Having effective management skills is an essential part of being a leader. Whether you are a manager or strive to become one, understanding what skills create an excellent manager allows you to plan for developing your relevant skills and abilities. In this article, we discuss the difference between hard and soft skills, the five essential skills all successful managers need and provide tips to guide you on your development journey.
What is a manager?
Managers hold a supervisory role within an organization. A manager leads a project, a group of people or both. A manager is responsible for clearly communicating the goals, vision and direction of an organization to the people who work for them. Managers motivate, guide and advise people and projects.
What are managerial skills?
There are two specific sets of skills that an effective manager needs in order to excel; hard skills and soft skills. Hard skills are technical skills needed to complete a particular project or job. Soft skills dictate how you relate to people and are valuable when overseeing projects and making informed decisions.
Hard skills are technical, teachable skills and knowledge. You develop hard skills through education, training and on-the-job experience. They are tangible competencies that are quantifiable. Hard skills are typically specific to an industry or work environment. Examples of hard skills may include:
- formal training that offers certifications, licenses and diplomas
- computer software skills, like proficiency in Microsoft Word or using pivot tables in Microsoft Excel
- marketing skills, such as proficiency in SEO optimization or Google Analytics
- project management skills, such as proficiency in Trello or Asana
- mechanical skills, such as proficiency in air conditioning or engine rebuilds
A manager requires proficient hard skills to lead others effectively. They also allow you to guide and mentor the people who work for you to perfect their hard skills.
Soft skills, in contrast, are proficiencies that are developed over time and are highly transferable. As valuable attributes, you typically develop soft skills by interacting with others and learning how to manage yourself instead of taking a specific class or course. Examples of soft skills may include:
- problem-solving skills
- time management skills
- ability to resolve conflict
You require exceptional soft skills as a manager to provide leadership and motivation to your team.
5 key management skills
Regardless of your industry or organization, five critical management skills are essential to your success. Each of these categories requires a combination of hard and soft skills to be a well-rounded manager:
Leadership is the subtle art of inspiring and influencing people to work towards a common goal. To be an excellent leader, you need to understand that leadership is a combination of technical or hard skills to lead by example and the soft skills to motivate those around you.
Outstanding leaders enhance the work environment by removing obstacles for their team, support a positive setting and bringing out the best in the people they lead. Having practical leadership skills helps you keep your team on task, conduct efficient meetings, collaborate with other departments and complete impactful employee evaluations.
Examples of leadership skills include:
- ability to teach and mentor
- relationship building
- team building
Whether you are leading a project or managing a team, having effective planning skills is an essential managerial task. Planning abilities allow you to set well-defined goals, create a vision for the future and determine the most direct way to reach objectives. You will improve time-management for both you and your team when using practical planning skills.
Examples of planning skills include:
- active listening
- business development
- critical thinking
- goal setting
- logical reasoning
- strategic planning
Being organized and knowing how to manage others is a crucial skill for any successful manager. When you coordinate a team's activities to work towards a common goal, you are implementing organizational skills. You need to balance a multitude of responsibilities, tasks, events and projects all at the same time. Organizational skills help you stay on top of things without losing control or missing important deadlines or details. They also ensure you can find information easily when you need it and improve your team's workflow and reduce stress.
Examples of organizational skills include:
- administrative skills
- calendar management
- deadline management
- decision making
- event planning
- project management
- record keeping
- time management
Effective communication skills allow you to take in information, process it and then convey ideas to the people you manage. Being a strong communicator means presenting the goals and vision of the organization in a straightforward manner. Communication also entails listening actively by engaging in conversation and asking appropriate questions to guide the discussion. Understanding body language and nonverbal cues are also skills of an excellent communicator.
Examples of communication skills include:
- interpersonal communication
- public speaking
- verbal communication
- written communication
Being a strategic manager allows you to take the high-level, big picture goals and objectives of an organization and translate them into more manageable targets for your team. Strategy skills also include recognizing inefficiencies and challenges with the project, team or workload and implementing appropriate solutions.
Examples of strategy skills include:
- analytical thinking
- change management
- conflict resolution
- obstacle identification
- prioritization skills
- risk management
- systematic thinking
Tips for developing your management skills
Below are specific tips and strategies to implement to aid you in your management skills development:
Take a management training course
Although soft management skills develop over time, there is still incredible value in taking management training. Many organizations offer free and paid courses to learn about management skills like different leadership styles, communication skills and goal setting. Taking a class gives you solid foundational knowledge that you can continue to build on with experience and interaction. Also, consider investing in any hard skill training to better lead and mentor those around you.
Self-awareness is the ability to evaluate your personality traits, behaviours and feelings by looking inward using introspection. Developing self-awareness enhances your ability to adapt, learn and grow from your experiences. This skill allows you to self-evaluate and continuously improve your performance. Combined with external feedback, self-awareness can dramatically improve both your hard and soft skills.
Seek opportunities to lead
Being an effective and successful manager takes time and experience. Even if you're not yet a manager, you can enhance your abilities by actively looking for opportunities to lead in your current role. For example, volunteer to take the lead on a new project or oversee the next department meeting. Seeking leadership moments allows you to put the fundamental knowledge of management into practice. Reflect on what went well and what you can improve on at the end of your day. You will quickly identify areas that need improvement.
Finding occasions to practice your management skills shows your supervisors that you're keen to lead a team. Your willingness to step into a leadership role demonstrates your management skills and abilities to decision-makers in your organization.
Ask for feedback
Along with self-evaluation, it is equally important to ask for feedback from those around you. Receiving constructive criticism from your supervisors and peers provides different perspectives on improving your management skills. Input from a supervisor gives you a straightforward assessment from an experienced point of view. Because a supervisor has practical managerial skills, they can provide you with details on what and how to improve.
Feedback from colleagues provides a unique vantage point, as they have experienced your skills first hand. Coworkers can inform you of how you made them feel, how to provide better direction and guidance and where to focus more time. For example, asking a coworker how they would describe your communication style provides insight into some areas that need improvement, like keeping your messages shorter and to the point.
Find a role model
Look for outstanding examples of successful and effective managers both within and outside your organization. Observe how they interact with others and exemplify their skills. Pay close attention to the soft skills they used to motivate and direct a team. Create a list of the qualities they possess and use it as inspiration to develop your own skills. If possible, reach out to a leader you admire and ask them to mentor you in your organizational growth. Be open to the guidance and feedback they provide and implement new ideas and information.