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20 management skills for talent optimizers

As a talent optimizer, you need to master diverse leadership and management skills. You might be naturally adept at some of the following skills—but developing competency in others will force you to stretch beyond your comfort level to close gaps. While it won’t be easy, doing that important work will set you up to be an effective manager who’s ready to take on any challenge.

The top 20 management skills to master are:

  1. assertiveness
  2. diagnosing
  3. creativity
  4. performance management
  5. positivity
  6. communication
  7. decision making
  8. goal setting
  9. delegation
  10. emotional intelligence
  11. finance
  12. self-awareness
  13. innovation
  14. inspiring followership
  15. negotiation
  16. team building
  17. mentoring
  18. organization
  19. hiring
  20. reliability

Read on to learn more about each key management skill, along with actionable tips for developing your competency:

1. Assertiveness

One skill that can be difficult to cultivate is assertiveness. Some managers who have a large amount of the dominance drive and a low amount of the extraversion drive are more task-oriented than people-oriented; they might find themselves needing to dial down their natural assertiveness. But managers with low dominance and high extraversion might be hesitant to rock the boat; they struggle with standing their ground when others disagree. But good managers can’t fear conflictBeing assertive doesn’t mean being a shark—it means getting your point across respectfully while fostering buy-in.

To develop assertiveness: Decide to be assertive, and practice what you might say in a mirror. If you feel yourself getting worked up in the moment, remain calm and focus on active listening. Rather than saying “yes, but” say, “yes, and.”

2. Diagnosing

In business, you’ll often find the old way of doing things doesn’t cut it anymore. To thrive in a competitive landscape, leaders need to be able to think critically to diagnose and solve business challenges. In fact, diagnosing is the first part of talent optimization, and a key skill that business leaders must master to overcome challenges and reach goals. Start diagnosing by collecting and measuring your people data (i.e. employee engagement data), then analyze that data to uncover the root of the problem. Finally, you’ll prescribe an action plan to correct the issue.

To develop your ability to diagnose: Practice collecting, measuring, and analyzing people data—this can be as simple as using Zeal’s Ava Bot on Slack to find employee engagement patterns and trends across your team or organization.

Management skills for talent optimizers

3. Creativity

As Peter Himmelman noted in Forbes, “While some companies may express a desire for creativity and innovation—only the strongest, most sustainable companies know that the costs of actually implementing those ideas are always worth the expense.” As technology and automation become the norm, creativity is the skill managers can cultivate to make themselves irreplaceable. Building your creative muscles pays off and will certainly come in handy when you need to problem solve.

To develop creativity: Reading Allen Gannett’s book “The Creative Curve,” study examples of successful creatives, take up a creative hobby to open up your explorative abilities, or experiment with environmental factors that stimulate creativity. 

4. Performance management

According to McKinsey, 91 percent of companies that have effective performance management systems link employees’ goals to business priorities. This is, at its essence, talent optimization—connecting people strategy to business strategy to ensure great results. One of the most important leadership and management skills you’ll master is performance management. Understanding how to define goals, set performance targets, measure success, and create feedback loops to continuously improve is vital.

To develop performance management: Ensure every employee has a tailored professional development plan that’s linked to your company’s strategic business goals. Then set regular check-ins to maintain drive and alignment.

5. Positivity

In a recent Gartner study, 81 percent of customer experience leaders believed they compete primarily on their customer experience. For frontline employees, providing an excellent customer experience relies on remaining calm and positive when faced with a stressful situation like helping an angry customer. Managers who model positivity—and promote this skill as a core team value—will have a much easier time meeting (or surpassing) customer retention metrics.

To develop positivity: Thought leader Gene Griessman recommended smiling while repeating the mantra: “Boy, am I enthusiastic!” It might feel a bit funny, but—like smiling—it triggers a biological process that makes you feel more cheerful.

6. Communication

As a manager, your ability to effectively communicate your thoughts—whether you’re working with your team on a project or speaking at an industry event—is vital. According to research from the Association for Talent Development, 83 percent of survey respondents indicated that communication is the single most important skill area related to managerial success.

To develop communication: Solicit feedback, pursue coaching, explore opportunities for public speaking, or join an organization such as Toastmasters.

7. Decision making

Data-driven decision making is becoming an ever-increasing part of business. No matter what industry or role you’re in, strong data analysis skills make you a better manager. The American Management Association reported that there’s an urgent demand for analytical skills and that 82 percent of executives say analytical skills will be critical in the future. Analytical skills cover a wide range of areas, from using behavioral assessments to understand how your employees think and work to developing market responsive strategies.

To develop decision making: Take a course on systems thinking, improve your statistical analysis skills, or learn to integrate data analytics tools into your daily workflows.

8. Goal setting

The ability to set goals and achieve them is the hallmark of an effective leader. According to Gartner, organizations are moving toward more frequent and agile goal-setting methodologies, with 48 percent setting goals twice a year rather than annually. Talent optimization says to continuously diagnose your people data and optimize your company accordingly—and sometimes that means tweaking goals or adding new goals mid-cycle. Managers have a multi-layered relationship with goals: your personal and professional goals, your position’s goals, and the goals of the people you’re responsible for supervising. 

To develop goal setting: Learn what effective goal setting looks like, using frameworks such as SMART goals. At the same time, learn and implement different strategies for achieving goals.

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9. Delegation

Another area where great managers stand out from bad managers is their ability to empower their teams and then delegate confidently. Empowerment is the unique intersection of inspiring people to do their best and entrusting them with the authority to get things done.  Delegating is an area where many managers—particularly those with a high amount of the formality drive—can stand to improve.

To develop your ability to delegate: Understand that there are many different ways to accomplish a task—and sometimes a C+ result is enough. Then start delegating low-risk tasks and resisting the urge to micromanage. 

10. Emotional intelligence

Organizations can have complex political landscapes with different personalities and agendas competing for attention and support. According to McKinsey, between 2016 and 2030, across all industries, the demand for social skills will grow by 26 percent. Managers should focus on developing important leadership and management skills to help them thrive. For example, how well developed is your ability to listen and gauge another person’s mood and objectives? How effective are you at building consensus? When needed, are you able to have difficult conversations while still maintaining positive relationships? From diplomacy to learning how to read others’ emotions, developing your political savvy can pay off in multiple areas throughout your career.

To develop emotional intelligence: Reflect on your own emotions, use journaling to process disappointment, and reframe failure as a positive.

11. Finance

While anyone can be a talent optimizer, many talent optimizers work in HR. Historically, HR was always thought of as a process-driven function. But the best HR managers know they need to be strategic, business-minded, and data-driven to drive real results. One skill every manager must master is an understanding of finance—know what terms like CAC and CLV mean and how you can play a part in helping your company achieve its financial goals.

To develop your finance skills: Study common business and finance terms, enroll in an online certificate program, or team up with a study buddy in the finance department for some knowledge sharing.

12. Self-awareness

Our people management study showed us that 99 percent of people feel it’s important for a manager to be self-aware. How likable are you? It’s a more difficult area to self-assess and work on, yet it can have a major impact on your career. Likeability affects many things, from promotion opportunities to your department turnover rate. Improving your likeability starts with being self-aware enough to take a good hard look at the way others see you.

To develop self-awareness: Take a manager style quiz, gather 360 feedback, or use a behavioral tool that tells you about your strengths and weaknesses. As they say, you don’t know what you don’t know—good managers make it a point to find out.

13. Innovation

Organizations are putting an emphasis on innovation and growth, and even going so far as to disrupt their industries. McKinsey has predicted that the demand for entrepreneurship and initiative taking will increase by 33 percent in the year ahead. Play to your strengths. Consider thought leadership and sharing ideas, spearheading new initiatives, or helping take your company to new markets. Finding a way to show that you’re at the leading edge of your field will not only help attract the best talent to work for you, but it will position you for some of your organization’s most exciting opportunities.

To develop innovation: Listen to a podcast for business leaders like HBR IdeaCast or Stanford Innovation Lab.

14. Inspiring followership

Inspiring followership is a skill that all managers should seek to master (though few ever do). What is it exactly? According to CEO Amy Huntington, “Followership, in its simplest form, creates a sense of community within the workplace, and is a guiding force that will stick with future generations of leaders.” Think of the most inspirational manager you’ve ever worked with: chances are he or she was positive, self-aware, confident, and inspiring. And chances are the lessons you learned from that person have stuck with you over time.

To develop your ability to inspire followership: Be someone others can trust and depend on, and always stay above the line.

senior manager in suit

15. Negotiation

Harvard affirmed that great negotiators earn more money. However, strong negotiation skills can benefit managers in many different areas. Whether you’re mapping the terms of a deal, trying to hire the right people, or advocating for an increase in your own salary, strong negotiation skills are a must.

To develop your ability to negotiate: There are many great books on negotiation, but this is one area in particular where a specialized training or coaching sessions can help you achieve your objectives in a meaningful way.

16. Team building

How much are you investing in creating a high-performing team? Giving your team members the tools to work effectively together is a critical mandate for leaders. When teams gel, there’s less unhealthy conflict and faster decision making. One way to empower your team to be its best is to give them access to a talent optimization platform so they can use its people data insights to tailor the way they communicate and work together.

To develop team building: In addition to giving every member of your team access to people data, schedule regular team building workshops facilitated by local experts. 

17. Mentoring

Being an effective leader means cultivating the ability to coach and mentor your team to their highest levels of performance. Organizations that invest in training their managers to be more effective in these areas see results. For example, in one case study featured in the Harvard Business Review, 96 percent of managers who received training in this area reported that it helped increase their ability to do their jobs. 

To develop your ability to mentor effectively: Attend an expert management workshop.

18. Organization

Managers have significant mandates, from tracking their team’s objectives to being part of organization-wide initiatives. Having strong organizational systems in place and the ability to plan can help you stay on top of everything without letting important steps fall through the cracks. Yet many managers don’t get trained on best practices for organizing. 

To develop organization: Try different systems, such as the classic “Getting Things Done,” or look at trying new tools like Asana or Trello to stay on top of all the items on your to-do list.

19. Hiring

This may sound basic—especially if you work in HR—but the truth is that too many hiring managers don’t know how to hire. They rely on resumes and references that were cherry-picked to say great things instead of better predictors of on-the-job success such as behavioral patterns and cognitive ability. To increase the number of successful hires, make people data a part of your hiring process and evaluate the whole person: head, heart, and briefcase.

To develop your ability to hire well: Watch our Head, heart, briefcase webinar.

20. Reliability

Having a strong track record of delivering results and being reliable helps you become a trusted manager. Examine your performance. Do you hit deadlines? Are you delivering what you promise? If you find yourself falling short of expectations, investing in repairing and improving your reputation can result in significant dividends.

To develop reliability: Look at where you’re not delivering and make a plan to close those gaps. For example, if you’re overcommitting it may be time to scale back or delegate more effectively. 

Continue to develop your management skills over time.

Managers who take the time to invest in developing their expertise while cultivating strong leadership and management skills will go far. It can be challenging to balance a program of constant self-improvement while also overseeing your day-to-day responsibilities and larger agendas. But it’s worth it. Keep evolving your skills so you’re best positioned for the opportunities and challenges that arise throughout your career.


Erin heads up content marketing at PI. Her claim to fame? She's the only Erin Balsa on LinkedIn.

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