Promotion to a position of management or leadership doesn’t just mean new responsibilities for tasks. It often requires a need to take on aspects of people management. This can be a tricky subject that not everyone is prepared to face at first. Many forget that strong people management skills are not a given; they are developed over years and experiences.

A 2023 study by Perceptyx found that 24% of employees were currently working for the worst boss they have ever had, and 48% of employees thought they could do a better job as a manager than their current one.

There are many reasons why someone might be a poor manager, but we have to acknowledge the possibility that it might be a skill issue. While some people may relish the opportunities presented to them via promotion to leadership, others might feel unnerved at the prospect of having to manage others. In addition to welcoming them into their new roles, we should work to support them in discovering their own leadership style and strengths.

Why is employee engagement and management so important?

People should always be at the heart of a business. Businesses cannot function without their employees, and so whether employee performance drops or increases, management should look into the reasons why. A good boss who motivates their team to deliver their objectives with a positive attitude is a rare gem. People management skills are often at the heart of employee engagement. When we have someone cheering us on and supporting us where we need it the most, we feel more engaged in our work.

Some of the benefits that can arise as a result of good employee engagement and management can include:

More effective communication and collaboration

A team needs to be able to effectively communicate with each other, and this includes a leader speaking to their employees. An improvement in communication and collaboration skills can greatly benefit a team. Both management and the team at large know that they can turn to one another and receive an answer. Communication isn’t always the easiest, but the right attitude can make all the difference.

Better employee retention

One in three UK workers has quit their job because of a bad boss. Working under someone you don’t like or who you consider to be incompetent can be frustrating and it is completely understandable why someone might want to leave these circumstances.

More inclusive and supportive workplace

When a workforce works well together, they will naturally want to support and help one another. Everything starts from the top. Employers need to set the examples that they want to see in the workplace. When a manager takes the time to ensure that they are inclusive and supportive, this will trickle down to the rest of the company too.

More skills development opportunities

Learning and skills development consistently prove to be one of the big priorities for employees. People don’t just want to come to work and spend all their time focused on their tasks. They want opportunities to learn more and grow their skills and experiences, whether this is connected to their current job title or not.

Managers need to take an active interest in their employees and how they want to shape their careers. Carving out precise space to be used for learning and development needs to be done. Managers should show that they lend support to their team members, even if the development ultimately means that the employee will be able to move and get a new job at another company. Supporting them in the present is the most important thing.

Better conflict resolution

Even in the most peaceful and collaborative of teams, conflict will arise. We are all different and we all see the world differently, and this should be respected even when it causes issues. However, it takes a skilled mediator to be able to resolve the conflict productively rather than letting it create further issues.

When employee engagement and satisfaction are put at the heart of a company, the employees will begin to feel more confident in themselves. They will feel more able to speak up and advocate for themselves during times of stress, and they might also be more open and agreeable to hearing other perspectives. Leaders won’t have to fight to bring people into the same room to talk, or won’t have to appeal to two groups to hear each other’s point of view.

10 most important people management skills

Though many preferred people management skills can also be tied to a specific management style a leader may wish to adopt, many soft skills are useful for a manager to develop, no matter what. Some of the most common management skills managers should have include:

1. Approachability

A manager needs to be approachable. No matter the problem, big or small, a team member should not think twice about approaching them with it. It also gives managers a clearer understanding of what is actually happening in the company. By being approachable, team managers will be able to build better rapport with their employees, creating an environment in which everyone feels secure and psychologically safe.

2. Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence, sometimes also referred to as EQ, is the ability to manage the emotions and feelings of both yourself and those around you. Leaders with high EQ can recognise when emotions are running high and how to best manage them. This is an impressive feat in ourselves, but when considering the emotions of others — for we can never control the feelings of others — this becomes a truly impressive skill to have.

3. Accountability

At the end of the day, a great manager is not afraid to be held accountable for the actions of their team. Many managers are the ones who make the final big decisions. When something goes wrong, they are unafraid to shoulder the blame. Even if something negative arose due to the actions of an employee, the manager should accept their part in it and work to ensure that the incident won’t happen again.

4. Honesty

All managers need to learn how to be honest and transparent with their team. While some things should be kept from the team at large, simply because it is not their business to know it, the manager should never feel the need to actively lie or withhold information from their team when they ask a question.

5. Active listening

Active listening is one of those crucial people management skills that everyone should have, even if they don’t envision themselves taking on leadership responsibilities in the future. When you actively listen to those around you, you should be able to repeat important details back and make comments based on what is being said, regardless of what that might be.

6. Empathy

As much as we would like to have a good work-life balance, sometimes things can overlap more than we would like. A good leader keeps an eye on the well-being of their staff and reacts with empathy when approached with difficulties. When someone is feeling overwhelmed and stressed out by a certain situation, a little empathy can go a long way.

7. Flexibility

Leaders need to be able to pivot and change things up, while also ensuring that their team is not left behind in their change. Maybe a team member has to go on sick leave for a little bit, or maybe budgets get cut. No matter how things might change, leaders need to ensure that they are flexible enough to meet targets while also keeping their teams engaged and happy.

8. Delegation

No manager can shoulder all of their responsibilities at once. Good managers know how to successfully delegate tasks so that the workload is appropriately shared. Giving out tasks isn’t enough; a good manager should know that their workers will be able to achieve whatever they have been delegated without being micromanaged.

Trust that employees understand what they are doing and that they have the necessary problem-solving skills to deliver the results you want to see.

9. Patience

Business can take time. There can be a lot of blockers and different issues to navigate, and frustrations can quickly build if we are not prepared to meet them and overcome them. When it feels like no progress is being made, managers need to know how to assess the situation and encourage employees to find solutions to help projects gain momentum again. Along the way, they need to make sure that plenty of patience and understanding are being dolled out to help everyone get through the difficult times.

10. Decision-making

A great manager knows how to make the right decision. While employees should never feel uncomfortable communicating their opinions, they may recognise that there are some things that only the leader can decide. These decisions need to come with confidence and might have a strong time element to them.

How can leaders, new and experienced, develop their people management skills?

Those in leadership positions need to accept that their people management skills might not be the best they can be. In order to lead their teams successfully, they need to engage in professional development just like more junior members do. No one can expect to just have those essential people management skills ready to go, even if they have held a leadership position before. Those who wish to develop and commit to progress should:

Acknowledge their flaws and inexperiences

No one is perfect, and that is perfectly fine! We all have things that we can improve about ourselves, and most people who become leaders for the first time may have absolutely no experience from their personal lives to draw from.

Whether they are first-time managers or they have been leading a team for years, there are always some improvements to be made. Sitting down to do the work and acknowledge their flaws and experiences will always be the first step in gaining better people management skills. So often, stress and resistance to change can arise not because of the workforce but because of the person who is leading the change. If a person is more aware of their weaknesses, they will have a greater understanding of what to do when those flaws cause issues.

Make a commitment to consistency and change

Once this state of self-awareness has been reached, managers need to commit to change. This may require them to undergo training and development to help them face the new challenges in front of them and to give them the strong people management skills that they may currently be lacking.

They also need to make a commitment to consistency. Change takes time, and it is not helped by someone constantly switching directions and trying different approaches because it feels like nothing is working. Sometimes, it is better to look at the bigger picture and what can be done to improve the company as a whole rather than just repeatedly trying small changes that don’t make a difference.

Find resources and support to help them make the necessary changes

This shouldn’t be a problem for just one manager to shoulder on their own. The entire company should be committed to organisational success and, therefore, should be prepared to support the manager as they navigate and implement their new people management skills.

Honest, constructive feedback can let them know what is working and what isn’t — just in case an adjustment does need to be made — and the transformation might benefit a leader more than learning new technical skills ever could. They may even benefit from a mentor or external coaching to help them reach their full potential.

Leaders aren’t born; they are made.

No one walks into their first managerial position with the right people management skills and leadership qualities, just as no one starts in their career with the perfect set of skills and experiences. We need to stop pretending that people can just step into a manager’s job with no retraining or learning needed.

Yes, there will always be those amazing line managers who take to it like a duck to water, but there are others who need some extra help along the way. Let ChangingPoint’s expertise help.

ChangingPoint’s Leadership and Executive Coaching is designed to help leaders recognise the behaviours within themselves to change and turn them into effective people-centric managers. Our science-backed training programme will help executives gain the people management skills they need to deliver success and will help them become the leaders their teams deserve. Get in touch to find out how we can help you today.

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Written by Jayne Ruff

Jayne Ruff, Occupational Psychologist & Managing Director at ChangingPoint. To find out more about how ChangingPoint can help you align minds to transform your business, get in touch.

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