5 fundamental management skills and ways to develop them

March 24, 2022 - 16 min read
 

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What are management skills?

Types of management skills

5 fundamental management skills

What are the most valuable managerial skills?

3 management skills to set yourself apart

Management has always been a demanding and evolving profession. And developing the right management skills is key to a thriving professional ecosystem – not to mention the makings of a great manager.

Whether you’re new to a management position, looking to brush up your skills, or wanting to invest in your team –– this guide can help. We’ll look at practical manager skills and the most valuable areas for managers to invest their time in.

What are management skills?

You can apply management skills to a wide range of careers and industries outside of people management. So many of the skills needed are transferable between these various roles. From middle management to entrepreneurs, management skills are a valuable asset to most professionals.

Types of management skills

Though there are many essential skills that managers should develop, they tend to fall into three primary categories:

  1. Technical skills: Technical skills are the hard skills needed to meet their objectives. As well as understanding relevant tools and software, technical skills also include techniques and strategies required to complete projects and meet their goals.
  2. Conceptual skills: This big picture thinking is critical for managers to understand their tasks and build an effective action plan. Managers should be able to develop ideas and problem-solving initiatives that support their department.
  3. People management skills: People are often the primary drivers of goal-oriented action. Managers should have strong interpersonal skills to help motivate, lead, and work well with others.

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5 fundamental management skills

The most common management skills fall under five essential functions of management:

  1. Coordinating
  2. Directing
  3. Leadership
  4. Organizing
  5. Planning

Coordinating

One key role of managers is to develop functional, cohesive teams. Ideally, these teams work independently, and the manager ensures that they have the resources and skills needed to achieve their goals.

If a team isn’t aware of a resource they need, or another department they should collaborate with, for example, they could struggle to complete their projects.

Directing

Directing is likely where most people’s minds go when they think of managers. And it is a vital part of a managerial role. Directing can be in the form of delegating or reviewing work, acting as a form of quality control, or managing timelines.

Good communication is at the core of directing, and emotional intelligence helps develop trust throughout the process.

Leadership

Not all managers are natural leaders, so it’s important for managers to work on their leadership abilities. Influential leaders inspire and motivate others through their behavior. They set the tone for the team, reach out for feedback, acknowledge their team’s efforts, and delegate strategically.

These actions are all vital for influential people and project management.

Organizing

As we mentioned, being a manager is a challenging role. Managers are often overseeing multiple projects with varied timelines and deadlines. So having stellar organizational skills helps managers stay efficient, meet deadlines, and reduce stress.

Planning

One significant responsibility of a managerial role is to meet objectives. These can be for a company or at the individual level. Some managers are part of the objective-planning process, and some are not. Either way, a manager must develop a plan to meet these goals. Seeing the bigger picture and how different elements funnel into one another is a helpful skill for managers to hone while planning.

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What are the most valuable managerial skills?

As you may have gathered, there’s a lengthy list of beneficial hard and soft skills for top managers to embrace. When it comes to adding the most value, however, we can bucket these into four distinct categories: 

  1. Interpersonal skills: learning and growth, teamwork, establishing trust, and cognitive agility
  2. Problem-solving and decision-making skills: financial planning, business acumen, and customer focus
  3. Team management and professional development skills: influence, motivation, communication, team building, and coaching
  4. Organizational skills: strategic thinking, time management, sensemaking, or trends and pattern recognition
  5. Communication and leadership skills: motivating, updating, and collaborating

In addition to these traditional skills, it’s good to remember that managers should constantly learn new skillsets in this rapidly evolving world. These skills include technology savviness, agile management, data-driven decision-making, and purpose-driven leadership.

3 management skills to set you apart

Three management skills are often underdeveloped or misused and are critical for any successful manager:

  1. Establishing trust
  2. Problem-solving
  3. Influence 

Establishing trust

Trust is the assurance of reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something. 

Simply put, trust is built on integrity.

Business success requires trust, and yet we are in a trust crisis. Many traditional institutions, ideas, and beliefs are constantly questioned and attacked. 

Unfortunately, we have seen recent events and institutions in the business world that shake trust in the overall system. 

But how do you develop and manage trust? 

Many frameworks attempt to understand and clarify how to achieve this. One example is “8 Pillars of Trust” by David Horsager. 

It is thorough, fact-based, and easy to understand, rate, and follow. 

The 8 pillars of trust are:

  1. Clarity: People trust the clear and mistrust the ambiguous.
  2. Compassion: People put faith in those who care beyond themselves.
  3. Character: People notice those who do what is right ahead of what is easy.
  4. Contribution: Results build trust, and lack of them destroys it. 
  5. Competency: People have confidence in those who stay fresh, relevant, and capable.
  6. Connection: People want to follow, buy from, and be around friends, and friendship is all about building connections.
  7. Commitment: People believe in those who stand through adversity.
  8. Consistency: It is the little things done consistently that make the most significant difference.

Guiding problem-solving

Problem-solving is the art and process of defining a problem and determining its root cause by identifying, prioritizing, and selecting alternatives for a solution.

As Daniel Kahneman presents in his book, “Thinking Fast & Slow,” we have two ways of thinking. 

One is the highly efficient and automatic System 1. It is based on intuition and requires little conscious thought. 

The other one, more deliberate and highly demanding of energy and focus, is System 2. 

The latter is developed in humans much later in life. It is less efficient but much more thorough and analytical.

In today’s fast-moving working environment, we tend to default to System 1, a quick and efficient approach to our problem-solving function. We jump from a few sketched details of what the problem might be to a solution and implementation phase. In many instances, we do not stop to define the real problem or to consider the conditions that generated the issue at hand. 

We do not consider the real implications that the problem might have. We skim without a thorough understanding and statement of the problem to be resolved, with no clarity of the ideal outcome and the constraints we face. 

Although this process might be swift and efficient, using by default System 1 thinking in problem-solving leads in many instances to an attractive solution for the wrong problem. For complex problem solving, we need to pause and use our System 2 thinking.

The way we state the problem could be crucial to the solution we ideate. Reframing the problem is a significant and highly valuable part of a problem definition process. Identifying a different aspect of the problem can sometimes deliver radical improvements and even spark solutions to complex problems.

“If I had only one hour to save the world, I would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and only five minutes finding the solution.” - Albert Einstein

Determining what is causing the problem is the next phase. 

It is essential to understand what changes in the internal and external environment drive the problem. By doing so, we gain a deeper and more thorough understanding of the issue, which allows us to identify and solve the root cause.

Identifying the type of problem we are solving is an essential step. Is it a simple problem with a clear relationship between cause and effect? Is it a complicated one where the cause-and-effect relationship needs further analysis, and the application of expert knowledge is required?

Is it a complex issue with unclear cause and effect relationships, multiple potential solutions, and diverse expertise needed? Or are we dealing with a situation of chaos where we need to react immediately without any analysis?

Once the problem at hand is clearly stated, reframed, and determined the root cause of it, it’s time to proceed to the solution phase.  

At this stage, a decision must be made on which route to take to find a solution. Do we have a sound hypothesis to use in solving it? Are we going through the hypothesis-driven solution, applying the Scientific Method? Is it our best option to break down the problem into more manageable parts?

Established and proven frameworks are instrumental in the solution phase. The key consideration is deciding which framework to use. Choosing from the numerous frameworks available requires experience and good understanding. 

Problem-solving is not a simple function to master. It requires following a well-established process, expertise, critical thinking, and an acute awareness of the potential and common frameworks and biases.

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Using influence well

Most people would rather be persuaded than told what to do. As a manager, you will be required to influence others to accept and support new proposals, ideas, initiatives, and changes. 

The times of command-and-control style management are becoming a thing from the past. It is true that in specific environments or situations, this leadership style is probably still the best way to drive people forward. But it has been much less so in the recent past. 

In today’s business environment — with complex matrix organizations, new generations of better-educated collaborators, and fluid teams that come together for short periods without clear hierarchical structures — we need to drive people through influence and persuasion rather than the traditional use of power.

But how do we influence people? Some steps to consider would be:

  • Build rapport. Intrapersonal connections work. Getting to know your team and your stakeholders help develop tighter relationships through a better understanding of their motives, drives, and intentions. This requires a relationship-building approach, not just a transactional one. As the saying goes, “You do not want to meet the next-door neighbor when your house is on fire.” 
  • Active listening. To better develop your communication skills and empathy toward others, be an active listener. “Seek first to understand before being understood.” Active listening means being engaged and acting on what you listen to, not just hearing others. Active listening also creates empathy.
  • Create a vision aligned with purpose and core values. If you want to influence, avoid ambiguity at all costs. To persuade and influence people, you need to have a clear vision of the future, of what success looks like to the team members and the organization. This vision must be consistent and align with a common and explicit higher purpose and shared values. To influence, you should be skilled in articulating and communicating the vision in a professional, memorable and engaging way.
  • Develop executive presence. As a manager, you are constantly under the spotlight. People are always looking at you, how you react, behave, and act. To influence others, you must be consistent with your predicament, values, and purpose. Executive presence is built on gravitas. Gravitas comes from authenticity, from a deep interpersonal trust you build by being clear about your intentions, empathizing and finding out about the people you work with, and adhering to your sense of integrity. 
The ability to influence is a function that can be learned and developed. It takes time and persistence. This is dynamic and situational, so it requires continuous learning and adaptability.

Future-ready management

Management is a challenging job with ever-increasing demands in a fluid and unpredictable environment. To be a good manager today, you need to develop various skillsets. But it is probably wise to concentrate on mastering a few essential skills that would serve you as a solid base platform to grow from.

If you’d like more personalized guidance for how to develop your leadership skills, BetterUp can help. We offer leadership coaching to help you inspire and influence your team in a way that resonates.

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Published March 24, 2022

Ignacio Fernandez Morodo

BetterUp Fellow Coach

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