In recent years, much business and leadership education has focused on the quantitative or “hard” skills necessary to be an effective manager. Although the importance of technical skills like financial management cannot be understated, effective management also requires “soft,” or qualitative, characteristics that cannot be easily measured. While there are literally dozens of soft skills that comprise a great manager, communication, leadership, delegation and trustworthiness are some of the most important qualities.
In this post, you are going to learn essential soft skills for managers to know (and master). If you want to step up your leadership skills immediately, then keep on reading.
Here’s the deal. Managers from all industries want to be better leaders at their company, but they don’t know how.
Or even worse, they have no business managing a team – and yet are completely oblivious to the fact that they lack the skills they need.
Here are the essential soft skills for managers:
Can you be depended on to be where you need to be, to do what needs to be done, to do what you say you will? Your boss must be able to depend on you or you will not get ahead. It is equally important that your peers and your subordinates believe they can depend on you too. Without that, they will not give you the support you need if you are going to be successful.
Do you do your job or do you sit back and watch others work? Are you the hardest working person in your group? If not, you ought to be.
Maintaining professionalism can be extremely difficult for leaders who are friendly with many of their employees, but recognizing the line between work life and personal life (and striking a balance in between) is critical. Establish clear boundaries if you work with friends, be fair to all subordinates regardless of friendships, and avoid any special treatment or favors.
On any list of desirable soft skills, communication is usually near the top. This doesn’t mean you need to be an inspiring orator or a brilliant wordsmith, but you need to be able to communicate professionally and clearly to senior management, employees, customers and other stakeholders. Good communication skills ensure that your ideas are understood and that your department can move forward toward meeting its goals and priorities. Proficient communication skills help you build strong relationships with your colleagues.
Leadership is another sought-after skill for managers. Some may argue that leadership is a hard skill, as there are certain technical aspects to being a good leader. However, leadership qualities are generally based on one’s personality, experience both in and outside of work and a personal philosophy, so this is also a soft skill. While different organizations need different types of leaders at various times, in general, leadership is important because companies need individuals who can not only motivate others, but also provide guidance and direction and implement strategic plans.
Having confidence and a clear vision can help influence your co-workers and get them on board with your ideas now and in the future. Displaying such leadership skills helps you gain visibility within an organization, which can lead to more opportunities for promotions or salary bumps.
Bosses and managers are always looking for employees with leadership potential because those workers will one day be taking over the reins and building on the company’s legacy.
Being a leader isn’t merely about getting people to do what you want. Leadership means inspiring and helping others reach their full potential. One way to do that is to become the internship supervisor, which gives you the opportunity to manage people, learn how to motivate a team, and take on more responsibility.
Listening skills are important for all professionals, but especially for managers. Learning to be an “active listener,” that is, truly listening to what someone else is saying and digesting their words before formulating a response, shows respect for others’ ideas and opinions. Being a good listener also ensures that you have all of the facts before you make a decision or try to solve a problem, an important skill for a leader.
Successful delegation is often cited as an important skill for managers. Not only is it impossible for any one person to handle all tasks, but failing to delegate can lead to micromanaging and other problems in the department. Managers need to not only be willing to delegate responsibilities, but also to determine who to delegate to and when, and to effectively motivate those individuals to follow through on the assignments.
Effective managers can evaluate situations, recognize potential — and potential issues — and make decisions based on the consideration of multiple variables and points of view. Being able to think critically has become increasingly important as the pace of business has increased, and managers are faced with more complex decisions every day. Being willing to question assumptions, look deeper than the surface and find potential in every situation is an important skill.
Time Management Skills
The one resource a manager will never have enough of is time. To succeed as a manager, it is vitally important that you develop, and continually improve your skill, in time management. In addition to the ability to prioritize and to delegate, which reduce the number of things you have to do, you have to be able to maximize what you do get done in the time you have.
Good managers are able to determine what needs to be done and to set goals to get there. Don’t just drift through the day dealing with what lands on your plate. Prioritize. Figure out what needs to be done and set specific goals for yourself and for your team.
You will never be able to effectively lead others and motivate them to perform if you are not trustworthy. Managers must remain true to their word, be transparent and be willing to admit mistakes if they expect others to do the same.
Most managers are expected to work across departments, coordinating with others to implement plans and develop strategies. As more businesses move to a cross-functional team environment, a manager’s ability to network and build working relationships across the organization becomes more important. Proactively networking and getting to know other managers can help propel your career forward.
Great leaders are those who are able to recognize a job well done and give credit where credit is due. Showing appreciation with a simple “Thank you” can go a long way toward motivating a team, but publicly acknowledging and celebrating accomplishments builds loyalty and commitment.
Even in the most functional teams, there are likely to be issues with employee performance and discipline. It’s important for leaders to handle disciplinary problems swiftly and fairly, because failing to do so can undermine their authority. Effective leaders address problems as soon as they occur, follow established procedures, implement strategies for correcting the problem and follow through on those strategies.
When hiring, look for the candidate who is one step ahead of me in the interview because that person will be the same way when hired. These people catch on quick. They understand business in general and their industry in particular. They are critical thinkers and problem solvers.
We face changes every day. Laws and regulations change. Competitors release new products. Disasters happen. Good managers have the flexibility to deal with constant change. Good managers expect change and plan for it. As a result, they are better prepared for unexpected changes. Their flexibility lets them react more quickly and minimize the disruption change can bring.
Takes Direction Well
As much as managers are valued for their ability to figure out what needs to be done and get after it, there are still times when they need to be told to do something. Whether it is a change in strategic direction or coaching regarding their performance a good manager has to be able to not only accept the directions, but to do so with a positive attitude, and learn from them.
Managers must be able to motivate their teams. This requires understanding your team, what they value and what gives them purpose. Motivational leaders keep employees in the loop and help them understand their impact on the company. They provide opportunities for growth, and they create meaningful reward and recognition programs to keep employees happy and productive.
Most leaders are negotiating throughout the day — with clients, with employees, and with friends and family. The most successful negotiators remain fair and considerate of others’ desires while pushing for what they want.
Tip: Look at the situation through the other person’s eyes, be prepared to offer several options, show that you’ve heard and understood the other side, and offer to help out in some way to demonstrate that you’re a team player.
Delivering Criticism & Feedback
For leaders overseeing employees who may not be performing at the optimum level, giving criticism is extremely important in maintaining high standards and producing work that meets those standards.
Tip: Give criticism in private, don’t point fingers, don’t sugarcoat the problem, be specific about what you want to change, and ask for the person’s input so they feel they’re part of the solution.
Data doesn’t mean much if you don’t know how to interpret it. Is there a pattern emerging? What else should you be looking for? Being a critical observer can help make you a better worker all around.
Companies need critical thinkers—people who bring a fresh perspective and offer intuitive solutions and ideas to help the company get a leg up on the competition or improve internal processes.
To be a critical observer, you need to be able to analyze information and put it to use. One tactic is to try to identify patterns of behavior at work. For example, does your boss actually read the weekly sales reports? What was her reaction to bad news in the staff meeting? What’s the best time of day to approach your manager with a question? By observing how people respond to the constant flow of information you can better understand the critical aspects of improving business operations.
“Any time you put more than one person into an organization, there is going to be conflict,” says Robinson. “It’s human nature.” Therefore, being able to resolve issues with co-workers will help you maintain relationships with peers and work more effectively.
Being able to constructively work through disagreements with people is a sure indicator of maturity—as well as leadership potential. Someone like this helps to promote a healthy, collaborative workplace.
The best way to resolve disagreements between co-workers is to address issues directly but delicately. So, when stepping in as a mediator, let both parties air their grievances in a judgment-free environment and then work together to find a solution.