It is one thing to be brilliant at your job and another thing entirely to be a good manager. As well as leadership and people skills, the best managers understand the necessity of developing self-awareness, being open to criticism, and having a high level of emotional intelligence.
Being a manager is no easy task. You are constantly striving to find a balance between the needs and wants of the individuals on your team, and the wider strategic goals of the company you represent.
While planning and big-picture thinking will be vital to leading your team to success, you also need to keep an eye on the details, so that you know everything is going as it should.
If this sounds daunting, don’t worry. Even managers aren’t expected to be perfect all the time. One of the most important traits of a good manager is recognising which skills you already have, and which you need to work on.
To help you get started, we’ve compiled a list of the essential skills that every manager needs.
If you are already a manager, you can use it as a self-evaluation tool, to help you identify opportunities for personal development.
If you aren’t a manager yet but are aiming for it, this should give you some ideas of the skills employers are looking for from their management staff.
One of the vital parts of being a good manager is the ability to build relationships with people at every level of the organisation. That means you’ll need to put time and energy into building rapport with your direct reports, managers in other teams, and the senior leadership team, as well as clients or other external stakeholders.
There is a tricky balance to find here, especially with the members of your team. You want to bond with them on a personal level, while still maintaining a professional attitude. Having your team like you is nice but having them respect and trust you is even more important.
Set time aside to speak with team members one-on-one every few months, so you can get to know them better and understand their concerns and needs.
But don’t neglect building relationships with other managers and those above you too. You can establish yourself as a vital part of the company by reaching out to your peers and superiors as well as managing your team well.
Great communication skills are an essential part of relationship-building, but that’s not the only reason that managers should concentrate on developing their ability to communicate well.
Whether you are speaking or writing, communicating with both your team and other colleagues is vital to making sure everyone is on the same page.
Managers must be clear and direct, so instructions are understood easily. They must give the right information to the right people at the right time, so everyone has the tools they need to do their job well. And they must keep their tone and language appropriate, coming across as human and approachable, but still professional.
And managers mustn’t neglect the other side of communication, which is listening. While many people can share their own thoughts clearly, genuinely listening to and understanding others is a skill that will set you apart.
Knowing when to speak and when to listen is not only a sign of a good manager but also a sign of a wise person. You’ll earn the trust and respect of the people you work with, as well as making sure you have all the information you need to manage your team well.
Make it clear your door is open whenever your team members need to talk. That doesn’t mean encouraging gossip and moaning, but welcoming ideas, thoughts, and constructive criticism is part of good management. And your team needs to know they can come to you with problems too.
Another crucial quality of a good manager is the ability to motivate your team. And one way to do this is to lead by example. If your reports see you embracing your role, innovating, and always pushing to do better, they are more likely to do the same.
Leading from the front is one way to encourage team members to perform well. But it is also important to recognise their individual achievements. Take time to provide feedback regularly that shows you have been paying attention to their work.
Of course, you should always make a point of acknowledging when someone has gone above and beyond. But it is also important to recognise and reward consistency and reliability. These are often overlooked qualities, but team members who can always be relied on to perform their job well need praise as much as those who come up with creative new ideas.
The best managers are those who look to develop and nurture the unique strengths of every member of their team.
If you want to do this well, it is important to see your team as individuals. While there may be practical training that everyone needs, each person will have their own strengths and weaknesses.
Good management means sensitively helping your team members identify and address areas where they are weak, while also encouraging them to develop their interests and strengths.
Sometimes this means being flexible about how tasks are divided up between team members. If you can find a way to let everyone have at least some of the tasks they most enjoy, you’ll end up with a loyal and motivated team, where each person feels valued for their strengths and supported in areas where they need to develop.
You should also work with your team to identify training needs and provide opportunities for personal development.
A lot of people underestimate how much of a skill delegation is. It doesn’t mean just telling people what to do, but instead is the art of knowing which tasks you need to do yourself, and which you should pass onto other members of your team.
As a manager, it can be tempting to keep more complex or interesting tasks to yourself. But your team won’t have the chance to develop their skills if you don’t trust them with these jobs from time to time.
Even when it would be much easier and faster to do it yourself, delegating to your team builds their confidence and will, eventually, give you more time to concentrate on those tasks that do need your attention.
Just be careful to keep the balance right. There’s a fine line between delegating appropriately and having your team think of you as a shirker. If you pass off a job to someone else, make sure you are clear about why you are giving it to them, what it will help the team as a whole to achieve, and what it will help them as an individual to learn.
Most managers have a lot on their plates. As well as their own tasks, they need to keep an eye on their team, input into strategy, and report back to senior leadership. So, time-management skills are a vital part of being a good manager.
If you aren’t a natural at managing your time well, you might decide to seek training. There are some excellent time-management courses that can help you get organised.
You can also work on your project management skills since organisation and time-management are an integral part of managing projects.
7. Budgeting and Commercial Awareness
Oversight of their team’s budget is part of most management roles. Many managers will also be expected to put together yearly budgets or cost out individual projects.
If your expertise isn’t in finances, having budgetary oversight can be a challenging part of becoming a new manager. Don’t be afraid to reach out to other managers or your own line manager for help the first few times while you learn this new skill.
As well as being able to put together a budget and manage their team’s expenditure, good managers are aware of the wider commercial world and how that impacts their work.
Subscribing to industry newsletters is one way to make sure you stay up to date. If your profession is covered by a professional body, you might also join it. Most will share relevant news and information with their membership. And social media can be a useful way to keep an eye on developments in your industry – just don’t get sucked into endless scrolling.
8. Planning and Strategy
Good managers can see the big picture. And they use that knowledge to plan their team’s work and input into the overall strategy for the company.
In many ways, this is linked to commercial awareness and budgeting skills, as both will play a part. But it also requires an in-depth knowledge of your team’s work and how it fits within the wider organisation.
To do this well, you’ll need to develop a set of KPIs (key performance indicators) for your team to tell you whether you are on track or not.
Monitoring these regularly will help you build a picture of where you are and what you could potentially achieve. It also helps you report back to other managers and senior leaders about your team’s area of work.
When you are in charge of a team, they look to you to make the decisions. While you can ask for their thoughts and input, the ultimate say will be yours.
Being able to make decisions is an integral part of good management. Depending on your type of work, you may need to do this under pressure. So, keeping a clear head and being able to quickly weigh up pros and cons is an advantage too.
There are times when you’ll realise later that you have made the wrong choice. Learning from your mistakes is another valuable management skill. But you mustn’t let these experiences make you indecisive. Your team will need clear direction from you, so you must trust yourself to make the right choice most of the time.
Managers need to think on their feet. One of your essential roles is to be the person your team come to for troubleshooting. Whenever they hit an issue that they can’t solve themselves, it will be your job to help them find a way forward.
Other managers and senior leaders will want to see problem-solving skills from you too. Being able to think creatively and see your way around issues is a core skill of good managers.
As with making decisions, you can seek input from your team or other colleagues. But you need to be prepared to have the final say.
11. Technical Knowledge
It almost goes without saying that you need to have the technical skills to do your job well. As a manager, these are even more important as you might need to train up other team members and support them with your knowledge.
With that said, managers shouldn’t feel that they need to be an expert in every task their team performs.
You’ll need to know what those tasks are and what skills are required to do them. But you may have members of your team who specialise in a particular area of work. You don’t need to be a specialist too. An overview of their work and how it meets the needs of your team is enough.
We’ll finish on one of the most essential skills for any manager – self-awareness. The ability to objectively assess your strengths and weaknesses is a rare talent, but one that will make you an excellent manager.
Part of self-awareness is being open to criticism. Learning to take honest feedback from both your team and other colleagues can help you identify where you need to improve.
It is much easier to say than do. After all, managers have feelings just like anyone else. But if you can master it, you will be able to develop your management skills, win your team’s trust, and be a truly valuable part of your company.
Although being competent in the technical side of your job is a good first step, becoming a good manager requires you to develop a much wider range of skills.
Arguably, the most important are those soft skills that help you work well with other people, lead your team, and balance your workload.
Building a relationship with your team that is based on trust and respect will go a long way to making you a good manager. Everything else can follow from there.