There are many skills that managers can learn on the job. For example, they can learn how to approve time cards, the key elements in an employment law, or the steps in conducting a good interview. But there are some basic skills or qualities that organizations want to see in managers from day one.
So, if you’re an HR professional trying to communicate expectations for the management team, this list might be helpful. Or, if you’re an individual who wants to eventually become a manager, think about building on these basic skills:
- Verbal communication. First and foremost, managers are coaches. They provide feedback to employees, conduct training, and offer performance guidance. As such, they need to be able to effectively hold a two-way conversation.
- Asking questions. I’m viewing this a little differently than problem-solving. I believe you can teach someone a problem-solving model. Managers need to be curious and willing to ask questions (versus assuming an answer). They also need to be open to letting others know when they don’t know something.
- Listening. I didn’t want to lump this in with verbal communication (#1) because it’s too important. This is also part of asking questions (#2). Coworkers are okay with a little silence. The best managers know when to stop talking and listen. They also know how to listen effectively.
- Time management. When managers have too many projects and not enough time, they are forced to prioritize their work. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, except if employees become a low priority. Managers must be able to manage their time and still accomplish their goals – while supporting the needs of their employees.
- Decision making. Speaking of prioritizing, the only way to do it effectively involves good decision making. Managers should be able to look at a situation and make an assessment about what do to. If they need additional information to make the decision, they can use skills #1, #2, and #3 to get what they need.
- Customer service. Managers have multiple customers – both internal and external ones. They need to understand who their customers are, what they want, and how to engage them. This will be critical for effective time management and decision making.
- Thinking. What I mean by this is managers know when to go “big picture” and when to focus on details – or both. Again, these basic skills do have a certain amount of connectivity. Good decision making involves knowing when you have the right amount of information – which will be very different – depending on your thinking.
- Stress management. We can’t tell others how to manage their stress. But how we manage our own stress impacts others. Managers need to be able to recognize and manage their own stress levels. And demonstrate a certain amount of calmness for the team.
- Conflict management. Managers should be able to address conflict both in terms of helping others resolve their conflicts AND being willing to defend their position, even if that means disagreeing with their boss or colleagues. They need to know how to mediate as well as manage workplace conflict.
- Written communication. Online collaboration and recognition tools make it easy to communicate with employees. But like email, it’s hard to read inflection and emotion. Managers need to have good writing skills so their words will be understood and interpreted correctly.
Organizations place a lot of responsibilities on their managers. It’s important to clearly state the expectations of the role. Employees who want to be promoted into a manager position need to understand the basic skills they should demonstrate – and why they need to have them. The more open and transparent organizations are about skills, the more opportunities they can create for employees to develop them.
Image captured by Sharlyn Lauby after speaking at the SHRM Annual Conference in Las Vegas, NV25