11 Essential Soft Skills For Managers and How to Build Them
For most of your career you’ve focused on the technical skills of your job. But now, as a manager, you feel like you’re starting all over. The rules of the game have changed and you need to focus on developing an entirely new skill set.
They’re called soft skills, or interpersonal skills, and all good managers have them.
Maybe you already have some of them. Maybe you have none. Either way, you need to know which ones are most important and how you can go about developing them.
We’ve listed the 11 soft skills for managers we know to be beneficial when leading a team—the ones that prove your worth to your company and lead your team effectively.
And because developing soft skills is difficult, we’ve included a section with each one that explains how you can build it.
11 essential soft skills (interpersonal skills) for managers
Here are the most important soft skills for managers you can develop:
1. Active listening skills
Listen. No, I mean really listen. Not just to the words your direct reports are saying but how they’re saying them, their body language as they say them, and what emotions or motivations might be lingering beneath the surface.
That’s active listening—the process of hearing to understand meaning.
It can help you support your team through conflict, get to the root of performance problems, understand how they really feel about feedback that you’ve delivered, and know if they have that project in hand or are burning out at record speed.
Most people don’t listen. So having this critical soft skill places you a league above other managers in and outside of your business.
🏗️ How to build your active listening skills
To foster active listening, make a conscious effort to be present in every conversation, tuning out distractions and tuning into the nuances of what your team is communicating.
Imagine a team member comes to you, their face clouded with concern, sharing apprehensions about an upcoming project. Instead of jumping to solutions, you take a step back, giving them space to express themselves fully.
You nod, you understand, and when they finish, you share a few words of understanding before collaboratively brainstorming solutions.
Through repetition and practice, you’ll pave the pathways in your brain to listen with the intent to understand, not just reply.
And of course, Waggle's AI co-pilot can be your guide, nudging you with real-time tips on your calls to tune in more effectively.
2. Emotional intelligence skills (with a large dose of empathy)
Emotional intelligence is how capable you are at tuning in and appropriately reacting to the emotions of others and yourself.
Having emotional intelligence means you:
- Have greater self awareness
- Think before reacting
- Display empathy toward others
All of which helps you perform better in your role because you can receive and give feedback constructively, handle difficult conversations tactfully, and engage and connect with your team members in a way that establishes psychological safety.
🏗️ How to build your emotional intelligence skills
While IQ isn’t something we can change, our emotional intelligence (EQ) is malleable. With concerted effort, we can develop the skill over time.
Start with active listening. As you do that, discern what emotions that person is feeling.
Then put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel and what would you do if you were in their position?
Finally, reflect on your emotions and the emotions of others.
What role are they playing and how can you control your responses now that you’re aware of them?
This works with others too. What role are emotions playing in how they’ve responded? What grace and understanding can you lend them?
3. Communication skills
Without effective communication, a team crumbles. They lack alignment, collaboration, and common ground.
Communication isn’t just about conveying information; it's about doing it clearly, effectively, and with a touch of empathy. It’s about understanding the different communication styles of your team members and finding a harmonious middle ground.
Maybe you prefer to communicate async through messages but your direct report prefers to have calls where they can ask questions on the spot and get immediate answers.
Knowing how to communicate effectively in a business environment is critical. Miscommunication can derail projects, cause tension and conflict, or even lead to costly mistakes.
🏗️ How to build communication skills
To improve your communication skills you first need to identify where you’re falling short. Ask colleagues (above, below, and lateral) what your strengths and weaknesses are when communicating.
You can create an anonymous survey so that they can be honest and open in their assessments.
Once you know what needs to be improved you can come up with an action plan.
If you’re bad at following up after meetings, you can focus on blocking time in your day where you do just that. If your spoken communication is unclear, you can focus on going into calls with notes and a set agenda so that you hit your points clearly and effectively.
Waggle is a tool for managers that holds you accountable with action items, helps you improve how you work with your team, and streamlines meeting preparation with templates and AI.
4. Critical thinking skills
While emotions are present in the workplace, they’re not what should be dictating decision making.
Instead those decisions should be made based on critical thinking. This skill helps you navigate complex situations with a clear, analytical mind.
As a manager, you make decisions every day. Sometimes it’s as simple as which task is delegated to who on your time, other times it's as complex as setting your teams quarterly OKRs. And sometimes it's as difficult as whether or not to let someone go.
You need to have a level-headed mind that’s able to step back and look at the situation from all angles, weighing up the options and coming to a conclusion that pushes your team closer to success.
🏗️ How to build critical thinking skills
One of the greatest ways to improve your critical thinking skill is to seek other people’s perspectives on problems and ideas. Start with your team. Encourage them to ask questions, to challenge the status quo, and to think outside the box.
When faced with a problem or reflecting on a project, you should collect as much data as possible to inform your solution and next steps.
Your emotional intelligence can assist here. Use it to address your emotional response while turning on your analytical mind.
5. Conflict-resolution skills
Conflict is inevitable. How we handle it determines whether conflict is productive or corrosive.
Conflict-resolution is one of the most important soft skills a manager can have because you need to address conflicts between yourself and others, between team members, and between your team and other teams.
An inability to resolve conflict can lead to a toxic work environment. Whereas conflict resolution skills fosters a culture where differences are seen as opportunities for growth.
🏗️ How to build conflict-resolution skills
When conflicts arise, take a step back, breathe, and approach the situation with a cool head, ready to facilitate a constructive conversation.
And don't forget the role of empathy in resolving conflicts. Make an effort to understand different perspectives and to find a solution that respects everyone's viewpoints.
Use neutral language to avoid escalating the conflict. Steer clear of accusatory words and focus on expressing your perspective without blaming others.
You’ll also want to focus on solutions rather than dwelling on the problem.
6. Coaching skills
Getting the most out of your team often requires coaching. Coaching them to manage time better, coaching them to develop their weaknesses into strengths, coaching them to make their efforts and accomplishments visible in the company.
But coaching doesn’t come naturally. It’s a skill you should develop as soon as you step into your managerial role.
Coaching isn’t telling your team what to do, it’s helping them to find solutions and take action on their own.
🏗️ How to build coaching skills
To be a successful coach, you need to develop a deep understanding of each team member's strengths, weaknesses, and aspirations.
You can create individual development plans for your team members, focusing on their personal and professional growth.
Offer constructive feedback that helps team members grow, and encourage them to do the same for others.
Finally, encourage team members to take ownership of their projects, empowering them to make decisions and learn from their experiences.
To make sure you do so, have regular one to one meetings. These can help you understand your team members' progress, challenges, and to offer your support and guidance.
7. Adaptability skills
Budgets change, employees come and go, company direction flips on its head.
You need to adapt—or be agile—to these changes, new ideas, and new opportunities so that they don’t delay progress.
Adaptability means you can get results faster, keep morale high, and adjust in real-time.
It’s also a skill you want your team to have so that you can all move forward and quickly together.
🏗️ How to build adaptability skills
Adaptability comes down to your mindset.
To get an adaptable mindset you need to see change as an opportunity not a hindrance, look for solutions not problems, be open to better ideas and solutions that are brought to you, ideate multiple courses of action.
8. Patience as a skill
Startups move fast but results can take time. That’s why managers benefit from having patience among their list of soft skills.
Your team needs time to grow and improve, your projects need time to yield results, and you too won’t change overnight.
Patience isn’t just waiting, it’s how you wait and it's the example you set for your team.
🏗️ How to build patience as a skill
Building patience as a skill is a conscious effort that involves cultivating a calm and composed demeanor, even in the face of challenges.
One way you can develop patience is to set realistic expectations for yourself and your team, understanding that quality work takes time and effort. You can also break goals into micro goals where you celebrate small achievements in pursuit of a larger one.
9. Delegation skills
You can’t do it all and it’s not your job to. Delegation is the art of entrusting tasks to your team members, not just to lighten your load, but to empower them, to foster trust, and to facilitate growth.
Effective delegation requires identifying the strengths, goals, and interests of your team and assigning tasks based on them.
🏗️ How to build delegation skills
Take time to understand the strengths, weaknesses, and preferences of each team member, so you can delegate tasks wisely.
You should set your team up for success by providing clear instructions and expectations, setting your team up for success.
Remember that when you delegate you’re giving your team members the freedom to complete the tasks in their own way. You don’t want to micromanage or control the situation too closely.
10. Time management skills
The days are short and your to-do list is long. That’s why you need to master time management. But it’s less about managing time and more about managing your priorities.
When should certain tasks be completed? When are you at your most productive? How much time do you need to complete a task?
Knowing these answers and planning your schedule in line with them, is effective time management.
🏗️ How to build time management skills
Learn to differentiate between urgent and important tasks, focusing your energy on high-priority activities that drive results.
While it might be tempting to juggle multiple tasks at once, avoid multitasking as it can reduce efficiency. Focus on one task at a time, giving it your full attention.
Waggle can help you become a master of your time by automating some management tasks and nudging you to complete the others. It tells you what you have coming up, what meeting preparation you have to do, and what action items have resulted from them.
11. Problem solving skills
The last of the soft skills for managers is problem solving. Problem solving is tightly linked to critical thinking and conflict resolution.
When you’re a competent problem solver, you’re able to understand a problem's root cause and then craft solutions while preventing the problem from recurring.
Being a good problem solver doesn’t mean you never have problems, it means you handle them effectively so that you’re faced with new problems, not old ones.
🏗️ How to build problem solving skills
When faced with a problem, delve deep to understand the root cause. Utilize techniques like the "5 Whys" method to get to the bottom of the issue.
Don't hesitate to seek external advice or consultancy when faced with complex problems. Sometimes, a fresh perspective can offer invaluable insights.
Soft skills training: What are my options?
If you want to develop soft skills so that you can better manage your team, there are a few options.
There’s the traditional management training route which is often brought in by the company. Or you can go with a tool like Waggle.
The biggest differences between Waggle and traditional management training is that most management training is costly and ineffective. The lessons learned never really make it out of the classroom and into the role.
In fact, one report found that only 12% of learners transfer their learnings from training to the job.
But soft skill training can be effective with the right tools and support.
Waggle is built from behavioral change theories. It focuses on improving your skills and leadership each and every day through action.
Behavioral nudges remind you of management best practice and gets you to follow through on it. Real-time coaching on calls helps you adjust and improve your management style. And templated agendas make every meeting effective and productive.
Develop the soft skills of an engaging leader with Waggle
Get early access to Waggle and be on your way to developing the skills you need to lead.
Please note that some of the Waggle features mentioned throughout the article are in development. By signing up, you’ll be one of the first adopters.
FAQ about soft skills for managers
Now that you know the 11 essential soft skills for managers, let’s cover any lingering questions you might have.
What are soft skills?
Soft skills, sometimes referred to as interpersonal skills, are skills that help us interact with others. They’re non technical skills. Mastering critical soft skills can elevate your leadership style, helping you foster a collaborative and positive work environment.
How are soft skills different from hard skills?
Unlike hard skills, which are all about your technical skills and the specific abilities you need to perform a job, soft skills are your people skills — how you communicate, collaborate, and solve problems.
They're the skills that help you gel well with others and navigate the workplace smoothly.
Why are soft skills important in people management?
Soft skills enable a positive workplace culture, fostering understanding and collaboration among team members.
They are pivotal in enhancing employee satisfaction, as they help in building trust and open communication, which are key to successful people management.
Related reading: What is people management?
New to the manager role? Check out our article: First Time Manager? Here's How to Excel in Your New Role