8 Business Management Skills You'll Need in Order to Lead
Throughout your career, you’ve always had your eye on the horizon. After a few years learning the basics of any job, you start looking for bigger opportunities, ways to advance and grow professionally. Transitioning into a management role can open up worlds of opportunity. Higher salaries, better benefits, and more dynamic responsibilities can all follow the move into the world of business management.
But what skills does it take to thrive in these settings? When do you know if it is the right time to start pursuing management positions and how do you set yourself apart from other applicants?
We spoke with leading professionals in business management and identified the most important leadership skills for successful managers. We also uncovered a few unexpected qualities that set apart the most effective leaders. Keep reading to see what skillsets are most critical for business management and what additional qualities can make you truly stand out from the crowd—no matter your preferred management style.
Business management skills: Beyond technical know-how
Take a minute to imagine the best boss you ever worked for. There may have been many parts of their personality that seemed especially suited for management. Maybe they had a natural charisma or an instant sense of authority when you shook their hand. However, it may surprise you to realize that many of these seemingly innate qualities were intentionally developed over time.
Business management programs equip their students with the necessary technical know-how to excel in leadership positions, but they also help students cultivate skills that you may not expect to find in a textbook. This may be why employers frequently look for students with academic experience. In fact, according to our analysis of more than 2 million management jobs posted over the past year, 71% of employers are seeking candidates with a bachelor's degree or higher.1
5 Common skills and qualities needed to succeed in management
Business leaders come in all varieties, but there are certain baseline skills and traits that are important to get the job done. These five business management skills are fundamental for professionals in this field.
1. Strategic thinking ability
As a manager, you are responsible for meeting goals and challenges within your company. A strong leader has the ability to think strategically through the planning process and put employees to work in ways that contribute to a larger goal.
“That means figuring out what step one is to build a solid foundation and working up from there.” Says Levi Olmstead, marketing director of 2nd Kitchen. “What is the ultimate goal? How do you exponentially grow towards and past that target?”
Developing an ability to ask big picture questions and follow through with step-by-step plans to meet challenges is crucial for a successful manager. Though a complex skills, you may already be using strategic thinking without realizing it. Thinking through career goals and creating a plan to achieve them is a strong example of strategic thinking. Even reading this article demonstrates a tendency toward strategic thinking!
It might seem obvious that as a manager it is important to be able to work well with other people. But take a minute to rethink what it means to truly collaborate with others.
“A common misconception is that a leader manages everything—but micromanaging can run rampant and isn’t good leadership.” Says Stephanie Riel, founder and CEO of RielDeal Marketing. “A leader has a vision and supports and encourages the team along the journey, but that doesn’t mean the leader of the team is the only voice that should be heard.”
True collaboration brings many voices together. A good manager knows how to support the unique contributions every team member brings to the table rather than over involving themselves in every minute detail of a project creating a singular voice. This kind of management style brings innovation and creativity into meeting challenges.
3. Time management
For any business to operate, adherence to a reliable schedule and the ability to prioritize your time effectively is a must.
“If you are consistently late to meetings or even find yourself canceling them, your staff will begin to question your reliability and create a mistrust in the workplace.” Says Mark Webster, co-founder of Authority Hacker. “Some of the best managers I’ve seen are the ones who are there when you expect them to be. If you have a weekly meeting at 4 pm, knowing that the meeting will be ready to start at exactly 4 creates a fantastic sense of care and consideration.”
Showing employees that you value their time may seem small but becomes an incredibly significant management tool. Time management also assures company productivity and reliability.
Poor communication can cause chaos within a company. Miscommunication can lead to conflict as well as many technical mistakes. A strong manager intentionally develops written and verbal communication skills in order to keep operations running smoothly.
“Leaders must be able not only to explain things to others, but also listen and provide the necessary feedback,” says Jeff Arnett, founder of Arnett Designs. “From team projects, announcements, or even career growth steps, leaders must communicate clearly with employees to avoid any miscommunication.”
Put more broadly, employees can only meet your expectations if those expectations are communicated clearly.
5. Creative problem solving
A career in management requires constant problem solving. Unexpected challenges make a creative manager highly desirable in the dynamic and fast paced world of business.
“Often the problem at hand looks so big that your thinking gets limited,” advises Siddhartha Gupta, CEO of Mercer | Mettl. “You have to broaden your vision and rethink and redefine the scope of possible solutions.”
This kind of creative thinking requires both a big picture view, and a detailed approach. As Gupta says, “you need a bird’s and worm’s eye view.”
The less common business management skills and traits that set leaders apart
We’ve outlined five commonly discussed leadership skills that are important to cultivate as you transition into management. In our conversations with professionals, we also found three less common skills that can make for even stronger and more respected leaders.
People are incredibly complex and wildly different workers, communicators, and learners. To be an effective manager, strong empathy and emotional intelligence are necessary to work with everyone in your company, and not just those similar to yourself.
“Leading others requires empathy to understand employee points of view,” says Geoff Hoesch, CEO of Dragonfly Digital Marketing. “To get others to follow you, it’s important that they feel you speak to their needs, and you can’t develop that level of trust without first being able to empathize with them. That means not only taking an interest in them as humans but also knowing what motivates them and the kind of direction they respond to.”
A moment of acknowledgment can go a long way in making an employee feel valued and effective at their job.
“It is easy to get caught up in deadlines,” says Shay O’Brien, director of digital marketing at Lasik Plus. “It is important to pause and celebrate successes, whether it is a team hitting a deadline, finishing a project, or just someone putting in some discretionary effort. Saying thank you goes a long way; it lets people know their contribution is appreciated and it makes them want to do even more.”
3. Embrace failure
Not every challenge will be met with perfect success. Managers need to process failure in a productive way for all members of the team.
“Challenging yourself is what makes you better,” says Sanem Ahearn, head of marketing at Colorscience. “Always taking the easy route or making the safe choice doesn’t foster growth. Failure can be used as a motivator, and an opportunity to learn about the value of taking a risk. It is crucial for my team to feel that they can come to me with both problems and ideas on how to solve them.”
Interested in pursuing business management?
If you are interested in developing these skills and opening up a door to a career in business management you might consider a degree in Business Management. To learn more about how a Business Management degree program can help equip you for success check out our article, “What to Expect in a Business Management Program.”
1Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 2,278,969 manager job postings, Nov. 01, 2018 - Oct. 31, 2019)