Being a good manager was never easy, but it’s become exponentially more challenging and stressful in recent years.
The way we work has changed — and fast. Teams are becoming more hybrid and remote. Connections are in a state of crisis, with 43% of the workforce reporting feeling disconnected at work.
We’ve seen unprecedented burnout rates, a tipping work-life balance scale, and changing priorities. Companies — and managers — are being challenged with more problems than before, many due to external factors.
Yet we know that managers play an integral role in how well a team (and the business) perform. Gallup found that managers account for at least 70% of variance in employee engagement scores across business units.
Creating a remarkable employee experience where employees thrive hinges on strong management skills. Still, many employers aren’t sure how to invest in manager development. Or, at least, aren’t sure of what types of development programs actually deliver results.
When you develop strong management skills, the experience of leading people can be remarkably rewarding, intriguing, and even exhilarating. It can push the envelope on your own growth and development, tapping into pieces you might not know have existed. Every day, you’re presented with new opportunities to grow and make a positive impact on the lives of people you care about. At the same time, you’re also contributing value to the larger organization.
At BetterUp, we’ve studied leadership. We know that great managers aren’t necessarily born leaders. It takes an investment in developing key management skills to truly unlock your leaders’ potential.
Whether you’re a newly promoted manager or a seasoned leader looking to deepen the skills for organizational success, this guide can help. We’ll cover ways to hone in on functions of management as well as the capabilities you need the most to lead teams through turbulent times.
What are management skills these days?
Management skills are defined as the competencies needed to lead people in performing functions and tasks. Management skills are needed to achieve specific goals and results.
The core management skills focus on the abilities that help lead, motivate, organize, schedule, plan, budget, and problem-solving. But today’s managers need to develop stronger people skills and soft skills to help themselves and their teams thrive in and outside of work.
Types of management skills:
The specific skills needed will depend on the role, but it can help to break down management skills into three main categories:
- Technical skills: These are the hard skills required to perform the basic tasks of a job. Depending on the industry, these may include knowing how to use the required technology, software, or equipment.
In addition to sales and marketing, negotiation, and planning skills, managers are expected to do more. For example, managers are expected to understand how to work with data and analytics.
- Conceptual skills: The ability to step back from the details and see the big picture is essential. Conceptual skills are a must-have to problem-solve, brainstorm new ideas, and strategize.
In addition to technical data skills, managers need strong analytical skills. Managers need to interpret and understand what the data means to the organization. Strong conceptual skills help managers lead their teams in improving processes. These skills also help create new products and services and stay ahead of the competition.
- People management skills: Strong interpersonal skills include effective communication, empathy, flexibility, and the ability to give constructive feedback. These are all essential to motivating and leading a successful team.
In recent years, more organizations are emphasizing the need to develop cultural competence skills. These help to improve the sense of belonging of all team members, inclusive of their diverse cultures and life situations.
7 essential management skills
When it comes to building a skill set for effective leadership, good managers need set skills. We’ve outlined seven key management skills that will help enhance any leader’s team management.
7 essential management skills
- Strategic thinking and problem-solving skills
- Managing priorities
- Organizing to win
- Inclusive leadership skills
- Emotional intelligence
- Hiring (and retaining) top talent
1. Communicating with clarity, listening with interest
High-performing teams and organizations are built on a foundation of leadership communication skills. With clear, direct communication, leaders set the tone for honesty and collaboration from the top. Effective managers practice their communication skills to streamline operations, bolster culture, and deepen engagement. And, most important, it creates a better employee experience.
Though often overlooked, listening skills are as important as speaking and writing. Managers need to work on their listening skills to increase understanding. It helps to be open to different ideas and makes people feel respected and heard.
How to improve: Effective communication requires preparation, practice, and feedback. Strong communicators run productive meetings and convey important information by using multiple methods. Sometimes, this includes verbal, written, and visual messages to support different learning styles. Managers at all levels of experience can benefit from communication training.
2. Thinking strategically, problem-solving, and making timely decisions
Decision-making, problem-solving and strategic thinking are important management skills for managers and leaders at all levels. Each skill is distinct, yet they’re all related to big picture thinking:
- Timely decision-making. Both new and experienced managers too often delay making decisions because they’re afraid of being wrong. While decisions need to be well considered, managers should avoid dragging their feet. This gives team members less time to execute, causing stress and decreasing work quality.
- Problem-solving. When presented with problems, effective managers help teams flip the switch and think creatively. They view challenges as opportunities for learning, brainstorming new ideas, and improving ways of working.
- Strategic thinking. Like an architect drawing a blueprint, a strong grasp of operating strategy helps managers step back. This helps leaders to create an overall plan to guide themselves and their team to focus and achieve the goals that matter most.
How to improve: Managers can strengthen strategic, problem-solving, and decision-making skills by encouraging input, brainstorming, and empowering team members to take on more challenges and decisions on their own.
This also means being ok with making mistakes. Managers demonstrate their own behavior by accepting responsibility for mistakes. They show it’s how one handles and learns from mistakes is more important than striving for perfection.
3. Managing time based on priorities
No manager or team can do it all. That’s why time management and prioritizing are such essential management skills, especially in today’s high-pressure work environment. When a manager uses poor time management, it causes burnout and harms employee well-being.
And that’s a big problem, with 63% of employees and 73% of C-suite executives reporting that their job doesn’t allow them to take time off from work and disconnect, according to a recent survey by Deloitte and Workplace Intelligence. The situation is bad enough that the results show that 57% of employees and nearly 70% of the C-suite said they’re seriously considering quitting and looking for a job that better supports their well-being.
By prioritizing goals, projects, and tasks, managers help themselves and their teams focus on what’s important – and let go of what’s not. Efficient time management means setting reasonable and realistic expectations, as well as protecting and respecting employees’ time.
How to improve: Strengthening your time management skills begins with developing self-awareness to identify problem areas and understand your relationship to time. Asking for feedback is a good way to start, as it’s often easier for others to spot time-saving opportunities and time-wasting behaviors.
Try a time-tracking tool and conduct a time audit to get a clear picture of how you currently use time. Identify the time management skills you most want to strengthen, such as prioritization and delegation, and pick one at a time to work on. For example, you may decide to adopt new habits and techniques, such as weekly and daily planning.
4. Organizing to win
A good manager sets up their team for success by creating organizational skills that outline clear roles, responsibilities, and processes to get work done. With a strong structure in place, managers help minimize friction and smooth the path for delegating tasks and empowering their team.
Though it may seem counter-intuitive, the structure creates freedom and room to innovate because it frees up time and space to think beyond the routine. Still, organizational structures also need to be flexible. Effective managers allow team members to work outside the lines when it makes sense, and make sure they feel comfortable with proposing new processes and ways of working that may save time, improve customer service, or add other value.
How to improve: Empowerment is the key to effective delegation. Instead of having an answer to every question, the most effective managers are coaches — people who can guide others to arrive at their own solutions, put them into action, and set goals, says researcher and management consultant Julia Milner. By working on your coaching skills you can learn how to avoid micromanaging and develop individuals’ strengths instead.
5. Inclusive leadership skills
With more dispersed teams, BetterUp research indicates that a sense of connection and community makes big impact on employee success and retention, and managers play a leading role in creating the cultural glue that helps people stick together. When managers learn and strengthen skills in building relationships, trust, and inclusion, their teams and people thrive.
BetterUp studied the impact of inclusive leaders. What is it? We’ve defined inclusive leadership as creating an environment of involvement, respect, and connection. It’s an inclusive environment where the richness of ideas, backgrounds, and perspectives are harnessed to create business value.
And when leaders invest in their inclusive leadership skills, employees and the business benefit. In fact, BetterUp research indicates that employees are 50% more productive, 90% more innovative, and 150% more engaged. Inclusive leadership also results in 54% lower employee turnover.
From better onboarding to encouraging participation by inviting newcomers and junior members to meetings, managers can build a stronger culture of inclusion.
“Creating a culture where employees feel like they’re valued and respected, they’re included, they belong, that’s what it all boils down to. Leaders who can create those environments are pretty game-changing for culture.”
Adam Massman, Global Head of L&D at JLL, BetterUp customer
How to improve: The best thing about strengthening cultural skills is you don’t do it alone. While your HR organization should have support for managers looking to build community and connection, your team will likely be the best source. Ask your team to help brainstorm ideas, ask for volunteers to plan and lead activities, and you’ll be on your way.
6. Applying emotional intelligence for managing yourself and others
Though the concept of emotional intelligence (EI) took the business world by storm nearly three decades ago, it took a pandemic for organizations to recognize the true importance for managers and their teams. Managers with strong emotional intelligence skills are great to work with, as they operate with self-awareness, empathy, and a knack for diffusing difficult situations.
How to improve: While some people tend to have naturally high EI, anyone can strengthen the related skills and qualities. It’s well worth the effort because EI will improve both your work and personal life. You can get started with these quick tips for developing emotional intelligence. If you want to invest more in your personal as well as business growth, try EI training and coaching for leaders.
7. Hiring, developing, and keeping the best people
Top managers become people magnets for employee retention, recruiting, and hiring by building and developing a team of people who are better than they are in the skills they were hired to do. There are many ways to increase retention, starting with becoming the best manager you can be by working on the skills that will help your team the most.
As we know, teams with a feeling of strong connection and belonging are more likely to stay together. Moreover, when positions open, managers can enlist team members in recruiting their next colleague, bringing higher-quality employee referrals to the process.
Developing a positive team culture begins with the hiring and interview process. Good managers provide a clear description of the position’s skills and requirements. In interviews, ask open-ended questions, listen closely, and follow up on answers that need further exploration. You can learn more about a candidate by treating them with respect and putting them at ease. In turn, their first impression will be more likely to be of a manager they’d like to work for.
Hiring decisions aren’t easy. Managers who prioritize their team culture base the selection process on both the needs of the job and the cultural fit with the team and organization.
How to improve: Developing strong retention and recruitment is an ongoing journey that depends on nurturing your team culture over time. If you’re concerned about making smart and objective hiring decisions, you may benefit from self-awareness and bias training. Managers also can gain insight, especially into cultural fit, by asking team members to assist in the interview and selection process.
While these skills are important for managers of teams of all sizes, there are some skills that are especially critical when leading larger teams and managing small teams.
3 key management skills for larger teams
- Asking strategic questions. A good leader encourages people to think beyond the status quo to be more creative, risk-taking, and counter-intuitive. This means asking questions like: “What if…?”; “Are we solving the right problem?”; and “Why, or why not?”
- Showing humility and vulnerability. People are attracted to leaders who aren’t afraid of showing their human side and shortcomings.
- Demonstrating trust. As a practical matter, leaders of large organizations must make the shift from direct to indirect management. This requires letting go of decisions and trusting the managers reporting to you to do the right thing.
3 key management skills for small teams
- Training and coaching. Managers can empower small teams by adopting coaching as their training and leadership style. This helps team members develop and reach their full potential while building understanding and confidence in performing their work.
- Cultivating teamwork. Managers build a cohesive, high-performing team by being an active part of the team. They encourage each team member to motivate and inspire each other, celebrating every success as a team.
- Promoting work-life balance. Managers model well-being behaviors by taking time off themselves and ensuring that each team member does the same. This may include taking breaks for a short walk, volunteering, self-care, and special family events.
3 management skills new managers should develop
That first management job can be scary, but developing new managers from the beginning by focusing on these key skills:
- Asking for help from a mentor: Having a mentor makes it easier to ask questions and build confidence by learning from their experience. If your organization doesn’t have a mentoring program, find a manager you admire and ask for their guidance during your transition period.
- Giving and receiving feedback: The ability to give others constructive feedback is an art that takes time and practice. Start by emphasizing the positive, and make sure this feedback far outweighs any corrections or suggestions for improvement. Demonstrate grace and humility by asking your team for feedback on how you’re doing and suggestions for what you could do better.
- Listening more: The best managers ask their teams questions and listen closely to what they say. Engage in focused, active listening by putting down distractions (like your phone) and asking questions to make sure you understand. Listening helps you develop empathy and become a more effective leader by helping people feel respected and heard.
Do you have a yearning to step up? If you’re just thinking about getting into management, it’s a good time to assess what it takes to become a good manager.
Support your managers to build connected teams
The impact of managers on an organization’s success can’t be overstated. Now, more than ever, managers shape the employee experience, which has a direct impact on employee productivity, satisfaction, and turnover.
With personalized coaching, BetterUp can help your managers develop the skills they need to lead your teams through change and uncertainty while building the sense of community and belonging that increases employee retention.