12 People Management Skills Great Managers Have (& How to Get Them)
No one is a ‘natural born leader’.
So if you feel you’re falling short in your leadership role and that the skills you have aren’t the ones you need, know that it can get better.
Because you can get better.
In fact, those we think of as ‘natural born leaders’ simply developed the skills and characteristics that mark great leadership.
And they did so over time, perhaps without even realizing it. Which has led you, and the world, to believe that leadership is somehow innate.
What are these people management skills that separate the bad from the good from the great?
And once you know what they are, how do you get them?
Keep reading to find out the people management skills you need to lead a team effectively and the step by step plan to develop them.
The 12 people management skills that take you from ‘meh’ to marvelous
It’s not easy being a manager. And few of us are truly equipped with the skills to master it.
That’s because people management requires a unique set of interpersonal and technical skills.
Research proves it. One study by Gallup shows that only 1 in 10 of us are talented leaders.
Don’t let that statistic knock your confidence though. You can become that 1 in 10 if you want to.
These 12 crucial people management skills will help get you there.
Interpersonal skills (soft skills)
Interpersonal skills, commonly called soft skills, are any skill that helps someone connect, empathize, and collaborate.
So it’s no surprise that they’re essential for managers who want to lead effectively.
Here are some of the interpersonal skills all great managers have:
- Communication skills
- Listening skills
- Coaching skills (motivation)
- Delegation skills
- Conflict-resolution/mitigation skills
Let’s look at each one individually to better understand their importance.
If you work in a start-up, then you know how fast things move. To thrive in that environment, managers need to be fluid and flexible, not rigid.
An adaptable manager is able to embrace new challenges, shift strategies, and innovate on the fly. They give calm to the chaos so that the team can move forward confidently.
A manager who lacks this people management skill will find it difficult to respond effectively to unexpected changes, potentially leading to missed opportunities, wasted resources, and a team that feels directionless and frustrated.
Manager’s should also be adaptable in their management style. Different team members require different techniques to get them to perform at their best. A great manager adapts to those needs.
Great managers articulate their thoughts and expectations with precision, ensuring that everyone on the team is aligned on expectations and action items.
And they’re consistent in what and how they communicate so that their direct reports don’t get confused or feel abandoned. For example, the feedback and instructions they provide in a team meeting or a one on one meeting is the same they communicate at a later date or in writing.
Without this skill, a manager will find their team misaligned and underperforming to expectations because those expectations and their responsibilities haven’t been made clear to them.
People managers need to be careful that they’re attempts to communicate don’t veer into micromanagement or take place outside work hours. While it may feel that modern society demands constant communication from us, great managers resist the urge to jump on Slack or text a team member when they should be off their work laptop.
Great managers use active listening when communicating with their team members. They’ll ask questions and show genuine interest in their thoughts and concerns.
By fostering an environment where everyone feels heard, managers build trust and encourage collaboration.
Without this skill, a manager may overlook valuable insights and ideas, leading to a disengaged team that feels overlooked and undervalued.
Great listening skills also come in handy when dealing with difficult conversations. Truly hearing your direct report out can help you reach resolutions and solutions faster in the workplace.
Great managers don't just instruct; they inspire and guide.
Coaching is about understanding individual team members' needs, strengths, and aspirations, and then providing the right support and encouragement to help them with career development.
A manager with strong coaching skills empowers each team member, fostering a culture of continuous learning and improvement.
Without this people management skill, a manager may struggle to develop their team's potential, leading to stagnation, frustration, and a lack of personal and professional growth.
Great managers recognize the strengths and capabilities of their team and delegate accordingly, ensuring that the right people are working on the right tasks.
By effectively delegating, managers free up their time to focus on strategic decisions and foster a sense of ownership and accountability within the team.
Managers who lack this skill may become overwhelmed with tasks, leading to burnout, while the team feels underutilized and disconnected from their work.
Also, good delegation isn’t assigning tasks and then micromanaging their completion. You have to trust your direct report to execute it and be available to support as needed.
Conflict is inevitable in any team, but how it's handled can make or break success. Great managers are adept at identifying and resolving conflicts early, using empathy, negotiation, and clear communication.
By addressing conflicts head-on and finding common ground, managers maintain harmony and collaboration within the team.
Without this skill, unresolved conflicts may fester, leading to a toxic work environment, reduced productivity, and damaged relationships.
Technical skills (hard skills)
Technical skills, or hard skills, are the specific abilities and knowledge needed to perform particular tasks.
For people managers, these technical people management skills matter—they help them execute projects efficiently, make informed decisions, and lead their team to success.
These skills are often what gets you promoted into a management position.
Here are the technical skills all great managers have:
- Project management
- Budgeting and financial management
- Data analysis
- Strategic thinking
- Public speaking
Below, let’s look at each one individually and see what each skill means for managers in practice.
Effective project management is the backbone of any successful initiative.
Great managers plan, organize, and oversee projects from inception to completion, ensuring that goals are met on time and within budget.
Of course, some projects and their management can and should be delegated but many team projects and campaigns will need your oversight.
Without this people management skill, a manager may face delays, cost overruns, and a lack of cohesion within the team, leading to failed projects and disappointed stakeholders.
Budgeting and financial management
When you become a manager, you’re given control and responsibility over your team's budget.
Leadership will look to you to spend it efficiently and to invest in the projects that move the business towards achieving quarterly goals.
By keeping a close eye on financial metrics and making data-driven decisions, managers ensure that resources are used wisely and goals are achieved without unnecessary overspending.
Without this skill, a manager may face financial missteps, leading to wasted resources, unmet goals, and potential financial instability for the project or organization.
Great managers leverage data to make informed decisions, identify trends, and uncover opportunities.
They also put together reports for their managers, the business, and leadership to communicate reasoning behind team initiatives and to prove the team’s impact.
Being able to read and leverage data effectively can get your team much needed budgets, salary increases, and more.
Data analysis is also important in your decision making. Without this skill, a manager may miss valuable insights, leading to uninformed decisions and missed opportunities to optimize performance and growth.
Strategic thinking is about seeing the big picture and planning for the long term.
A great manager will develop and execute strategies that align with the organization's goals, considering both current realities and future possibilities.
This people management skill is one that can help you rise through the ranks to higher levels of management. Leadership teams value this skillset hugely, especially in start-up environments.
Without this skill, a manager may become bogged down in day-to-day tasks, losing sight of long-term objectives, and struggling to adapt to changing market conditions.
Because of that, problem solving skills are equally important.
As a manager, you’re often put in front of a crowd and expected to make presentations. This could be in front of your team or the entire organization, it could be on a Zoom call or in a meeting room.
Either way, public speaking is part of the job. And it pays to be good at it.
Great managers use public speaking skills to inspire their team, present to stakeholders, and represent their organization at events.
By speaking confidently and engagingly, managers can influence opinions, motivate employees into action, and build credibility.
Without this skill, a manager may struggle to communicate effectively in public settings, potentially missing opportunities to inspire others and promote their team's achievements.
Whether it's crafting emails, writing reports, or developing strategic plans, great managers express their ideas in writing with clarity and precision.
Anyone can develop writing skills so don’t find it overwhelming if this is one you need to work on.
By mastering the art of written communication, managers ensure that their messages are understood, their ideas are conveyed persuasively, and their documentation is professional and thorough.
Without this skill, a manager may create confusion through unclear writing, leading to misunderstandings, inefficiencies, and a lack of alignment within the team.
How to develop the skills of a great manager in 4 simple steps
Becoming a great manager doesn't happen overnight.
It requires self-awareness, planning, dedication, and practice.
Here's a step-by-step guide to help you develop the essential people management skills to thrive in your managerial role.
Once you follow them, your organization and industry will start to think of you as a ‘natural born leader’.
But we’ll know the much more impressive truth—that through discipline and hard work, you cultivated the necessary skills.
Step 1: Identify the skills you already have, the ones you lack, and the ones you have but could improve
Start by taking an honest inventory of your skills. What are your strengths? Where do you need improvement?
This can be done by rating yourself, seeking feedback, and reflecting on the skills you need to develop for the greatest impact in your and your team’s performance.
Rate yourself: Create a chart and rate yourself on each skill. Be honest and critical. You can put your scores on a grading scale of 1-5 or 1-10.
Seek feedback: Consider having team members, your manager, and other colleagues anonymously grade you. This external perspective can provide valuable insights. You can send an anonymous survey with the same sliding scale you used to rate yourself against the skills.
Reflect: Identify the skills that are most crucial for your role and the ones that need immediate attention. For example, if several people flagged your communication skills to delay project progress and employee performance then that’s something you need to address as soon as possible.
Step 2: Come up with an individual development plan where you outline how you’ll develop these skills
An individual development plan (IDP) is a roadmap for your growth.
You can use it to plan exactly how you will develop important people management skills.
Here are some tips to help:
Prioritize: Focus on 1-2 skills at a time. Maybe your team has flagged one specifically that impacts their performance and engagement. If you try to tackle too many then it might hurt your chances of developing any.
Set goals: Outline clear, achievable goals, and the steps you'll take to reach them. For example, if you’re working on consistent communication you can set weekly goals around how often you’ll check in with each member of your team.
Be specific: Include resources that you’ll use, timelines you’ll follow, and metrics to track your progress.
Step 3: Set aside time to work on your prioritized skills
It’s now time to put your development plan into action. Every week you should be learning and growing your leadership skill set.
It may be that you set aside time to read, watch, or listen to one of the resources you put in your IDP.
Whatever it is that you outlined in your plan, here are some tips to make sure you follow through:
Schedule: Dedicate specific parts of the week to 'study' and practice the skills you're working on.
Hold yourself accountable: Consistency is key. Stick to your schedule and hold yourself accountable. You can have someone else help you. Maybe every week the whole team takes an hour to work on career development or maybe another manager in your organization is working to improve their people management skills.
Reflect and adjust: Regularly review your progress and make adjustments as needed.
Step 4: Put your skills into practice with Waggle
You can read all the books you like, take all the management training courses available to you, and get advice from other people but when it really comes down to learning a new skill there’s nothing like on the job practice.
Here’s how you can use Waggle to practice your skills and improve over time.
Set action items for yourself: If you're working on communicating better, outline specific actions like writing out messages before meetings, encouraging clarifying questions, and sending follow-up messages.
Build the habits: By repeatedly taking these actions, you're building habits that become easier to follow over time.
Use Waggle: Waggle is a management tool that can help you follow through on these 'action items,' providing reminders, insights, and support as you put your skills into practice.
Waggle is a manager’s not so secret weapon for practicing and improving management best practice (including skills and behaviors). It works as an AI co-pilot, there to remind and coach you in real-time.
For example, you might struggle with listening skills. Waggle lets you know if you’re dominating the conversation and will nudge you to ask your direct report questions that will get them talking.
*Please note that the product is in development and some features are in the works.
How your management skills (or lack of) impact employee engagement and retention
If you thought employee engagement and retention were strictly HR or People team issues, think again.
Your ability to engage and retain your team is a reflection on your capabilities and performance as a manager. And failure or success can impact your career progression and job security.
Gallup's State of the Global Workplace 2023 report states that 70% of team engagement is attributable to the manager.
Since engagement is an overwhelming factor in an employee's eagerness to stay or leave a company, you can conclude that managers influence employee retention as well.
According to the report, the top five skills people managers could improve are:
- Communicating Effectively: 41%
- Developing and Training the Team: 38%
- Managing Time and Delegating: 37%
- Cultivating a Positive and Inclusive Team Culture: 35%
- Managing Team Performance: 35%
The development of your leadership skills could be the key to a more engaged team where productivity and performance are able to peak.
What you don’t want is to be the reason your team fails to perform or fails to stay.
And you don’t have to be when you embody the behaviors of a great manager every single day. Waggle is your go-to AI co-pilot telling you what to do, when and nudging you to follow through on the rituals and practices that make for an effective team.