What skills do you need to succeed as a manager?
A business manager has a wide range of responsibilities, from ensuring business growth to hiring new employees, and checking the company’s financial goals to make sure they’re on track.
But not everyone has the right mix of business skills to become a top manager.
So, if you’re either applying to become a manager or already have experience of management but you want to improve your skills, keep reading.
As time goes on, you’ll develop strong habits that will make your life as a manager much easier. The aim of this article is to accelerate your learning by giving you these 11 key skills that are going to help you to become an outstanding manager.
Leadership is one function that all businesses need to maintain and grow. Leadership skills will help your career growth and ability to take on new challenges, regardless of whether you’re currently an executive or not.
Successful business leaders are strong role models for their employees. They will always take full responsibility for all situations within their remit. Once other people in your team see you do this, they will follow suit, and become more productive as a result. By creating a positive working culture, your employees will stick with your plan through thick or thin.
To lead effectively you need to motivate your employees, then convey information so that they can make decisions, guide them towards a long-term goal, and finally resolve issues when they do come up.
An effective leader is always looking to improve. How can you improve? First, find any leadership qualities you may be missing, write them down and learn them (research the best business sites, books, courses, etc. on that topic). Once you’ve learned, practiced and perfected that quality, then learn another. Just because you haven’t become a great leader before, it doesn’t mean you can’t become one in the future.
2. Decision Making
Learn the ‘smart’ way to make effective decisions. As a manager, we have the pressure of making decisions on a daily basis. Use the following 5 step smart decision-making model in all decisions you make:
Specific: Ask yourself, what are we trying to achieve with this decision? Write down the end goal of your decision.
Measurable: What do I want to get out of this measurable? How do we measure our performance during the project or task we need to undertake?
Attainable: The goal should be a challenge, but should also be achievable.
Relevant: Is our goal relevant to the long-term vision of the organization?
Timely: When do we need to complete the task or project? Do we have the resources, skills and motivation to complete this task or project to a high standard? Let your team know “I want this project finished by this time”, so they realize the importance of that specific timeframe being set.
3. Business Strategy
Carry out a periodic SWOT analysis to assess your organization’s current position before deciding on a new strategy. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. A SWOT analysis helps you make continual progress within your organization and team. Use this managerial tool whenever you assess your team’s performance, to assess a new product or service or to conduct an analysis of your competitors.
Example questions to ask based on a SWOT analysis of your team:
Strengths – Positive internal (your company or you) factors helpful to achieve a goal:
What are your team’s core strengths?
What do my team do well, and what advantages do they bring?
Which staff members are the most productive over the last six months?
What areas do you have a meaningful competitive edge (e.g., unique resources)?
Weaknesses – Negative internal factors harmful in achieving a goal:
What do your team do poorly and should improve upon?
Which areas have we failed and are the most vulnerable in?
Which team members are weak and which areas can they be helped to improve?
Opportunities – Positive external factors helpful in achieving a goal:
What does our team need to do to make specific opportunities happen, and which staff members are best placed to reach our goals?
What opportunities are there for the team in the next six months?
Threats – Negative external factors which are potential barriers to reaching a goal:
Are there any external threats to the team (social, economic, legal, political, technological)?
What plans have been devised to deal with those threats?
What are our competitors doing? – For instance, do their teams have the latest technology giving them a significant advantage?
Communication skills in management are essential if you want to be a successful leader. To succeed, you’ll need to communicate clearly and effectively with the people around you, in both verbal and written form.
This will include speaking to your employees, your superiors such as the owner or CEO, other managers and external contacts like customers, vendors and partners.
Here are a few ways to practice effective communication skills:
- Communication is a two-way process. I’m sure you can remember a time when you’ve spoken to someone, but they didn’t get what you were saying at all; or, when someone else has started talking to you without explaining what they are talking about at first. Therefore, successful managers always listen more than they speak. When you’re listening, you are gaining knowledge, which gives you power. Listening gives you more time and gives you options of what to do.
- Highly effective managers aren’t afraid to ask for feedback. If you are unsure about how well you’ve done something, ask someone trusted within your network for feedback. When somebody gives you feedback, take the bits that you find useful and use them to your advantage.
5. Relationship Building
Always build long term relationships with everybody. An effective manager realizes how important a solid support network is. They will build relationships, so they have a network to fall back upon, when it’s needed. So, if things are not going to plan, you have trusted people you can call upon. Be nice to people on the way up, because you might need them when things are going wrong.
Who should you build positive relationships with?
- The company owners and senior managers. Get a reputation as being somebody who takes action to achieve the organization’s goals, somebody who doesn’t complain and has a positive attitude to work.
- As a leader, you should also build relationships with your team members.
- Other internal departments. Use the power of reciprocation – if you treat them well, they’ll do the same to you as well.
- External contractors, suppliers and stakeholders. Be firm because you may need to negotiate.
- Your competitors. There are far more advantages to building positive relationships with your competitors, than not.
An effective business manager always knows when to delegate tasks to their team members. You can do this by first identifying each of your team’s individual core skills, and their strengths and weaknesses, so that you can assign tasks appropriately. Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Speak to your team, find out their strengths and weaknesses and their career aspirations. Ask new team members what they enjoy the most, what they are good at doing and what drives them. When you know an employee’s strengths, you can quickly delegate the right tasks to them. By understanding their weaknesses, you can help them improve (e.g., through mentoring or training programs), and make them feel valued.
- Your team members will each have different aspirations. Some want to do a day’s work and go home. Other’s want to go that extra mile and develop their career further. Find which people have high career aspirations and help them to develop further.
- Provide honest, open and constructive feedback about employees’ performance. Where appropriate, praise your staff for work done to a high standard. Also, complimenting people with the occasional “Well done, you did a fantastic job there!” is a great motivator – it makes people feel appreciated.
- You might also want to consider setting up a formal appraisal system, where you can gather some of the harder to measure aspects of employee behavior that are not met by current metrics, such as motivation. This can be done by implementing a formal feedback and appraisals policy, with a set of clear expectations and rules about delivering feedback.
Of all the skills a manager needs to learn about finance, budgeting is one of the most essential. It can drive the success of not only your team, but your whole organization. You’ll be responsible for your company’s spending, income, and cash flow at all times.
Budgeting is the process of creating a plan which estimates your income and expenses over a fixed time period. Having a clear understanding of your business goals, a structured budgeting plan for tracking performance, and a sound knowledge of financial strategies, you can really shine in your role.
Your ability to analyze and interpret the company finances, align them with your company’s goals, then use it to inform business decisions is a vital skill. By analyzing financial statements, you will gain deeper insights into the business’s financial health, allowing you to strategically distribute the right resources. Keeping track of expenses will let you compare your expenses against projected costs, and keep stakeholders informed to ensure your timeline for completing work aligns with company-wide plans.
Empathy is the ability to sense other people’s feelings and take an active interest in their concerns. A leader’s ability to see and understand what others are feeling is one of the most important business tools you can have. It’s a skill that can be learned and developed and can increase an organization’s bottom line through better employee motivation, productivity and retention. In fact, a recent report shows people with more empathic managers’ report higher levels of engagement (76%) and creativity (61%). (Van Bommel, T. (2021). Catalyst)
To develop empathy, try talking a little bit less and practice listening more to understand the other person’s point of view. Start by asking yourself a few simple questions, like: Are you able to put yourself in the shoes of a work colleague? Do you know what your team members need?
Here are a few ways to practice empathy in the workplace:
- Take time out for one-to-one meetings with each of your team members, at regular intervals. Ask how things are going. Are there any ideas they want to share? Do they have any concerns they want to address?
- If an employee appears visibly upset, invite them to a private meeting, and let them know they can talk openly without any judgment.
- Offer employees the ability to work from home.
- Provide paid parental leave to parents after the birth of a child.
9. Learning Agility
Learning agility is the willingness and ability to be open and respond quickly to external changes. For example, let’s say you know one or two programming languages. It’s not your knowledge of these that matter so much, as your ability to learn whatever new programming language will be needed in future. It’s one of the strongest predictors of your future executive success.
The mindset of a manager should be a lot more open and willing to engage with diverse groups of people. We must be willing to put ourselves into uncomfortable situations that allow us to learn and to grow.
10. Critical Thinking
Poor decisions are based on emotion and short-term thinking. A good manager will always make decisions based on facts, not emotion. Poor decisions are based on emotion. If you’re under stress and you get into conflict, it’s extremely easy to lose control and say the wrong things in the heat of the moment. Instead, take note of the full facts, before you make your decision.
Critical thinking requires the ability to accept and analyze data and evidence, with an unbiased perspective. This will lead you to make decisions based on reason and logic.
For instance, you should use data-driven decision-making when making key decisions. The basic skills that managers should have include the fundamentals of statistical thinking and the difference between correlation and causation. How can you collect the data and examine what kind of patterns you find there? You also have to understand how you would test to see which causal relationships are the key drivers of the changes you would like to achieve.
Flexibility is the ability to think out of the box, to generate alternatives and evaluate them without falling into the default actions we’ve done in the past that have had successful outcomes. Start examining your own assumptions in your life. Ask for advice from people who will be honest and won’t tell you things you want to hear. It’s a no-brainer. Either you are flexible, or you die.
Taking this one step further, is the ability to adapt their behavior to accommodate diverse cultural norms in specific situations. Managers may feel uncomfortable when their behavior conflicts with their deeply ingrained beliefs and values, and act in a way far outside their comfort zone.
The first step is to identify the challenges you’re facing, for instance, feeling “I shouldn’t treat my own team this way!”). The next step is to change your behavior, by making small adjustments that are appropriate in the new challenge but still hold true to your own values. For example, blending a participative management style with a more authoritarian one, by being more hands-on and assertive without shouting. The last step is to focus on how the outcome aligns with your personal values and goals. For instance, how adapting your style could help you to achieve your personal goal of becoming a more effective general manager.
How to Build Business Management Skills
Great managers have someone to help (mentor) them. A mentor is someone who’s been in the business world for a long time and can help you in your career, provide guidance and feedback and help build your confidence in yourself. In the first instance, find a mentor from within your organization. If you do not have someone who has worked in your position before, you may have to look externally. Find someone who has the qualities and experience that you admire. Look for people who are leaders in their industry – business owners, senior managers, purchasing managers and so on. Share your ambition, ideas and career goals with them, then ask their advice on how best to achieve what you want to do. These people might provide you with an opportunity to take on a project or ask them for advice. If they’re too busy to offer mentoring, ask them if they can introduce you to people that they know.
It’s essential that you build your network of contacts. Start making professional contacts as soon as possible, whether it’s attending networking events, or talking to colleagues in other departments. Network like crazy with all the people you meet – especially those who have a leadership role within the industry sector where you want to work.
It’s important to understand the needs of your mentor. Make sure the relationship is mutually beneficial, so you both set clear expectations for each other’s responsibilities in the mentorship process. Once a relationship is established with a mentor, it will continue to grow over time.
I hope this article has shed some light on what good management skills are and how you can go about acquiring them. I also hope that by reading this, you’ll feel more encouraged and ready to face the business world with a new sense of pride.