Top 10 Skills Managers Need

Managers should be experts in their industries and possess a sharp business sense. However, they also need to know best practices for dealing with workplace dynamics. Managers are the glue that holds teams together and the leaders that drive these teams to do their best. These roles require a specific set of abilities explored in the online Bachelor of Science in Management program from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

If managers don’t have these skills, organizational success can significantly suffer, as Gallup’s State of the American Manager report found. It estimated managers are responsible for at least 70 percent of the variance in employee engagement scores – so it’s important that they make every effort to develop positive relationships and supportive work environments.

To help their teams operate at optimal productivity and engagement levels, managers should have these 10 skills:

1. Ability to inspire others

A survey of 332,860 employees at various levels conducted by leadership consultant Joseph Folkman, found the skill ranked most important for managers was the ability to inspire and motivate others. This finding comes as no surprise, as many employees look to their managers to provide them with the support and guidance needed to do their best work day in and day out as well as overcome challenges. Managers should motivate employees to take action by engaging them with a “compelling mission and vision,” as Gallup advised. Getting employee buy-in for this mission is a key task of the manager – and integral to a workplace’s overall success.

2. Resilience

Everyone hopes that times are always sunny in the office, but the reality of the business world is that some days will see frustrations and failures. No workplace is perfect and free from making mistakes, but what’s key is that employees pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and keep going. Managers need to be the ones to help their teams recalibrate and move forward.

Mark Murphy, founder of Leadership IQ, asked more than 30,000 employees whether they immediately start looking for a chance to try again after making a mistake, according to an article he wrote for Forbes. While 27 percent of employees said they did, 20 percent said they rarely or never do. Managers can inspire employees to examine where things went wrong and make another attempt.

3. Relationship-building

A good manager understands each employee’s strengths and weaknesses, and then is able to create business strategies that take these characteristics into account. However, this understanding does not come instantly; it takes time, and managers should be willing to get to know employees’ unique strengths.

Gallup noted that great managers take the time to build genuine relationships with their team members.

“Employees are people first, and they have an intrinsic need for bonding that does not automatically turn itself off between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.,” the report noted. “The best managers can understand and relate to their team members’ inherently human motivations.”

Regular check-in meetings and team bonding events can help managers get to know employees better and make them feel supported to do great work.

4. Self-awareness

While managers should assess their employees’ strengths and weaknesses, they should also look inward. They should ask themselves how others may interpret their behaviors or styles of communication, as David Gordon, president of The Cheesecake Factory, advised in an article for Fortune magazine. They should pay particular attention to non-verbal cues, which, as Gordon pointed out, can communicate messages stronger than words can.

“I have to create an environment where the people I work with consistently provide me with honest feedback about the messages I’m sending – messages that either inspire others towards new levels of accomplishment, or create a stifling environment that limits their potential,” he wrote.

Consider how your words and behaviors could be interpreted by others.

5. Recognition

If managers want to boost employee productivity and engagement levels, one of the best things they can do is improve their recognition practices. Employees at all levels want to feel appreciated for the work that they do, and this recognition shouldn’t be saved for annual reviews or other rare occasions. Instead, giving genuine recognition should be a regular part of management practices.

According to an analysis conducted by Gallup in June 2017, employees who feel like they are not being recognized adequately are twice as likely to say they’ll quit in the coming year. Furthermore, Gallup found the most memorable recognition comes most often from an employee’s manager, meaning there’s ample opportunity for managers to beef up their recognition efforts to have a significant impact on employee engagement and retention.

6. Strategic thinking

In today’s business landscape, where new technologies are shaking up long-practiced ways of doing things, managers’ ability to think strategically is more important than ever. Settling for completing assigned tasks is no longer enough; managers also have to think about the big picture, as news management expert Jill Geisler explained in an article for The Poynter Institute.

“Review systems,” Geisler wrote. “Set priorities aligned with major goals. Learn new and scary things. Encourage innovation by backing good people who take smart risks.”

Lower-level managers also shouldn’t make the mistake of assuming the big-picture thinking is the responsibility of only upper-level managers and executives.

“If you wait until you’re a top manager to develop strategic perspective, it will be too late,” wrote Folkman. “Lack of a strategic perspective, our research has further indicated, is considered a fatal flaw even when your current job does not require it. Your managers want to see you demonstrate that skill before they promote you.”

All business processes and workflows can improve, and managers should constantly be brainstorming ways to make their teams and organizations function more productively.

7. Effective communication

Effective communication is the cornerstone of strong manager-employee relationships. Managers need to be able to clearly share deadlines and project updates, make company announcements, assign tasks, give constructive feedback, answer questions, and have tough conversations.

Gallup’s State of the American Manager report found regular communication between managers and employees leads to higher engagement. Employees who have regular meetings with their managers are nearly three times as likely to be engaged as those who do not have regular meetings with them. Engagement was highest when employees had some type of daily communication with their managers, whether face-to-face or through phone or electronic means, and managers who used a mix of all three communication methods were the most successful at engaging their workers.

Managers should also be able to effectively and clearly explain expectations for employees, which the Gallup report found was one of the most important areas of workplace communications.

8. Constructive criticism

A manager’s duty is to pull employees aside and have conversations when performance or work issues arise. However, a good manager knows the right ways to have these sensitive discussions. It is not productive to scold an employee or tell them only what they’re doing wrong; they also need to know they can improve. Otherwise, the employee may make the same mistakes while growing resentful or apathetic. That’s where constructive criticism comes in. Managers should be able to provide feedback that is honest and easy to understand while also providing a roadmap for improvement.

9. Open and honest expression

Managers should be open and approachable and help people feel comfortable and safe in their workplaces, as Gallup’s State of the American Manager report advised. A big part of this is being transparent.

Transparent leadership is essential to organizational success, according to management consulting firm Peter Barron Stark. Instead of hiding information from employees, managers should keep them informed, and if they are not able to respond to employees’ questions, let them know why not. And with the ever-increasing speed at which employees learn and share information, thanks to social media and other platforms, workers will eventually find out the truth – and it’s better that the truth comes from their managers than from gossip at the water cooler.

“No matter how hard leaders try to hide the truth or cover up unpleasant or awkward situations, the truth will always surface,” Peter Barron Stark noted. “Reality is reaching employees faster than ever before. Given this reality, the best approach is to be transparent; act ethically and talk openly at all times.”

Honesty and openness is the best communication approach for managers to take with their employees.

10. Creative thinking

From reconfiguring their departments’ strategic direction to improving workflows, managers should to be agile and creative thinkers in many situations. Sometimes, the old ways of doing things stop working, and being able to brainstorm new and unconventional solutions quickly is an invaluable skill.

The importance of good management

Managers have an immense impact on employee satisfaction and engagement, and with the skills above they can help ensure this impact is positive. The online bachelor’s degree program in Management from the Collat School of Business at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, can help prepare individuals with the abilities they need to be successful leaders. Learn more today.


Recommended Reading:

How to Make the Most of Your Online Bachelor’s Degree

Career Path: How to Become a CTO



Gallup, State of the American Manager Report 

Harvard Business Review, The Skills Leaders Need at Every Level

Forbes, Here Are 3 Leadership Skills That Managers Will Need In 2017

Fortune, 3 important skills every new manager needs to have

Sandler, 4 Core Skills Leaders Needs to be Successful at Any Level of Management

Poynter, 10 key skills today’s leaders need to succeed in 2013

Gallup, Employee Recognition: Low Cost, High Impact 

Harvard Business Review, What Great Managers Do to Engage Employees