You’ve put in the effort, you’ve honed your skills, and you’re finally a manager. While this is great news, being proficient at your job doesn’t necessarily equate to being a great manager. When you manage people, you are responsible for inspiring, motivating, and encouraging them. It’s no longer just about you and what you bring to the table — you need to get others to bring all they can to the table, too. Essentially, being a manager is about more than just hard skills. When you consider the qualities of a good manager, you’ll notice that they can’t all be proven and measured. Some of the qualities will turn you from a good manager to a great leader — these are known as “soft skills,” or “interpersonal skills.”
These skills are so valuable, in part, because they are harder to learn. They are developed over time as you observe, interact, and work with your teammates to help them become more productive. Soft skills are vital for effective leadership and performance management.
Research theorizes that of all the qualities of a good manager, soft skills are king. SHRM found that employers care more about soft skills such as active listening, communication, and flexibility than they do technical abilities.
Other sources state that hard skills are useless without soft skills. Soft skills enable us to build relationships, relate to people, and encourage others to succeed. Given the ongoing trend towards continuous performance management and regular coaching conversations, soft skills are becoming an essential part of a manager’s armory.
Below, we explore the qualities of a good manager — specifically, 13 soft skills that make managers great.
Once upon a time, it was acceptable to keep things on a need-to-know basis with your employees. Times have changed.
Employees expect you to be transparent with them. They want to know what’s going on with their company and how they are doing. They want direct and honest feedback regularly, and a manager who won’t patronize them by sugarcoating the truth or hiding difficult realities from them.
Your employees are adults; you don’t need to protect them. They want the truth, and good managers know how to be transparent, authentic, and direct. Transparency and an ability to be honest and open are skills every manager and human resource executive needs to improve employee engagement.
2. Excellent Communication
Managers need to be excellent communicators, which means maintaining regular contact with everyone on their team, providing frequent feedback, and delivering rewards and recognition for excellent performance.
Communication doesn’t only happen face-to-face — it happens via email, chat applications, body language, and much more. Managers need to communicate with their employees in ways that make them comfortable. It’s about getting to know your employees and understanding what they need to get them to perform well — it isn’t all about communicating in a way and on a schedule that suits you.
Good managers should let their employees know that they can discuss anything work-related on a regular cadence. Consider implementing an open-door policy if you haven’t already done so, as well as incorporating tools and technology that can offer real-time feedback. Managers should also clarify that their employees are free to communicate openly and honestly — employees shouldn’t feel their jobs are at risk whenever they want to air a grievance or ask for help.
3. Listening Skills
When we hear the phrase, “good communicator,” we generally think about speaking or writing rather than listening. But when discussing the qualities of a good manager, listening is just as important. Employees want to know that their opinions and insights are being heard.
Take the time to focus on your employees and what they are saying. Ask for their insights if they don’t readily offer them. When you get valuable feedback, make a conscious effort to take action based on it. This will show your employees that when they speak up, they can make a difference in their working environment.
4. Appreciating and Encouraging Teamwork
Companies that encourage teamwork enjoy improved efficiency, work outcomes, and individual development. Managers should support collaboration at every opportunity and mitigate toxic behavior and unhealthy competition.
Workplace processes can be adjusted to complement this approach. For example, some companies still operate on a “stacked ranking” system, as popularized by General Electric decades ago. This system ranks employees, and the lowest-performing employees are shown the door. Employee rankings, in general, have been shown to be demotivating to employees. Furthermore, ranking employees against each other creates toxic relationships and reduces the likelihood that employees will help one another when given the opportunity. Companies implementing this system should consider removing it.
5. Consistency and Reliability
Employees need to know that their leader is stable, secure, and reliable. They will come to you for clarification regarding organizational objectives, views on their work, and advice. And more importantly, employees should feel comfortable approaching you when they are struggling and need help. Employees need to know that their manager is a level-headed person who won’t fly off the handle at a moment’s notice. Otherwise, they won’t feel able to open up to you and their trust in management will weaken. This brings us to our next point:
Good managers are trustworthy, and they respect confidentiality. Employees need to have faith in their leaders and know that their managers have their employees’ best interests at heart. If your employees feel like you don’t support them, it’ll lead to a toxic work environment, reduced collaboration, and unhealthy competition in your workplace. Employees also need to be assured that management is telling them the truth. Your trustworthiness is built on respecting the privacy of your employees and offering honest advice based on what aligns best with your company’s goals.
7. The Drive to Set Goals
The new trend in goal setting is empowering employees to determine their own goals. Doing so gives employees more ownership over their goals, which results in more work being done (and to a better standard).
While employees should be placed in the driver’s seat, managers still play an important role in goal setting. Good managers need to be able to understand how to form motivational and realistic goals, then guide the process to align with organizational objectives. These goals also need to be challenging, so leveraging this soft skill is a delicate balance managers must maintain to keep employees engaged and motivated.
8. Making Decisions (and Accepting Responsibility)
New managers sometimes struggle to make decisions — especially important ones. Some suffer from a concept known as “analysis paralysis” (over-thinking a decision) or “bikeshedding” (focusing on insignificant details). Other managers obsess over possible negative outcomes, no matter how unlikely, and some might rush into a decision despite lacking the right information.
Managers need to make decisions for the benefit of their team and company, taking a structured, logical approach to decision-making while keeping a cool head.
Managers also need to be able to make difficult decisions with regards to performance issues. Employees need to believe you’re on their side, but as a manager, you also need to put your foot down. If an employee is exhibiting behavioral or performance issues, managers need to have the confidence to step in and risk being seen as “the bad guy”.
If there is a problem, it needs to be addressed. It’s entirely possible to resolve issues amicably and productively, but managers shouldn’t shy away from confrontation when it’s warranted.
9. Empathy and Sensitivity
Emotional intelligence, which encompasses sensitivity and empathy, is a soft skill all modern managers need to have.
Emotional intelligence can make all the difference between an engaged employee and one who is burned out, frustrated, and unmotivated. Managers need to pick up on signs that an employee is pushing themselves too far, which can cause burnout, anxiety, depression, and disengagement. More often than not, good managers will pick up on signs of these conditions in advance, before the employee approaches them to discuss the situation.
Sensitivity is certainly needed when it comes to issues like anxiety. Managers need to be able to put the right provisions in place. This could include putting flexible working measures in place, being understanding about mental health breaks, and being mindful of anxiety during the goal setting process. Taking measures like this shows employees that they are not alone — and that the company is able and willing to help them.
10. Rewarding and Recognizing Employees
Employee recognition isn’t just a good idea in terms of employee morale; it is also a significant driver of employee engagement. A good manager understands the value of rewarding and recognizing employees.
Employees don’t just work for a paycheck. It takes much more than that to keep employees aligned with your company objectives and going that extra mile. Employees need to know that their work — and more importantly, their efforts — are acknowledged and appreciated. Leaders need to be perceptive in this area and take the time to reward and recognize employees where appropriate.
11. A Willingness to Change
The world of work is constantly shifting. The ways we operate in terms of technology, motivating employees, and reviewing performance are processes constantly subject to change. From year to year, your business will look different — and this is a good thing. It means you’re staying relevant and competitive, which means you’ll be around for years to come.
Managers stuck in their ways stagnate, while good managers are adaptable and flexible. They are ready for change and they plan for it, seeing disruption as an exciting challenge rather than a burden.
12. Conflict Resolution (Rather than Conflict Avoidance)
Workplace conflict is an ongoing issue in most organizations. This can occur for several reasons, with personality conflicts being a primary cause. Good managers need to not only be aware of conflict and able to pick up on signs of incivility and bullying but also stamp it out. Leaving such issues to fester is terrible for employee morale and performance. Confronting these situations head-on allows managers to arrive at a solution before it escalates and becomes unbearable.
13. Empowering and Motivating Your Team
Every generation and individual is motivated by different things. Good managers can relate to every member of their team, which will help them understand how to empower and motivate employees to get the best out of them and help them become the best they can be. This can come in the form of sales SPIFFs, competitions, or simply recognizing employees for their hard work. No matter what motivational technique you adopt, be sure to understand what motivates your team and give them incentives to work toward.
Qualities of a Good Manager: Looking Ahead
Now that you have a better understanding of the soft skills you should master in your management role, it’s time to take action. Take these 13 tips and integrate them into your workday. Keep notes on how impactful implementing these skills is, be sure to make adjustments as-needed, and check in with your team members often. You might be surprised about how quickly your team will change for the better.
Stuart Hearn is CEO and Founder of Clear Review. Stuart works with companies to improve relationships and communication between managers and employees.