7 Must-Have Management Skills (and How You Can Develop Them)
It seems every year, there’s a new management training trend that kicks off a storm of discussion in offices and online. These approaches come and go like teenage trends, but when you look past the style and catchy names, you’ll often find a similar foundation of core skills that lead to effective managers.
If you have a management role in your career vision, you don’t have to chase the latest and greatest management techniques from self-proclaimed business gurus to make progress—you can first focus on building a solid foundation.
To help you get a better sense of what management skills really matter for effective leadership, we asked professionals who manage and lead teams across a range of industries to identify some of the must-have management skills to have in your toolkit—and what you can do to develop them.
7 Essential management skills for future leaders to build upon
1. Clear, direct communication
The most important skill cited by all we spoke to is communication. This may seem obvious, but this can be a stumbling point for many managers who relied more on their technical know-how to reach this stage in their careers.
Why this matters: “Strong manager–employee relationships are built on the foundation of clear and effective communication,” says Tanner Arnold, president of Revelation Machinery. “Managers must be able to clearly communicate deadlines and project updates, make corporate announcements, assign assignments, give constructive comments, answer inquiries and conduct tough discussions.”
How to develop: The good news is that communication is a skill that can be learned and developed. Public speaking groups, business writing courses and increasing your overall awareness of how you communicate best can go a long way. There is also a wealth of technology to help you connect with your employees and offer them clear direction.
“The digital age has brought with it a slew of new communication channels, making it easier to choose one over the other,” says Zaeem Chaudhary, architectural draftsman at AC Design Solutions. “Managers that utilize a combination of these ways to engage their staff, such as face-to-face, phone and electronic, have the best results.
2. Active listening
While it’s true being a good listener is also a big part of being a strong communicator, the act of listening is in itself an art that all great managers strive to do on a regular basis.
Why this matters: “There’s a huge difference between hearing things and listening,” says Jake Romano, project manager at John the Plumber. “Many people in leadership roles ask the questions but don’t take in the information. Your subordinates can often pick up whether or not you genuinely care about what they say. If they don’t think you care, they won’t care to speak.”
Additionally, not everyone you work with is going to be as direct of a communicator as you’d like—sometimes, you’ll need to read between the lines and pick up on context clues to fully know where they stand.
How to develop: Anything you can do to practice putting an intentional focus on the person speaking will help your listening skills. Tina Hawk, senior vice president at GoodHire®, says learning a new language is an excellent way to get in this habit.
“Learning a new language opens up our mind to the infinite ways in which people communicate across and within cultures, and helps to foster our active listening skills, among others,” Hawk explains.
Another practice is to slow down, pay attention to how much you are holding the floor and resist the urge to spend your listening time thinking about what you want to say next.
“Be aware of how much space you’re taking up in a conversation and pay attention to what the other person says,” advises Steven McConnell, director at Exceptional Resume Writers. “Listen empathically and concentrate on the individual’s words rather than quietly creating an immediate response in your thoughts while the other party is still speaking.”
The ability to delegate effectively is a vital asset for any successful manager and one that often takes a bit of time to master. Many new managers worry that they’ll be perceived poorly if they don’t handle every task or project or if someone under their purview completes the work poorly.
Why it matters: “A good manager will know that they don’t know everything and will be comfortable letting members of their teams be the experts,” says leadership development consultant Sarah Finch. “That means they need to empower their teams with ownership and autonomy to get the work done, not micromanage.”
Additionally, delegation provides opportunities for team members to grow. If you were an excellent individual contributor, it can feel a little scary handing over some of those responsibilities—particularly if your direct report gets off to a shaky start. But remember, much of your value as a manager is your ability to train and build them up to be just as effective as you. The sooner you can get comfortable handing over the reins, the better.
How to develop: Getting to know your team’s strengths and goals plays a big part in learning the art of delegation, according to Roy Morejon, president of Enventys Partners.
“It’s a matter of truly taking the time to understand your employee’s strengths and weaknesses so that you can properly match tasks to the person who has relevant expertise,” adds Morejon.
4. Coaching and mentoring
Many we spoke with emphasized the need for managers to see themselves as coaches and mentors rather than “the boss.” While it’s true that managers must make decisions on their own at times, it’s crucial to see their actual role is to lead their team towards their goals.
Why this matters: “New managers especially think that managing is about being in charge and making decisions but it’s really about leading people, and leadership is about trust and motivation through influence,” says Peter J. Dudley, author and executive coach.
This skill goes hand in hand with delegation. By building up your teams’ competencies and preparing them to take on new responsibilities, you eventually clear time on your own schedule to focus on higher-level tasks and responsibilities.
How to develop: Good managers don’t see their employees as subordinates but work alongside their teams to get the job done.
“Employees respect a good manager who is willing and able to get hands-on,” says Ariana Flynn, marketing and communications manager at Proxyrack. “Don’t just be the guy behind the counter. To gain your team’s approval, you’ll need to be able to jump right in.”
While you’re “getting your hands dirty,” focus on providing insight into why you’re doing things a certain way and encourage your team to ask questions. Showing that you’re genuinely invested in the work and want them to succeed can help build trust and make further training efforts easier.
5. Knowing how to praise effectively
We all know that kind words can go a long way. Saying thank you, complimenting a job well done and taking a moment to share your employees’ successes with others are just a few methods good managers use to support their teams. Not everyone receives these responses the same way, however. Effective managers pull from a large toolkit when it comes to employee recognition.
Why this matters: “One of the most important skills for good managers is recognizing staff in individualized ways,” says Melissa Kelly, general manager at Virtual Team Building. “Some team members prefer praise in public, while others prefer it to be private. You will also have people who are neutral on praise but love receiving cash bonuses or other perks. By identifying what makes each of your people tick, you can really skyrocket engagement and morale at your organization.”
While you might not always have the ability to shower subordinates with cash bonuses, even taking the time to write a thoughtful thank you note can help. Showing that you honestly appreciate their help can build trust and make it easier to weather more challenging times.
How to develop: Fortunately, this is a skill that you can practice in your everyday life, not just at work.
“Try asking your friends or coworkers which approach makes the biggest difference for them and why,” Kelly says. “You might be surprised when an introverted friend says they love public recognition, and either way, you can start identifying patterns in personalities and outcomes. You can also practice! Try showing appreciation to people in different ways and see how they react.”
Odds are that your family and friends will find your efforts to say kind things and recognize their strengths and talents to be quite positive, too.
6. Conflict resolution
Conflict is inevitable to some degree in life. Whether it’s disagreements about strategic plans or just two challenging personalities on a team butting heads, effective managers need to understand how to handle and resolve these conflicts in a fair and respectful manner.
Why this matters: The consequences of poor conflict management can linger on far past the initial disagreement being resolved. Failing to treat the situation fairly or waffling on the decision can lead to simmering employee resentment that may fully boil over later on.
“Unresolved disputes can have a negative impact on staff performance or morale, therefore it’s ideal to deescalate or resolve conflicts as quickly as feasible,” says Andrew Dale, technical director at CloudTech24. “When you understand conflict resolution, it is also easier to navigate difficult issues such as layoffs, unfavorable performance assessments or missed deadlines.”
How to develop: Learning conflict resolution takes time because it requires managers to have confidence in their role and themselves—and frankly, a combination of many of the other abilities listed in this article.
“The ability to squarely face conflict as and when it arises requires us to be comfortable in our own skin and sure of our own responsibility,” says Hawk. “Developing conflict resolution skills is as much about knowing who you are and what your mission is as it is about understanding other points of view. Some people have a natural ability to see multiple perspectives, but nevertheless, we can always develop our own self-confidence by stepping outside our comfort zone, challenging ourselves and practicing mindfulness.”
The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus once wrote that “the only constant is change.” Clearly, humans have been grappling with how to adapt to a changing world for some time. But flexibility is a skill that can be learned with practice and energy.
Why this matters: In work, as in life, things will not always go smoothly. But our response to obstacles and surprises doesn’t have to be negative.
“Setbacks are inevitable, especially in the digital workplace,” says Chelsea Cohen, co-founder of SoStocked®. “Power outages, burnt-out team members and canceled meetings aren’t unique to any industry. Your ability to view these challenges as opportunities to diversify your resources will determine the ultimate success of your department. Fostering an agile environment will fuel your team’s creativity to surpass obstacles.
How to develop: Effective managers learn to see disruptions or difficulties as opportunities for growth and creativity. Having to make a path where there isn’t one often leads to amazing solutions.
“Flexibility is the ability to recognize that there are usually multiple methods to complete a task,” explains Marc Stitt, chief marketing officer at FMX. “Simply because one team member decides to address a problem in a different way than you would have no bearing on whether the strategy is correct. In the end, what matters most is the result.”
Round out your management skills
Ready to build your skills and confidence as a leader? While there are plenty of steps you can take outside of the classroom, an academic program can help you bridge the skills gap and prepare you for management-level thinking. Check out the Rasmussen University Business Management page to learn more about how our fully online programs can help you take the next step in your education.
GoodHire is a registered trademark of Inflection, LLC.
SoStocked is a registered trademark of SoStocked, LLC.