How to Improve Your Management Skills (and Show Them Off in a Job Search)
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No matter your industry, role, or seniority level, management skills are critical for day-to-day excellence at your job. All professions require us to communicate and collaborate with people, be they clients, prospects, teammates, direct reports, or vendors—and management skills help you work better with all of them, especially when you’re in a leadership position.
We often think of management skills as capabilities required only by senior leaders or managers who have direct reports. In reality, they’re relevant even if you’re just starting out on your career path or think you may never want to become a people manager. You’re probably using management skills daily without realizing it!
But what exactly are management skills? How do you build them up and show them off to potential employers? This guide has all the answers.
What Are Management Skills and Why Are They Important?
Management skills are important at any level to ensure the happiness and job satisfaction of the people around you: your stakeholders, leaders, and teammates. “These are the hands-on skills that help you to plan, organize, rally, and execute on any and all projects,” says Helen Krug von Nidda, an executive coach and trainer who helps leaders and their teams build the careers and cultures they want. “I like to think of management abilities as the wheels on which an organization runs; they guarantee that work is progressing smoothly and your people are happy.”
They become even more essential as you move up the ladder, when your responsibilities start to include managing other people’s careers as a direct supervisor and/or team leader in addition to carrying out the strategic and day-to-day work of your business.
“To me, the biggest thing management skills accomplish is stability,” Krug von Nidda says. “You need to have systems in place within which your team’s day-to-day work life can unfurl,” she adds. “You may not realize it, but you’re likely holding your team or business together by using your management skills.”
It’s safe to say that this skill set became even more mission-critical during the coronavirus pandemic—when organizations were forced to adapt to public health and economic threats and leaned on folks with management skills to help everyone through the crisis. Following a year of blurred boundaries between work and life and burnout from long hours, people are quitting in droves across the country, leading to the rise of the “Great Resignation.” It’s an employee’s market like it’s never been before, and in such a climate, great management skills can help you save the day by retaining your best teammates.
7 Types of Management Skills
There are many types of skills that can be considered integral to good management—whether or not you’re formally a manager or leader at your organization. Here are the key ones to consider:
“Leadership” is one of those terms that’s thrown around a lot, and in very vague contexts, so it can be hard to grasp. But it’s best understood when you think of being a leader as being an owner (of a project or task) or being a coach or guide (to your junior teammates). Your job as a team leader is to bring out the best in everyone—helping them take charge of their career objectives while ensuring that team and business goals are also being met.
Most people think of leadership as a trait that belongs only to those who naturally possess it or have senior titles, Krug von Nidda says, but that’s not true. “Leadership is a mindset skill: Anyone can become a leader with the right training,” she says. “Historically, we’ve associated leadership with traditional ‘male’ traits like drive, but that’s slowly changing: We now understand that authenticity and connection are just as important.”
Some of the skills that a good leader will demonstrate are:
- Vision-setting: As a capable leader, not only will you have a vision for your team, but you’ll also be able to communicate it to them to get their buy-in. Doing so guarantees that your teammates, no matter their role, are working toward the same goals and understand how their work fits into the larger purpose of the group.
- Strategy: Strategy is how you achieve the vision you have for the team and their work. As a leader, you should have a plan for what resources the team will need, what skill sets they need training on, what they need to deliver on, and what timelines they must stick to. Once again, it’s critical to align on strategy so everyone understands that they’re a key part of the whole.
- Advocacy: A good leader advocates for team members when they aren’t in the room and also represents the company to its employees when needed. For example, you may have to convince leadership to give your managee a new role or a bump in salary based on their work and career goals. Or you may have to explain a company decision to your teammate in a one-on-one meeting so they can feel more comfortable with it.
As a good communicator, you’ll be able to present information and arguments in a clear, easy-to-understand, and compelling way, whether it’s in a meeting, an email, or a presentation. Communication skills allow you not just to assign projects and set expectations with your teams, but also to show them how you’re approaching a task or situation. This helps them learn from your thinking and invest trust in your leadership, Krug von Nidda says.
Good communication skills involve the following:
- Verbal communication: Verbal communication skills help you bring clarity to discussions around vision, strategy, assignments, and expectations in one-on-one and group meetings with your team as well as colleagues across your organization, clients, and anyone else you interact with. Verbal skills are especially important when giving constructive feedback to your teammates—you’ll need to make sure your comments are easy to follow and bias-free and include clear expectations on next steps for improvement.
- Written communication: These skills help your audience quickly understand your point of view, questions, or insights in writing. It’s obviously important to craft clear emails, messages, and reports, but writing skills become critical when you’re putting together review documents for your direct reports or providing 360-degree feedback to other teammates. Performance reviews are instrumental in charting people’s paths at your company and in making them feel valued, so demonstrating clarity, accuracy, and thoughtful analysis in your writing here is crucial.
- Nonverbal communication: This subset of communication skills relates to messages you send with your body language. For example, if you have a focused, direct gaze—especially important in remote meetings—your audience knows you’re completely attentive to them and not distracted by incoming emails or Slack pings. Krug von Nidda admits that such cues can be hard to monitor, but for every action, consider the impact you’re having on your team and how that compares to the way you want to be perceived.
Problems are bound to arise in your work life on a regular basis, whether it’s an issue with meeting your sales targets or managing interpersonal tensions on your team. As a manager, you’ll need problem-solving skills to not just manage work crises but also guide your teammates through any issues they encounter. Facing difficult situations can be daunting and uncomfortable, but they can actually be potent learning experiences to sharpen your management skills.
Here are some problem-solving skills you’ll need as a good manager:
- Empathetic listening: Listening to a frustrated direct report, a disgruntled teammate, or an upset client with an open mind and a supportive ear allows you to put yourself in their shoes and understand the causes and breadth of the problem from their perspective. “Bringing emotions into the workplace is often something people are afraid to do,” Krug von Nidda says. “But people don’t, and can’t, check their emotions at the door, so it’s important we stop trying to block them, and instead, embrace them to be better listeners, teammates, and managers.”
- Decision making: Once you’ve gathered all relevant opinions and data to diagnose the problem and understand your options, you’ll have to determine a path forward. You might employ new sales tactics in the case of unmet targets or implement a new team organization structure to resolve a conflict among team members.
- Bias towards action: Though often overlooked, taking action is a critical problem-solving skill. A problem remedied early is a bigger problem prevented. Whatever path you choose, act on it swiftly and in a way that makes all parties feel like their concerns were validated and addressed—this will help retain clients and teammates in the long term.
- Proactive planning: The best problem solvers put processes or guidelines in place so that the same issue doesn’t come up again. For interpersonal conflicts that arise out of, say, competition, the path forward may mean setting up distinct roles and responsibilities. For something like missed deadlines, it may mean establishing a point person in charge of managing timelines.
Read More: How to Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills (and Show Them Off in Your Job Hunt)
As awareness around systemic inequities in the workplace has increased, diversity and inclusion issues have come to the forefront. In fact, a 2021 survey found that 78% of employees reported that it’s important to them that they work at an organization that prioritizes diversity and inclusion. Since leaders and managers play a key role in shaping company policies and culture, being inclusive is no longer a nice-to-have. To be a good manager, it needs to be a critical part of your toolkit.
Below are some skills you can use to make your team more inclusive:
- Curiosity: Curiosity is how good managers learn anything, but it becomes especially important to be openly inquisitive about DEI-related topics. DEI issues are often loaded with stigma, hesitation, or fear of saying the wrong thing. Being curious allows you to learn continuously about best practices, your own biases, your teammate’s experiences and perspectives, and more. And being publicly curious helps normalize conversation and learning around them. “It sends the message to your teams that it’s OK to not know the answer as long as you’re willing to learn and be respectful,” says Krug von Nidda.
- Open-mindedness: Most exclusionary behaviors in the workplace happen because standards (of quality of work, appearance, behaviors, etc.) that only a few people can, should, or want to achieve are treated as universal. But as an inclusive manager, you have the opportunity to be open to your direct reports’ unique backgrounds, histories, and skill sets, and use those to help them define standards of excellence that don’t exclude them.
- Ability to create safe spaces: Your openness and curiosity about others’ experiences and identities will be moot if your peers and junior teammates don’t feel safe enough to talk about their lived experiences with you. Part of being an inclusive manager means creating safe spaces for your teammates where they can share their concerns, trauma, guilt, or complaints with you without fear of retaliation. “This is hard to do, and takes time, but in the end, it all boils down to how much trust the team has built,” Krug von Nidda says.
- Lifelong learning mindset: DEI efforts are not a one-and-done effort—they require a constant examination of your biases and systems. The most inclusive managers are always educating themselves on related issues and concerns through training, reading, and conversations with experts and peers.
- Ability to embrace discomfort: To paraphrase a common saying in DEI circles: If you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not doing it right. DEI work can be emotionally difficult since it requires us to deconstruct closely held notions of who we think we are in order to rid ourselves of our biases and prejudices. It takes time and maturity. As a good manager, you’ll set an example by embracing the discomfort, so your team can emulate you in the pursuit of personal growth and, of course, a more equitable work environment for all.
5. The Ability to Give and Receive Feedback
When we talk about management skills, we mostly talk about how to give feedback. That’s an integral part of the job, but the best managers also know how to receive feedback from their managees and other teammates. Feedback can be a sensitive topic and managers have the opportunity to set the tone by giving and receiving comments constructively and with kindness, creating a healthy culture around what is often an uncomfortable part of the job.
Here are some skills you’ll need to practice to give and receive feedback better:
- Honesty: “Giving feedback can be a loaded experience, because we are often not trained on how to do it in a way that the other person wants to hear it,” Krug von Nidda says. But good management skills demand that you work through that discomfort to deliver feedback honestly and with examples and data where possible. “The key is to name the behavior and not make it about the person.” On the flip side, being honest about your own mistakes can be a great way to show your team that errors happen, thus creating a psychologically safe work culture that nurtures happy employees and delivers better outcomes. For more advice on how to deliver honest feedback kindly, check out Kim Scott’s “Radical Candor” philosophy and her advice on being a candid boss.
- Data gathering: We often think of data only in the context of business operations, but it can also be instrumental in delivering feedback and determining how it’s received. For example, simply telling someone that their writing abilities need work is less convincing and actionable than providing examples of incorrect grammar, unfinished drafts, or weak vocabulary. Once you and your managee are on the same page, you can move the focus to solutions.
- Timeliness: As a manager, you should never sit on feedback for two reasons: Receiving timely feedback allows your direct reports to put the advice into action as soon as possible. But, also, you’ll likely forget the specifics of your feedback over time, which means your comments to your teammate may not be helpful when you eventually sit down to talk to them.
- Humility: Excellent managers, no matter their seniority, realize that no one is perfect or above feedback and are always eager to improve themselves. This can be done with input from leaders and peers as well as direct reports and other more junior employees.
6. Project Management
Project management skills are a great example of management skills that almost everyone uses to a certain extent, no matter their title or level. At its core, project management involves planning, executing on, and tracking all the moving parts of a project while ensuring the quality of work is high and timelines are being met.
You’ll need skills such as:
- Time management: You’ll need to ensure that your project is following the right timelines and that if there are delays, they are absorbed by buffers. Time management also entails monitoring your team’s work against their own planned schedules.
- Budget planning: Producing excellent work is often for nought if it’s more than your company or client can afford to pay for it, so it’s critical to figure out how to deliver the best quality work you can without going over budget.
- Staffing: Often the most important part of project management, staffing ties budget and timelines together. When you’re picking teammates to work on certain projects and figuring out which task to assign to which teammate, consider:
- Whose hourly rate can support the budget?
- Who has the bandwidth to deliver the output in the required time?
- Whose domain knowledge (or other skill set) can support this project best?
- Whose career goals and ambitions will be met by working on this project?
- Who needs to practice a skill that this project can give them the opportunity to hone?
- Delegation: Once you’ve got your dream team in place and the budget and timeline locked down, you need to know when to step back. Managers, especially those early in their journey of leading people, often want to do everything themselves because they think they can do it quicker. While that’s probably true in some cases, it can also be damaging to the team in the long run: If you hoard tasks, you will become overburdened and your team will never get the opportunity to learn new things. “A good manager will know what to delegate and to whom and what the best use of their own time is in a way that supports the overall execution of the project,” Krug von Nidda says.
7. Emotional Intelligence
Ultimately, being a good manager comes down to one thing: emotional intelligence, which is the ability to be aware of your own and others’ emotions and regulate your actions and reactions accordingly. You can also think of it as empathy in action. It doesn’t mean you have to forget about being professional, but that you’re not shying away from your full humanity (or anyone else’s!) in a work environment.
Emotional intelligence entails:
- Awareness: The first step when it comes to emotional intelligence is recognizing and processing emotions. A good manager will be attuned to their own feelings and moods and how those affect their work, communications, and relationships. It’s also crucial to be perceptive and sensitive to others’ emotions—whether it’s a direct report, peer, leader, client, or customer. If you’re attuned to the emotions behind the words people say, you’ll be more effective in accomplishing your goals and making your team feel supported.
- Vulnerability: We don’t tend to think of vulnerability as a skill, but given the bravery involved in opening up, it most certainly is one. You can choose how vulnerable you want to be, given your personality and your relationship with your managees, but being open with your team about struggles you’ve endured or fears and concerns you may have will bond you more strongly with your team. “It’s a creator of trust,” Krug von Nidda says. “It allows your team to get to know you on a deeper level and brings about a new level of comfort.”
- Accountability: I still remember the time one of my managers apologized to me for being the bottleneck on a project: It stayed with me because it showed me that the high expectations she set for me were also those she was holding herself to and that she was willing to be honest about when she had fallen short. Unsurprisingly, I emulate her behavior when I need to apologize to my teams, and she remains one of my favorite managers to date.
- Giving praise: We all know that teammates like to be praised for a job well done, but it’s also important to praise right to make it impactful. That means going beyond a, “Good job!” or, “Nicely done!” and calling out exactly what you appreciated about someone’s performance. It may be their calm under pressure during a difficult client meeting, how patiently they mentor others, or how thoughtful their analysis is. Get specific so your teammate knows that you really noticed and appreciated them.
How Can You Improve Your Management Skills?
Working on your management can often be uncomfortable because you have to take a hard look at your own areas of growth. But like any other skills, they can be improved over time with a bit of effort. Here are some tips on how to get started:
1. Be Intentional About Your Management Style
Intentionality is an oft-missed but critical step, according to Eli Bohemond, head coach at Your Career Strategy, who helps current and new managers secure more senior roles in their career paths. “You need to think about: What’s my intention going into my role? What’s my intention toward my team, to our day-to-day work? How do I want to show up?” he says.
For example, you may value being accessible to your teammates and choose to operate an “open-door” basis. On the other hand, someone else with a busy schedule might have a process on how employees can request time on their calendars. Both get you time with your teams, but the styles communicate your values and preferences.
Being thoughtful and intentional about your management style breeds more authenticity, and also sets the tone for how your team perceives your words, actions, and decisions on the job.
2. Ask for 360-Degree Feedback
The best managers know that building management skills is an ongoing effort and that they need to evolve with the needs of the organization, the team, and the workload. A good way to ensure you’re always aware of your areas for growth is to ask your teammates—on all levels—what you’re doing well and where you could improve. Bohemond says this can further inform what management style will be most effective for you and your team.
3. Seek Out Online Resources
There are plenty of resources available on the internet to help you work on specific management skills. LinkedIn Learning is a great place to start as their courses are short and digestible and cover a wide range of topics from leading projects—something we all do regularly, no matter our level—to improving your leadership communications. Bohemond also recommends the courses at LifeLabs Learning that can, for instance, help you assess your effectiveness at remote management or train you to ask scaling questions. Remember that most employers have a professional development budget, so you can ask your manager for time and financial support to sign up.
4. Hire a Coach or Establish a Trusted Council of Peers and Mentors
At some point in your self-improvement journey, you’re likely going to need more personalized feedback and advice than you can find online. If you can afford it, consider investing in a career coach who can take the time to understand your background, career history, areas of improvement, and goals to help you come up with an action plan that is unique to you.
If that’s not an option, identify a few go-to people from your personal or professional network who know you well and may be able to provide counsel on things you’re struggling with. For me, that’s a senior colleague I worked with for a short while at my first job. We’ve remained in touch over the years, and she’s someone I invariably call when I’m trying to plan my next career move or just need advice on how to navigate a thorny work issue.
Remember that a mentor or folks on your “personal board of directors” don’t necessarily have to be senior to you: Based on your goals, it might be beneficial to exchange ideas with a trusted peer or two as they are likely facing the same challenges and may have perspectives that others may not be able to provide.
5. Go to Therapy
Seeing therapy on this list may surprise you, but “a leader is still a human being and that means that they have likely experienced trauma and hold unconscious biases,” Bohemond says. “These create trigger responses that, if gone untreated or unidentified, start to ripple down through the organization, impacting the leadership dynamics, and even the culture, at their organization.” Bohemond counsels all managers who want to be great leaders to work on their emotional triggers and responses with the help of a capable therapist.
How Do You Show Off Your Management Skills in the Job Search?
The tips below will help you determine the best way to showcase not just the management skills you already have, but also your potential to step into roles that you may not seem experienced enough for on paper.
- Showcase the management skills you already have: This is an especially important step for those who may be gunning for managerial roles, but have not yet managed any people directly—a situation Bohemond found himself in a few years ago when he was interviewing for his first senior role. “I studied the job description to identify the core managerial competencies they were looking for—and prepared relevant stories and created relevant bullets on my resume,” he says. “It meant thinking back to moments when I had to give hard feedback to peers or when I stepped into team lead roles to set goals and targets,” he adds. “That helped demonstrate my ability to execute on each qualification.”
- Use impact-focused language on your resume: Hiring managers see this one all the time. Someone will say they’re a “strategic program leader” or have “excellent time management and communication skills”—it sounds great, right? But it doesn’t tell the reader anything about what you were able to do with those skills. Showcase management skills and results on your resume using the “show, don’t tell” adage. Instead of using the language above, Bohemond says, you might say you “executed a $2M+ company-wide software rollout with a team of eight engineers, designers, and product managers one full quarter ahead of goal.” Showing impact is especially important for senior leaders: It tells hiring managers that you have a results-focused mindset not just in how you present yourself, but also in how you approach your work.
- Get into the nitty-gritty during interviews: The most successful job interviews I’ve had in my career are the ones where I was able to describe my experiences in detail—whether it was related to my people management style or the difficulties I faced (and overcame) while executing a tough client project. You should be ready to answer interview questions that are likely to come up for management roles (along with other common interview questions). But no matter what the question is, back up your answers with at least one or two detailed examples from your past experiences that allow the interviewer to see how you put those management skills into practice and help them imagine you in the role you’re trying to land. “The magic is in the details. People want to see and hear how you think and what you achieved. Don’t just say the skills outright, tell the story with data and details,” Bohemond says.
- Find a way to stand out: For any position you’re interviewing for, find a way to set yourself apart from the crowd while showcasing the skills that are critical to that role. For example, one of Bohemond’s clients spoke in interviews about a guide he created laying out how his team can best work with him, which helped him demonstrate his deep commitment to being a good leader. (Read more about “how to work with” guides here.)
Management skills are something you’ll likely never stop working on—your abilities here are bound to shift as you move jobs, or even shift careers, and as your title and responsibilities change. But hopefully, this guide gives you a starting framework around how to think about them, improve upon them, and show them off for that next big step in your career.