Economic uncertainty the biggest challenge facing 2.5 million SMEs


  • The biggest challenges SMEs face in the next two years include economic uncertainty (45%), ongoing digitalisation efforts (41%) and increased competition (37%)

  • Current skills gap is fuelling the talent dilemma: SMEs require strong leadership to navigate this difficult period, but two in five say it’s currently lacking

  • 33% of business leaders cite soft skills – including emotional intelligence, communication and collaboration – as the most crucial requirement for leadership roles


London, 30 May 2019 - UK SMEs say that economic uncertainty (45%), ongoing digitalisation efforts (41%) and increased competition (37%) are the three biggest challenges facing their organisation in the next two years, according to new research from Robert Half UK.1 

Table 1: Biggest challenges facing SMEs



Total number of SMEs2

Economic uncertainty



Ongoing digitalisation efforts



Increased competition



Access to talent



Regulatory changes



Source: Robert Half UK

SMEs require strong leadership to navigate this period of change in the next two years, but a significant proportion believe that strong leadership is currently lacking within their organisation.

With SMEs being the backbone of the UK economy, accounting for 52% of all private sector turnover (£2 trillion annually)2, poor leadership has the potential to cause a significant negative economic impact.

When looking at implementing new digital solutions, two in five say their leadership team is resistant to change (41%), a further two in five say they have poor soft skills (40%), while three in 10 cite a lack of communication (30%).

The skills identified for strong leadership include strategic thinking, adaptability, emotional intelligence, communication and collaboration. These soft skills – once overlooked and undervalued –– are now being identified as the most crucial to become a CEO (33%).

Matt Weston, Managing Director of Robert UK, commented: SMEs planning for the future will need strong leadership now more than ever to cope with economic uncertainty, ongoing digitalisation efforts and increased competition.”

“To build out their teams and overcome the skills gap, many businesses are now adopting flexible recruitment strategies so they can move quickly to secure their desired candidates. Developing a strong pipeline of talent and planning succession carefully in advance will ensure companies cultivate a strong leadership team – one that is capable of navigating through uncertain times.”