You’ve worked hard to become a manager and now you feel ill-prepared. Or perhaps you’ve been in your role for a while and feel stuck, stagnant.
The imposter syndrome sets in and you’re not sure how to succeed in this role.
Management skills aren’t innate, they’re learned over time so the work is never fully done. Succeeding as a manager is a fluid dance that requires a willingness to learn.
If you’ve already identified areas of improvement, this article will offer actionable tips. If you have no idea where to start, you will learn the top management skills every people manager needs and the ways to refine the ones you already have.
What are management skills?
Management skills refer to abilities that a leader possesses to supervise a team effectively and manage their responsibilities. This includes interpersonal skills, such as communication to strategic skills like problem-solving and innovating.
Types of Management Skills
There are three facets of management skills that every leader will need to succeed in their role.
The first is interpersonal skills. How are you with people?
Are you able to build relationships with leaders, peers, and direct reports? Would they describe you as trustworthy and reliable?
To be a great manager, you have to hone the skills to navigate conversations within – and outside of – your team. On a personal level, interpersonal skills will allow you to empathize, celebrate and motivate those around you.
The next facet of management is the strategic facet. As a leader, you’ll be tasked with identifying roadblocks, problem-solving and developing strategies to improve efficiency. This can be anything from helping your team improve its workflow to providing an innovative way to reach customers.
As for the technical piece, think of this as the foundational piece. It includes software knowledge, the ability to operate certain machinery, expertise in equipment used at your company.
To be a great manager, you should aim to be strong in all three management areas. Start by ranking yourself in each area and identify which one(s) you should focus on improving.
Read the following section on what steps to tackle next.
Developing Management Skills
So you’ve identified some management areas you want to want on. So how do you actually develop them? There are three main ways:
- Training – This is the first thing you should do once you know what you want to work on. Ideally, your company offers internal training to help leaders like you improve their skills. You can also seek out training programs online and reach out to your business network.
- Mentorship – A mentor is a valuable asset to have when learning how to model new behaviors and skills. With a mentor by your side, you can discover new ways to do things, get feedback on your process, and brainstorm ideas.
- Experience – Nothing beats experience. While getting training and a mentor is great, going through your own experiences is the best way to learn. While it isn’t always the easiest route, as you can hit roadblocks and make mistakes, you’ll likely face unique situations that will prepare you well for the future.
Top People Management Skills Every Leader Needs
As a people manager, you have to be multi-faceted – able to support your team, colleagues, and leaders all at once.
Here are the top skills you’ll need to succeed:
- Able to take accountability
- Business-minded and strategic
- Problem-solver and decision-maker
- Organized and willing to delegate
- Trustworthy and reliable
Your team will look to you for guidance and support, your peers will look to you for collaboration and your leaders will look to you for strategic thinking and an innovative spirit.
7 Ways to How to Improve Your Management Skills
- Get to know your team.
- Be empathetic.
- Build trust.
- Uplift and celebrate your team.
- Learn how to manage your time.
- Cultivate self-awareness.
- Lean on your peers and mentors.
1. Get to know your team.
In an ideal world, you would use the same approach to manage your team. In reality, everyone operates differently and requires a different management style.
To know what works best for your team, you have to get to know them. You’ll find that each person varies in how they communicate, receive feedback, want recognition, address conflicts, and more.
So, how do you get to know them?
- Have weekly 1-on-1s.
- Conduct personality assessments and surveys.
- Have non-work activities on a regular basis, like a weekly watercooler or a monthly game night.
- Ask them about themselves, like "What are your goals for the next 6 months?", "How do you prefer to be recognized?".
- Host team-building activities.
Once you understand which approach to take, you’ll build a stronger relationship with your team and be equipped to handle any roadblocks down the line.
2. Be empathetic.
Now more than ever, employees want empathetic managers and leaders.
A 2021 State of Workplace Empathy Study, administered by software company Businessolver, revealed that only 1 in 4 employees believed empathy in their organizations was "sufficient."
The same study revealed that while the majority of CEOs recognize the positive impact an empathetic culture has on business, 68% still fear they’ll be less respected if they show empathy.
The same study "84% of CEOs and 70% of employees believe empathy drives better business outcomes" however 68% of CEOs say they fear they will be less respected if they show empathy in the workplace, up 31 points from last year."
However, one study suggests that couldn’t be further from the truth.
According to the 2020 Empathy in the Workplace study by the Center for Creative Leadership, leaders see managers who show more empathy to their direct reports as better performers than those who show less or little empathy.
How do you show empathy? Here are a few ways:
- Get training on cultivating psychological safety at the workplace.
- Practice active listening.
- Go behind the words and focus on their meaning or intent.
- Validate your team’s feelings and concerns.
- Offer resources.
3. Build trust.
Trust is a core pillar of any workplace environment.
In 2017, Harvard Business Review reported that employees who work in a culture of trust are more productive and have higher energy levels. High-trust organizations also have better employee retention rates.
The key thing to remember here is that trust is a two-way street. Employees must trust their managers to support and guide them. However, managers must also instill trust in their team.
Otherwise, you’re left with a micromanager who’s unwilling to delegate and empower their team.
Building trust takes time, but here are some tactics you can start using today:
- Be transparent about the reasons behind your decisions, address mistakes and setbacks, be clear about your goals and vision.
- Follow-up on conversations you’ve had with your team. It will show that you listen and take action.
- Make yourself available to your team, whether it’s by having an open-door policy, setting office hours, having regular 1-on-1s.
4. Uplift and celebrate your team.
When I spoke to 5 HubSpot managers on their management journey, they shared one common belief: A key part of their role involved taking a backseat to allow their team to step into the spotlight.
This can take many forms. One way to uplift your team is by identifying high-visibility opportunities. For instance, your direct report suggested using the audio and video content platform Casted for an upcoming project.
Instead of relaying the message to the DRI, you could find a way for your direct report to collaborate on the project.
Start by checking in with your team to understand their goals and from there, you can find opportunities that will help them meet their objectives.
Another way to uplift your team is by recognizing their performance.
One thing to keep in mind is that not everyone likes recognition the same way.
Some employees may like public recognition while others prefer private, quieter celebrations. This goes back to knowing your team and understanding how they operate.
5. Learn how to manage your time.
Time management is a skill you should master, whether you’re a team lead or an individual contributor.
As a manager, it’s particularly important because you’re responsible for more than just your work. As such, you’ll need to organize your time in a way that factors in your tasks as well as time to support your team.
6. Cultivate self-awareness.
Do you know what your strengths and weaknesses are?
Some of us never think about them outside of job interviews, but it’s important to check in with yourself on a regular basis.
This self-assessment will allow you to identify areas of improvement and seek out resources to be a better manager for your team.
7. Lean on your peers and mentors.
You’ve done everything you can on your end to become a better manager. That’s great – now lean on those around you.
Your peers can offer insight into their strategies and thought processes to help you on your own. A mentor will have a breadth of knowledge and experience that you can learn from to grow as a manager.
In fact, one 2019 CNBC/Survey Monkey survey found that employees are more likely to be satisfied with their job when they have a mentor than those who don’t.
We naturally tend to stay in our comfort zone and seek out information that validates our current beliefs and biases. By seeking out guidance from others, you widen your lens and gain an opportunity to do things differently.
Improving your management skills won’t happen overnight. However, if you stay in tune with your team’s needs and maintain a willingness to learn, you’re well on your way.