The four managerial skills you really need

It’s easy to assume that being a manager means making money and hitting targets – there’s no time for taking care of your staff and spending time with your team. Well we don’t agree – and here are the only four skills you really need…

Do you ever question the managerial skills of your boss or your colleagues? A lot of people do, but are they aware of what they really mean by ‘managerial skills’?

It’s a tough question, and the answer varies by geography, business model, industry and composition of your team. For example, if you manage a team of highly-educated engineers, that’s one set of managerial skills. If you manage a team of manual workers with limited educational background, it’s a bit different.

So managerial skills will vary by situation and context: there’s no one answer.

The ‘soft stuff’

It’s almost certainly true to say that most good managers are good because of their ‘soft’ skills, but this fact is easy to miss in a world which values ‘hard’ outputs like profit and tangible targets.

Many managers assume their job falls along two main lines:

  • Make money
  • Hit their organisational and strategic targets

And they are right: if they don’t succeed in doing these two things, they won’t last very long in their job. In reality, though, managers also manage the people who work for them, and a lot of this area of managing comes down to:

  • Communicating effectively
  • Checking in with people
  • Providing opportunities for growth
  • Showing respect
  • Helping to manage excessive workloads

Unfortunately, a lot of managers focus on the first two points and view the next set as ‘soft skills’. Soft skills don’t figure on a balance sheet. Since most organisations value concrete results, and communicating well means nothing for your bonus, these skills end up being less highly regarded – sad, but true.

Four key managerial skills

In her book Being the Boss, Harvard business professor Linda Hill references four key managerial skills any leader needs:

  • Know enough to understand the work
  • Make good judgments about the work
  • Understand common hurdles
  • Coach or find help for people struggling with problems

It’s a good toolkit, and it’s probably true that managers who do all four of these things on a daily basis actually hit the ‘hard’ targets too. But hard targets are not what they focus on day to day.

Here’s what they actually spend time and effort doing:

  1. Know enough to understand the work: Usually, this one is the safest of the four. You tend to get promoted based on your functional expertise, or at least your experience in a field. Most managers probably understand the work, or if they don’t, they get sussed out pretty quickly.
  2. Make good judgments: However, understanding the work doesn’t necessarily mean you can prioritise the work, nor that you are a good judge of new ideas. You need to give time and thought to organising and prioritising work for yourself and the people who report to you, and you need to carve out time and space for all of you to assess ideas and come up with new ones. Your job is not just to take calls and react to stuff for 40 hours a week.
  3. Understand common hurdles: This is all about empathy, an underrated quality which falls into the ‘soft skill’ area for many managers. Empathy’s never tied to revenue, so why does it matter? It matters because if you listen hard to the people who are at the coal face day after day, you will enhance your understanding of the work and your ability to make good judgements. You and your team will hit those targets and make that money, but more importantly will feel good about yourselves and each other, and get satisfaction from doing the job well.
  4. Coach/find help: A vital ‘soft skill’ which again will enhance your ability to deliver, and to help others to deliver.

What’s really important

Delivery is important because it keeps the company functioning at its best, and supporting you all by giving you work and opportunities. But the process of making time to learn, to listen, to coach, to grow and to help others to grow is a vital part of living a successful, happy and productive life in its own right.

Don’t kid yourself – the ‘soft stuff’ is not a means to an end – it’s an end in itself. It just happens to deliver a useful by-product – organisational and commercial success – along the way…

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