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10 key management skills that separate great managers

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It seems like everyone has a bad manager story. The one who micromanaged every task they assigned you. The one who seemed to always change their mind about what they wanted. Few things are more frustrating than having to deal with a manager who isn’t very good at their job. So if you’ve recently found yourself in a management position, you probably know how important it is to get the job right.

But where should you begin? Hopefully, you’ve had some good managers along the way as well. Think about what distinguished them. Likely, they took the time to hone a set of skills—ranging from hard and soft, technical and social, and so forth—that allowed them to respond quickly, empathetically, and intelligently to a variety of situations.

In this article, we’re going to look closely at what management skills are, including their different types and the most important ones to learn, then share some tips on how you can hone them yourself.

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How we define management skills

Management skills are the specialized knowledge, abilities, or competencies that enable those in leadership positions to get teams and individual employees to achieve organizational goals. These functions, among many more, include delegating tasks, planning out and overseeing projects, selecting and evaluating employees, controlling resources, formulating policies, and resolving issues. 

Developing and honing these skills is critical for managers to remain effective and for organizations as a whole to stay flexible and responsive. This is because managers fulfill a vital role in providing employees and teams with direction, defining and controlling their workload, and ensuring that the business is on track to meet its goals. They are also responsible for fostering employee development, maintaining a positive work environment, and driving innovation—all of which are essential to organizational success.

3 different types of management skills

Management skills are not a monolith. Instead, the range of different responsibilities a manager must take on makes it necessary to learn several different categories of skills. Due to their relevance across various aspects of management, the following three are the most important.

1. Technical skills

Any skills that involve using specific tools or technology to perform concrete tasks can be defined as technical. Otherwise known as hard skills, they include coding, the ability to use hardware and software, and the operation of equipment and machines. But they may also include marketing skills, like the knowledge of building a successful campaign, as well as the ability to pitch products or services and increase sales. 

2. Conceptual skills

Conceptual skills are much more abstract, yet just as essential as their technical counterparts. They involve the ability to think through and diagnose an issue, visualize different solutions, build out an execution plan, and anticipate and prepare for other challenges before they arrive. Managers need to develop this type of skill in order to be able to act strategically and plan for the long term.

3. Human or interpersonal skills 

Often described as soft skills, a manager who has a high degree of human and interpersonal intelligence will know how to get the best out of the people they work with. They will have an abundance of empathy, a talent for motivation, and a skill for bringing employees together to collaborate and share with one another. All this will help maximize the potential of their team, as well as make the organization a better place to work.

employees discussing their ideal management skills

The 10 most important skills for effective management

Knowing where to start improving your management skills can feel daunting. With so many different aspects of the job, what should demand your attention the most? While this will ultimately depend on your unique role, as well as the set of skills you already possess, the following list is a good place for you to begin.

1. Communication skills

All the technical skills in the world won’t matter if you can’t clearly and effectively communicate to others. As a manager, you need to be able to share your needs and expectations with your team, provide them with detailed steps for executing projects, and spell out the larger context for them when they have questions. This is a vital part of ensuring a streamlined work process, as well as the transparency and honesty required in a healthy workplace.

2. Leadership skills

Leadership skill is often spoken of as a natural ability, but it can be learned and improved just like anything else. Qualities of this skill include a talent for motivating and inspiring others, the ability to keep a team focused on a single goal without getting distracted, and a willingness to acknowledge and learn from mistakes. Highly skilled leaders are also highly empathetic and good strategic thinkers, with an ability to both quickly respond to changing situations and plan for long-term outcomes.

3. Strategic thinking

Good leaders enable their teams and employees to focus on their tasks at hand by taking on the responsibility of long-term, strategic thinking. This is a specific skill that involves knowing how to align everyday objectives with the organization’s larger mission, set priorities for the team and individuals on a weekly and monthly basis, and course correct as needed. Strategic leaders will also continually emphasize the big picture for everyone in order to keep their team aligned and productive.

4. Organization and time management

Managers rarely have the luxury of focusing on just one single task at a time. Instead, they must be good at juggling multiple projects, overseeing the work of others, and monitoring their team’s short- and long-term goals—often all at once. This requires a highly developed sense of organization and time management. More specifically, it will involve knowing how to properly prioritize different tasks, coordinate resources among different team members, and reallocate tools and personnel as needed. This will ensure all work remains on schedule and goals get accomplished.

5. Problem-solving skills

Effective managers have to know how to quickly solve problems for their team. This includes the ability to put in place preventative measures, as well as the knowledge of how to identify the root cause of a problem and come up with an effective solution. All this will require healthy and consistent attention to detail. In addition, good leaders should help their team develop these problem-solving skills themselves, enabling them to prevent and fix issues before they turn into crises.

6. Decision-making skills

The ability to make quick, informed, and well-thought-out decisions is another crucial skill required of leaders. But this doesn’t just mean choosing one option out of many. It means knowing how to build a framework for finding the information you need, weighing competing opinions against each other, and considering multiple different possible outcomes against the larger goals of the team. Knowing how to do this on the fly will prevent bottlenecks from turning into more serious problems.

7. Conflict resolution skills

Internal conflicts, whether between individual employees or different teams, will be an inevitable aspect of any manager’s job. But effective managers will know how to keep these conflicts from escalating into something worse. This will require a talent for actively and respectfully listening to both perspectives, then knowing how to come up with a resolution that is both fair and equitable. Leaders who can do this successfully will be better positioned to prevent internal rivalries and maintain a more cohesive and collaborative team.

8. Emotional intelligence

Effective leadership isn’t just about producing results or helping to maximize profits. It’s also about ensuring a healthy workplace culture for everyone. Emotionally intelligent leaders are well-equipped to do this because they have the skills and self-awareness to recognize and manage their own emotions, as well as the feelings of others. This will mean they’ll be much more sensitive to how their decisions affect the members of their team, and much more aware of other interpersonal conflicts. This kind of attention will help engender trust because it will show that the leader values individuals as much as the team’s or organization’s wider goals.

9. Adaptability 

Projects transform, business needs change, resources dwindle, and, through it all, effective leaders know how to adapt. The ability to quickly recognize the need for change and implement necessary adjustments is a hallmark of a good leader. Learning this skill will require a high amount of situational awareness, including how the needs of stakeholders may be adjusting, the time and effort required to move around employees and resources, and the larger context of the wider industry. It will also depend on a talent for clear and consistent communication.

10. Coaching and mentoring

The best leaders understand that the most enduring path to success involves helping each team member fulfill their full potential. By prioritizing knowledge sharing, whether by sharing their own skill sets with others or organizing mentoring or coaching sessions between different employees, leaders can help their employees be better at their jobs, improve their resilience, and increase their productivity. Knowing how to nurture their employees in this way will also help increase confidence and morale throughout the team, setting everyone up for future success.

Woman showcases her management skills

Tips to boost your management skills

Once you’ve set your sights on some essential management skills you’d like to develop, what’s the best way to go about getting better at them? First, be patient. Just like learning any new skill, you won’t get everything right at once. Instead, it will take some on-the-job practice. But as long as you stay the course and stick with some of the actionable steps below, you’ll soon start becoming a better and more effective manager.

  • Self-assessment: Being aware of what you’re good at, as well as what still needs work, will help you round out your skills and meet your personal goals. If need be, seek out the resources or mentors who might be able to help you achieve these goals and, if possible, create a plan you can use to guide your growth.
  • Continuous learning: Good managers know that, in order to keep improving, they have to keep learning. Try to seek out knowledge that you can use to make more informed decisions and that will help you support your team.
  • Seeking feedback: Learning how to be better at your job should also involve those directly affected by it. By asking your own employees to give you feedback, you’ll be able to improve in the ways that mean most to them.
  • Setting clear goals: Setting clear goals for your team not only gives them something to immediately focus on, but can also serve as a powerful source of motivation. Just remember to make sure these goals are realistic, as well as aligned with larger organizational objectives.
  • Building strong relationships: Healthy professional relationships, like all relationships, start with trust. The best way to build this is by being transparent and inclusive. Involve your employees in important decisions, and always encourage them to share their opinions.
  • Delegating effectively: Knowing how to distribute work and keep projects moving forward efficiently is one of a manager’s main jobs. Come up with a clear process for this. If needed, do a thorough skills assessment of your employees so you know who to put in charge of getting different kinds of work done.

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Building a complete set of management skills

The manager’s job is not an easy one. You have to shepherd a team of individuals, along with their many needs and personalities, toward a common goal, while maintaining cohesion, generating enthusiasm, and ensuring equity and fairness all around. This requires someone who possesses a wide range of different skills, from the technical to the strategic to the social, as well as a willingness to listen, learn, and make mistakes.

All this is why there is no one way to become an ideal manager. Instead, becoming an effective leader—one who not only gets things done, but inspires others to get them done too—should involve a more holistic approach. Take every chance you can to improve your management abilities. Seek out training opportunities, look for a well-qualified mentor, and read up on the skills you think you need to better manage your team. 

Perhaps most importantly, remain open to learning by always trying out new things. If there’s one common trait all good leaders have, it’s a wealth of well-earned experience.

David is a freelance writer and PI contributor. When he’s not writing, he’s probably thinking about food. He believes pretzels are superior to potato chips and you can’t convince him otherwise.

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