Essential Skills for Great Managers, with Examples


October 17, 2022 - Izaskun Olarreaga

"Good management is the art of making problems so interesting and their solutions so constructive that everyone wants to get to work and deal with them." - Paul Hawken

The above quote may seem a slightly idealistic view of what makes a great manager. However, the message is an important one. Particularly as technology now plays such a central role in business life, it's easy to believe that successful managers simply need technical prowess, excellent time management, and a strong command of a company's operating systems.

They know what needs to be done and can orchestrate the steps to make it happen.

However, those 'steps' inevitably depend on other people! So, the difference between a good manager and a great one, is the ability to not just build teams – but also to fully activate, support, inspire and optimise them.

Let's look at how managers can empower themselves and others, by focusing on these essential skills.

1. Good problem solving and goal setting abilities

Any guide to being an effective manager must start with this crucial skill set. It can be summed up by an ability to go beyond being well-organised, to always having one eye on 'the bigger picture'.

This starts with a high level of alertness and setting SMART goals. It also depends on being able to optimise technology.

For example, good managers can use spreadsheets, document-sharing software and all the latest whistles and bells to keep their team on track. However, great managers also have excellent data management and analysis abilities.

That's because to be brilliant at setting and measuring milestones – and driving your team towards them – you need the best business intelligence. Facts, figures and even data-based predictions you can share, to give your management decisions and instructions more context.

Which one of these instructions will get instant employee buy-in?

"We need to do things differently to reduce waste. So please change how you work."

Or

"We'll save £540 a month in wasted materials if we change one step in the process. It also reduces landfill by 500kg a year. That's a double benefit we can all feel very proud of. So please change how you work."

Problem solving managers

2. Being motivational and inspiring

"It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership." - Nelson Mandela.

This is where the essential skills for great managers merge with what it takes to be a successful leader. Great managers know how to delegate, who to delegate to, and how to support each person to carry out their own roles and responsibilities well.

Much of that hinges on what NOT to do if you want to be an effective manager, which is to support a 'blame and shame' culture or let good work go unnoticed.

There is nothing more insidious than disenfranchised employees. You can make all the motivational speeches you want, but if you also have a track record for 'wagging fingers', quick judgements or undervaluing effort, you will be largely ignored.

Great managers constantly seek out ways to say 'thank you' and to recognise contributions. They show empathy and provide ample opportunities for staff to grow their own abilities and involvement.

They only 'take over' in a crisis, and then in a non-judgmental way.

Shockingly, only around 15% of worldwide workers feel properly engaged in their role. However, when great managers do fully engage their whole team, it can increase business profitability by 21%. It also reduces absenteeism and staff churn.

Clearly, if you are a manager who uses intuitive delegation - and who can motivate people to achieve good results – you are far more likely to have a smoother working day yourself too!

3. Competence and warmth

Creating a mutually beneficial working relationship with your team becomes easier if you work hard to demonstrate both your competence in your role and your warmth as an individual.

This involves a degree of both honesty and balance.

As a manager, you must be seen to be constantly calm, in control, and goal-focused. However, robots don't win allegiance and loyalty! Showing your human side in the right situations can be a great way to break down barriers and engage your staff.

That does not mean treating your team as friends - as a manager, that is risky territory indeed. It involves treating each of them as individuals and showing interest and respect. Something that is likely to ensure you are respected too.

It can be simple things such as:

  • Taking the time to greet everyone in the morning.
  • Systematically checking in personally with each team member on a regular basis.
  • Being available and accessible - virtually if not physically.
  • Admitting when you are confused or have made a mistake. Then showing what you did to put it right.
  • Explaining the learning and development tasks you do.
  • Showing genuine passion and excitement when things go well.
  • Displaying transparency when the company has problems.
  • Responding in a prompt, discrete way when someone shows signs of stress or disengagement.
  • Defusing conflict in a calm, measured and fair manner.

4. Advanced communications skills

The above vital skills for successful managers all rely on this particular attribute. You must be able to communicate well, on any level and in any situation.

How you communicate depends on each target audience. However, there are some training options that can improve your ability to inform, educate, influence and persuade anyone.

This includes presentation skills courses. From business sales pitches to project briefings or onboarding new staff, being a confident and able speaker can ensure you:

  • Present clearly, decisively and in a compelling way.
  • Know how to read and use non-verbal communication.
  • Deliver information in a way that's likely to be remembered and used.
Manager giving a presentation

5. Feedback and undervalued communication skills

"The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place." - George Bernard Shaw.

It's a myth that communications in business need to go two ways. One of the most essential skills for great managers is to ensure that they go four ways - down, up, across and out!

Decide who you need to communicate with regularly and then create a structured and sustained system. This must be backup by robust measurement methods. Has what you said been understood, and has it received the right reaction?

Also, be sensitive to the perils of 'over-communicating'. If you bombard people with information of no obvious value or interest to them, they 'switch off'.

All of this relies on you developing acumen in constructive listening, so systematically inviting and encouraging constructive comments. The more feedback you get, the more business intelligence you can use for decision-making. It's not all about data analysis!

For example, some of the best ideas for improvements and innovations may well come from your staff If they feel encouraged to bring you suggestions, they will also provide early warning of issues and mishaps you can deal with in a non-judgmental way.

6. Positivity

"If I had to sum up in a word what makes a good manager, I'd say decisiveness. You can use the fanciest computers to gather the numbers, but in the end, you have to set a timetable and act." - Lee Iacocca.

Being positive, consistent and confident are all essential soft skills for the best managers. Especially managers in high-pressure situations.

That confidence - in the abilities of your team and yourself – must be in evidence at all times.

The self-confidence needed to be a great manager is not always something that comes naturally. One of the ways to build it is to invest in the best learning and development opportunities for managers.

Especially, the art of successful management communications.

"Developing excellent communications skills is absolutely essential to effective leadership. The leader must be able to share knowledge and ideas to transmit a sense of urgency and enthusiasm to others. If a leader can't get a message across clearly and motivate others to act on it, then having a message doesn't even matter." - Gil Amelio