Developing the skills of good management

Management Skills
Management, as was identified in 'What is Management?' is both complex and somewhat intangible. However, having said that, there are a number of key skills and attributes that effective managers possess.

Chief amongst these will be his or her technical and professional skills within their specialist field. It is probably these qualities that led to them becoming a manager in the first place. Without these skills a manager simply won't have any credibility with his or her staff.

Additionally, it is this skill set which enables people in charge to allocate work effectively and to set standards and objectives so that the operational side of the role can be achieved. These too, will be vital for problem solving, decision-making and managing performance.
Beyond these 'occupational' skills there are the less tangible, but all-important 'soft' skills. The fact that they are often labeled as 'soft' is something of a misnomer. They are attributes that need to be acquired, maintained, and above all else, used constantly from day to day. They are, in effect, wholly embedded in everything a manager does.

These attributes have become important over the past two decades or so, as management has undergone something of a paradigm shift. Historically management was described as 'transactional'.

By and large, this meant that managers were there to 'keep the lid' on these matters and make sure things didn't go wrong.

Indeed, an early job title in management was comptroller. To do this, all that was primarily needed was the technical/professional skill set.

Modern management is described as 'transformational'. This means that managers have to make a difference and to stand still is no longer an option. To this end, a whole series of other skills and attributes are required.

To start with managers today need an "action orientation". They have to ensure that things get done and that they make things happen. Added to this is a focus on performance. This is about getting things right and about having a mentality that says 'second best is not good enough'. Of course, mistakes will be made, but the trick is to make sure the same mistake is not made twice. The third allied attribute here is an "improvement orientation". Managers need to be constantly looking at ways in which things can be done better, be that in terms of quality, time, cost, and so on.

Part of this improvement mentality is having a clear sense of developing staff. This can happen in a number of ways (see our employee section), but succinctly put, a manager should be seeking methods that enable their staff to do their jobs well. This also has the added benefit of increasing personal job satisfaction.

The next group of skills is first and foremost about people interactions. Managers need to have what is described as a "contact orientation". This means getting to know their staff as people. It means being able to greet somebody on a Monday morning with, 'How did your daughter's concert go at the weekend?' It is about making connections with your staff that go beyond the job.

Beyond this, but related to it, is what is referred to as having a "relationship focus". The contact orientation above refers to the manager's immediate staff. The relationship focus is about building contacts beyond the immediate team. This may be with other internal managers and colleagues or it may include developing a network beyond the organisation itself. In effect, what a manager is endeavoring to do here is to be in a position where they are just a phone call away from information that can help them.

The third dimension here is all about "personal standards". Managers need to be the exemplars of the behaviours they expect from their team. There is no substitute for leading by example. Managers should be role models for their staff. Equally, poor standards will be imitated.

A further element, and one that certainly does not sit comfortably with everyone, is the politics of management. This is about knowing how to get things done within a particular organisation. Managers cannot afford to operate outside the existing culture of their workplace and so a knowledge and understanding of this too is vital.

Further 'intangibles' include creativity, flexibility, and proactivity. Although most managers are promoted or appointed to their post on the basis of their technical ability, once in place they are constantly required to think more and do less. The temptation is often to carry on doing what they have always done. The need is to step back and look at how things are being done and to find better ways of doing them.

There are two additional elements which are required. The first is resilience. Things will go wrong. Managers cannot be seen to allow these to drag them down, as this will be passed on to their staff. Managers need to keep spirits up at all times. There are occasions when managers simply have to 'tough it out'.

Finally, managers have to be able to organise themselves effectively. If they are unable to be organised and disciplined in themselves, how are they going to be able to organise those around them?

All of these skills and attributes contribute to being an effective manager. They need to be ever-present. Individuals must constantly work at maintaining and applying them.

They are all interlinked with one another and the end product of acquiring and developing these skills is management.

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