can gain experience and then apply for similar roles at larger entities.

How much can directors earn?

The amount you can earn as a director depends on the specific role and industry you're in. This can range from millions of dollars for successful film directors to a few thousand dollars to be a director of a small company.

Let’s look at the average salaries for a range of director roles:

  • Film director – US$63,2793
  • Marketing director – US$176,7804
  • Finance director – US$158,7835
  • Director of nursing – US$101,3406
  • Company director – US$85,0567

As you can see, there is a wide range in average salaries for various types of directors. These are only averages and every industry will have its own rates. Another aspect to consider when it comes to directorships (mainly company directors) is they are often part-time roles. This means you can take on multiple directorships at one time.

Frequently asked questions

How can you become a director in the USA?

To become a director, you usually need a college degree and five-plus years of experience working in your industry. Do you have experience and have developed leadership and decision making skills? Then you should apply for director roles within your industry. This is true of all types of directors such as company directors and film directors.

How can you become a director of photography?

You don’t need to have a specific director of photography qualification to become one. Most directors of photography have a cinematography or photography degree. This is from a college or university. They then work in the industry for a few years before applying to become a director of photography.

How can you become a director of operations?

The best way to become a director of operations is to obtain an undergraduate or postgraduate degree in business. You then need to work in your industry for a few years before applying for management positions. Some people also get a Master of Business Administration (MBA) to help advance their careers.

How can you become a director of football?

The best pathway to becoming a director of football is to get a bachelor's or master's degree in sports management or a related field. You will then need to gain experience managing a team before you can apply to become the director of football. This will probably involve managing junior teams before you’re able to manage a more senior one.

How can you become a director of nursing?

Most directors of nursing start their careers by gaining a nursing degree. They then get employment as a nurse and work their way up to the role of director of nursing. This process will often take at least a decade. Nursing directors also need to be registered nurses.

How can you become a director without film school?

The best way to become a director without going to film school is to make your own independent films. Even if you start by making short, low-budget films, you will be able to showcase your skills. This can lead to offers of internships or junior roles in the industry. Over time, this can lead to film director roles.

How much does it cost to become a director?

This depends on how you do it. if you choose to gain an undergraduate or postgraduate qualification in your desired field, it can cost tens of thousands of dollars. However, if you do an apprenticeship or manage to get industry experience without a degree, the cost can be much lower.

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