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Why soft management skills are necessary for any leader

October 13, 2022 - 13 min read

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What is a soft skill?

Why are soft skills for managers important?

9 essential soft skills for a leader

Soft management skills don’t make you soft

Choosing to become a manager might lead you to the best work of your career. You’ll play an important role in your organization, offering insight into key strategic decisions. But more importantly, you’ll lead a team of talented individuals, helping them thrive in their roles and perform at their best.

Being responsible for others is a unique responsibility. You’ll have to navigate internal conflicts, motivate the team, and hold employees accountable. 

And your management abilities can have serious impacts on the organization. According to a recent survey, 82% of workers across 10 industries said they would quit their jobs due to their manager’s poor behavior. If you don't embody the values of a good leader, you risk losing top talent. Replacing those who do leave can cost your organization up to 200% of an employee’s original salary.

If you want to succeed as a leader, your hard skills will only get you so far without soft skills. Sure, they can help you earn the respect of your employees — it’s hard managing a team of engineers if you have no experience in engineering. But you’ll need to develop your soft management skills if you want to keep their trust while balancing your responsibilities to the company.

Let’s look at why soft skills are important for a leader and how they can help you in a management role.

 

What is a soft skill?

Let’s start with the basics: soft skills are interpersonal traits and interpersonal qualities that help you succeed in a work environment, while hard skills usually refer to your technical ability. Soft skills can help you:

  • Handle conflicts
  • Communicate with others
  • Perceive people’s needs 
  • Reflect on your own needs

As a regular employee at a software company, you may have been a stellar coder. But all the computer scripts in the world won’t help you solve squabbles between team members once you become a manager.

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Why are soft skills for managers important?

Try to remember your favorite bosses so far in your career. They may have been kind, asked for your feedback on important matters, and offered you professional development opportunities. At the time, you may have thought these were natural characteristics of their personality. But in reality, they likely worked hard to develop their soft skills for management.

That doesn’t take away from their kindness — they cared about you and your team enough to develop their soft management skills, which helped them create an environment where you could thrive. Now that you’re a manager, it’s your turn to pay it forward.

Your soft skills will influence how you interact with your team and complete certain aspects of your job. Everything from task delegation to leadership skills will ensure your team hums along nicely.

Developing soft skills will help you:

  • Connect with your team. Your interpersonal skills will help establish good working relationships with your employees. This doesn’t mean you have to be best friends with everyone, but you can help people feel valued.
  • Ensure employees feel part of the organization. High-performing individuals want to feel part of something. With your soft skills, you can communicate important company policies and initiatives, so they know how they fit in the big picture.
  • Enforce rules and take disciplinary action. You don’t have to be an autocrat to care about employee performance. Occasionally you’ll have to remind employees of expectations, and soft skills can help you do that effectively. If someone isn’t delivering work on time or to standard, you need to hold them accountable. 
  • Improve your confidence as a leader. Especially if this is your first time as a manager, you may worry about what others think of your performance. Soft skills can help you manage stress and feel at ease in the role.
  • Promote teamwork among your employees. Good managers lead by example. If you can demonstrate excellent collaboration, communication, and problem-solving, your team will follow suit.
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9 essential soft skills for a leader

Whether you’re currently a leader or you’re pining for your next promotion, these competencies will help you succeed. Here are the important soft skills for being a great leader:

1. Energy and time management skills

Properly budgeting your time will help you stay productive and prevent burnout. Techniques like the Pomodoro Method involve completing tasks in small bursts followed by mini breaks. You can also tell your team to make an appointment with you if they have a question, or you can implement a hybrid open-door policy.

You should also learn to identify common distractions so you can stay ahead of them. If you regularly spend mornings putting out fires, avoid planning important tasks and meetings at that time. Then, when things calm down, you can make more meaningful progress on your goals.

2. Interpersonal communication

Interpersonal communication skills are about how you interact with others. Learning to adjust your language, communication style, and body language to fit people’s needs will make you a more effective leader overall. 

No two people are the same, and you’ll struggle if you try to manage all team members the same way. For example, Employee A might be fiercely independent while Employee B requires careful guidance. If you give them both meticulous instructions and feedback, the former will appreciate it, while the latter will feel like you’re micromanaging them

Instead, you’ll need to treat Employee B more as an equal and only provide feedback when necessary. This kind of adaptation will help keep both employees happy under your stewardship.

3. Attention to detail

As the team leader, you’re the last line of defense when it comes to quality control. Your employees’ tasks go through you before they land on your boss’ desk, so you have to make sure they’re up to snuff. 

Developing your attention to detail will make sure you catch small mistakes before they turn into big ones. It will also help you identify which employees need extra training or guidance to improve in their roles.

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4. Critical thinking

Managers have to make tough calls. It’s your job to review the facts and evidence before deciding on a course of action. You might be on the fence about a potential hire, reviewing a business opportunity, or adjusting to a change in the market. Critical thinking skills will help you make the best decision with the information you have.

This is also a crucial component of adaptability. Great managers know that no two situations are exactly the same. To excel, they’ll have to deploy their critical thinking and problem-solving skills to overcome challenges.

5. Decisiveness

Between leadership meetings, daily tasks, and supporting your team, there often isn’t time to deliberate during decision-making. Sometimes, you’ll have to quickly create an action plan, delegate tasks accordingly, and figure the rest out later. 

Decisiveness is about overcoming the fear of failure and trusting yourself to do the best you can. If one of your decisions turns out to be wrong, that’s a lesson you can keep in mind for next time.

6. Patience

The stresses of leadership can get to you if you let them. Cultivating your patience through stress-management techniques is essential for level-headed decisions. 

Remaining calm will also foster healthier relationships with your team. If stress is giving you a short fuse, people might not contribute solutions because they feel threatened. But if you keep your cool, listen to everyone closely, and mobilize your critical thinking, people are more likely to respect you and help you succeed.

7. Self-motivation

Management can be a thankless job. If you’re lucky, your own superiors will offer positive reinforcement and constructive criticism. But often, you’ll be on your own, running your team with little to no supervision. 

As a leader, you’ll have to understand your intrinsic and extrinsic motivators and leverage them to succeed in your work. Whether it’s your passion for mentoring others or your love of your industry, being self-motivated will energize you to be there for your team.

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8. Emotional intelligence

Learning to read and interpret other people’s emotions is vital if you’re leading a team. When the going gets tough, you’ll need to track employees’ mental health and recognize when they’re at their limits. Otherwise, your risk pushing them into burnout and losing their contributions entirely.

This “people skill” will also help you navigate difficult conversations. Whether you’re delivering good news or bad news, effective communication requires empathy and understanding of how they’re feeling.

9. Listening skills

All of these other types of skills hinge on your capacity to listen to your team. To be emotionally intelligent, you must hear the emotion behind their words. To be a problem solver, you need to hear all the facts. To ensure good communication, you need to hear where people are coming from. 

Good business leaders know that connecting with staff and other stakeholders requires lending your ear and being curious. Active listening will help you understand your team member’s personality traits, goals, and struggles to better support them. 

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Soft management skills don’t make you soft

There’s more to leadership than delegating and checking in on your team. You have to instill trust in your team, show them that you have their back. Your technical skills will get you through the door, but soft skills are how you really shine as a leader.

There’s no official certification for soft skills training. But you don’t need one to add these skills to your LinkedIn. Teaching yourself to communicate, manage your time, and motivate others will put you ahead of other managers. This will help both you and your team perform at your best. And if you do it correctly, you’ll enjoy the privileges of managing superstars.

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Published October 13, 2022

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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