Success as a people manager largely depends on soft skills. These skills are a cluster of behaviors and personality traits you use to navigate your day-to-day responsibilities.
Soft skills – unlike hard skills – are difficult to prove or measure. They typically lack a defined path for learning, making them more challenging to attain. They consist of people or social skills such as problem-solving, leadership, integrity, and time management.
The great thing about soft skills is that they aren’t job-related and carry over into your personal life and any career field. When it comes to managing people, genuinely great managers have a unique set of soft skills that help them resolve conflict, challenge employees, solve complex problems, and yield serious results.
Here are ten people management skills every great manager has:
We’re all biased. What separates top managers is their determination to remove as much bias as possible.
In the workplace, a common bias is an actor-observer bias, which is the idea that when people do something wrong, we assume their intentions are bad. However, when we do something wrong ourselves, we assume our intentions are good.
Great managers know that few people intend to make mistakes or do wrong by others, and chances are that if you were in their shoes, you’d do the same or at least understand why they’d act that way.
Bring compassion and kindness to all your conversations. Show them you’re listening and make them feel heard. Practicing empathy and actively seeking out their side of the story builds your employee’s trust and shows them you truly care.
If you can’t solve their problems, sometimes this is the second-best thing you can do. If you don’t think that empathy is one of your strengths, it’s been shown that empathy can be taught, so make it one of your goals to improve.
2. Giving Thoughtful Feedback
Empathy leads nicely into giving thoughtful feedback, because mistakes are inevitable. If you’re taking the time to see your employee’s perspective and really listen, then giving thoughtful feedback will come naturally.
The trick with giving thoughtful feedback is to use radical candor, which means caring personally and challenging directly. It means acting human and bringing your whole self to work.
You don’t have to be a robot of professionalism in the workplace – you can show compassion and use your emotions. It also means that you need to be direct with your feedback and tell people what they need to hear so they can improve, even if it may upset them.
As an employee evolves in their career and develops their own soft skills, it’s important to coach them along the way. To challenge them to be better and help them build their confidence.
Great leaders carefully observe this evolution and know when to challenge them and when to hold off. When to empower them to take on more and when to remove from their plate.
With time, you’ll realize you can’t do it all, and if you try, you’ll likely burnout. There’s a time and a place for rolling up your sleeves to get things done yourself. There’s also a time to relinquish the reins and free up your bandwidth to work on problems you’re better suited to handle.
Delegating tasks can be your productivity champion, and it doubles as a coaching tool. Chances are, your team wants to break up the monotony of their day-to-day and take on more. Instead of randomly assigning tasks, take into account the employee’s preferences and readiness before determining what and to whom you’ll be delegating.
Theodore Roosevelt once said, “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”
This holds especially true for people managers. Good intentions and great ideas aren’t enough without action. So many managers operate as if their credo is “Ready, Aim, Aim, Aim…” That inaction and overanalysis is the downfall of many. It’s better to try something and fail than to do nothing.
Taking ownership for your mistakes and failings is important in all aspects of life, but it’s especially vital for managers.
Always take ownership of your mistakes and your team members’ mistakes. It’s equally important to stand up for them as well. Stick up for them when:
- They’re right
- They’re right, but technically wrong
- They’re wrong, but technically right
- They’re wrong, but it was your job to catch it
- They’re wrong, but you doubt they’ll make that same mistake again
One and four are particularly common.
7. Asking For Help
Insecurities are always present, even in people managers. A common one is the fear of asking for help – nobody wants to look foolish or seem incompetent. However, a smart manager proudly proclaims what they don’t know and leans on their team for aid.
Too often, your team knows the answer better than you would. They’re on the front lines working with customers or spend all day long in your company’s software and know it better than you do.
Leverage that. Tell them you need help and use their advice. They’ll respect you more for admitting what you don’t know and asking for help. Even if you don’t always implement their ideas or follow their advice, it’s good to regularly show them that you value their opinion.
Power can go to people’s heads. It’s a tale as old as time. Top-down leadership, micromanaging, and “my way or the highway” management breeds dissatisfaction in the workplace.
People want to be respected and feel valued.
What works very well is taking a servant leadership approach, which means attaining authority rather than power. Instead of directing so much, try checking in often and asking, “how can I best help you?”
Promote the well-being of those around you and ensure they have everything they need to be successful.
9. Leading By Example
Don’t ask anyone to do something you wouldn’t do. Get your hands dirty and jump on difficult calls with them. Take responsibility when you make mistakes. Promote work-life balance and live it to show them the way.
Establish a baseline of excellence for yourself and rid the workplace of mediocrity. Chances are they’ll feel inspired and rise to the occasion to gain your approval, grow their career, and earn respect as you have.
Arguably the most important soft skill a people manager can possess is staying positive. It’s up to you to keep hope alive during tough times.
If you’re positive and pointing toward all the great things happening, that will rub off on them too. Remind them often of how their success ties to your success and that of the company. Fight against negativity and be a source of truth, enthusiasm, and confidence. Your team will be more successful as a result.
What are some other first-rate people management skills you find useful? Tell us in the comments below: