Employers are being urged to look beyond traditional talent pools as businesses face a stark shortfall of strategic leaders able to deliver successful transformation.

According to research from PwC’s consulting business, just 8 per cent of senior managers have strategist attributes required to affect change.

Of the 6000 European professionals surveyed, the largest proportion of strategist leaders were found to be female and over the age of 55, an area of talent often “overlooked,” said Jessica Leitch, people and organisation consultant at PwC.

These females were more likely to be able to see situations from multiple perspectives, employ positive language and exercise power courageously, according to the analysis.

The report defined a strategist leader as someone who was likely to have wider experience of settings, people, and also of failure, which engenders humility of perspective and resilience, so that they know what to do when things don’t work.

But while organisations grapple with rapid technological change, stalled growth and global restructuring, less than one in ten current leaders have the capabilities, attributes and mindsets to lead transformational change, it said.

Mark Dawson, PwC partner in people and change, said: “Industries as diverse as big supermarkets, banking and healthcare have ‘wicked’ problems knocking on their doors right now.

“How successfully they deal with these will largely depend on how well they can harness and retain Strategist leadership talent within their ranks.

PwC said the way many companies attract, retain and empower leaders required an overhaul, but admitted it might “ruffle a few feathers” of the more traditionalist management structures.

“Empowering strategists is not about finding a successful operational manager and giving them a job title with the world ‘strategic’ in it,” said Leitch.

“It’s about finding people who can think and work outside the existing system, who can see what needs to change and are able to persuade or inspire others to follow them.”

For HR, that means expanding the definition of talent and “not just looking to recruit in the image of existing leaders,” she added.

“Historically women over the age of 55 would not have been an area of focus, but as the research suggests, this pool of talent might hold the key to transformation and in some cases, business survival,” she said.

According to the report, a successful strategist leader was open to frank and honest feedback, an area that current leaders struggled with, Leitch said: “HR should be encouraging leaders to take their personal development seriously.

“Many typically think that the methods that have got them to where they are today don’t need to be challenged, but what strategist leaders are is open to institutions developing them further. That means not just focusing on horizontal development, such as competencies and skills, but vertical development including the ability to make decisions and behave in complex situations,” she added.

Grace Lewis, PM Today, 18th May 2015