7 minute read

What is People Management? Definition and Tips for First-Time Managers

Stepping into a managerial role for the first time can make you feel like an imposter. Everything that got you to this point isn’t necessarily what will make you successful in this role.

You're not just responsible for tasks or projects anymore—you're responsible for people. This shift requires a new set of skills and a different approach. It requires effective people management.

But what is people management? And how can you, as a first-time manager, excel in this role?

In this article, we'll explore the concept of people management, share our top 7 tips for managing people effectively, and discuss the skills that make great people managers.

What is people management?

People management in the workplace is the process of hiring, developing, guiding, and supporting employees to achieve the goals of the organization. 

Who's responsible for this?

For the most part, it’s people managers. 

It’s an essential role but it’s not an easy one. And few people have what it takes to lead effectively. In fact, Gallup research shows only 1 in 10 people possess the talent to manage.

The good news is that there are plenty of managers or could-be managers who have the potential to develop that talent and who already possess basic leadership skills.

Any start-up who wants to hit targets, grow the business, and retain the talent that has helped them do those things, then they need to invest in the development of their people managers. 

If you’re a people manager yourself, it's just as important that you take the time to become the most effective leader you can be. You want to be that 1 in 10. (So that you can be recognized and rewarded for your business impact.)

In some cases, people management involves managing other managers. They approach people management a little differently because they're focused on helping other people managers perform rather than individual contributors.

The role of HR and People teams in people management

People management isn’t solely the responsibility of managers. It’s also a subset of human resource management. 

That means HR or People Teams have a role to play in creating a culture that will promote professional growth and encourage open communication so that everyone can do their best work.

Ultimately, HR teams need to support managers in effectively leading their people. They can do this by leading employee training for managers, providing them with tools like Waggle to support their development, and helping them hire and retain top talent.

What are the responsibilities of a people manager?

People managers spin many plates filled with a buffet of responsibilities. And those only increase with each additional person they manage.

Managers of larger teams will spend more time in one to one meetings, have more chances for interpersonal conflict, and will likely face more time directing employees.

Let’s look more closely at those key people management responsibilities:

Hiring the right people

As a people manager, you're involved in the hiring process for your team. 

This responsibility involves identifying the skills and attributes needed for the role, participating in interviews, and selecting candidates who not only have the right skills but also align with the team's culture and the company's values. 

Hiring the right people is crucial for building a strong, cohesive team and driving its success.

Remember, hiring the right role is just as important as hiring the right person for that role. You have to know what skills and expertise is missing from your existing team that will help you achieve current and future growth goals.

This also applies to promotions and internal mobility.

Building company culture

People managers play a crucial role in shaping and maintaining the company culture. 

While HR and senior leadership sets the overall tone, it's often at the team level where the culture truly takes form. 

As a people manager, you're responsible for fostering a positive and inclusive team environment that aligns with the company's values.

The best way to do that is leading by example. Take a look at your company values and evaluate how your actions do or do not reflect them. Work toward demonstrating them. 

Driving team and individual performance

The performance of your team directly impacts the success of the organization. 

You're responsible for setting clear expectations, tracking performance, providing feedback, and ensuring your team meets its goals.

That performance management responsibility extends to knowing when a team member can’t perform to the expectations of their role and taking action to reposition them in the team or to let them go. 

The responsibility also includes identifying poor employee performance and taking action one way or another. 

Handling those difficult conversations is a necessary part of people management though an unpleasant one.

Facilitating employee development

People managers play a key role in the professional development of their team members. 

This involves identifying individual strengths and areas for improvement, providing opportunities for learning and growth, and supporting your team members in their career progression.

Many managers act as coaches or look to mentor employees. 

Of course, as a manager you should try and line up each employee’s development with the needs of the business but don’t forget to indulge their ambitions and interests beyond that. 

Resolving interpersonal conflicts

Conflicts are inevitable in any team. 

As a people manager, it's your responsibility to handle these conflicts effectively, whether they're within your team or between different teams. 

This involves mediating discussions, facilitating resolutions, and ensuring a harmonious work environment.

Sometimes these conflicts happen between teams rather than within the team. Sometimes these conflicts happen between a junior and senior employee. 

It’s your responsibility to help resolve them while making sure your team members feel supported in the conflict, especially if they’re in the right

Ensuring employee retention

Just as hiring talent is a key responsibility, so too is keeping it. 

People managers are responsible for creating an environment where your team members feel valued, engaged, and motivated to stay with the company. 

This involves recognizing their contributions, addressing their concerns, and ensuring their job satisfaction.

Managers have a huge impact on employee wellbeing, engagement, and ultimately retention. 

Just look at this Gallup finding: managers account for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores. 

So good people management can be what keeps your team together, performing well, and making a lasting impact on the business (an impact that hopefully results in promotions, salary jumps, and rewards for you and your team members!).

6 tips for first-time managers who want to be great people managers

Learn what motivates each person

Every individual in your team is unique, with their own set of motivations and energy drivers. They won’t be or become carbon copies of you so don’t expect them to. 

Encourage your team members to share what gives them energy and what drains it, what drives them to show up at work everyday, what environment they need to be effective employees, and how they like to receive feedback. 

You can have a form that everyone fills out or you can take time in 1-1 meetings to talk through this. 

With this information at hand you can tailor your management approach to each person, fostering a more motivated and productive team.

Want to know how to motivate your team? Read our article: How to Motivate Your Team (in Good Times and Bad)

Praise often, criticize carefully

Recognition goes a long way in motivating your team. Make it a point to acknowledge their efforts and achievements regularly. 

When it comes to criticism, tread carefully. 

Constructive feedback is essential for growth, but it needs to be delivered in a way that encourages improvement rather than causing resentment.

Refer back to the form mentioned in the tip above and deliver feedback how they prefer to receive it.

Don’t play favorites 

As a people manager, maintaining impartiality is crucial. 

Avoid venting about team members to others on the team and ensure that opportunities and recognition are distributed fairly.

You might naturally get along better with some team members than others, but it's important that these personal preferences don't influence your professional decisions. 

If they do, or if they’re perceived to, resentment can brew and conflict can arise.

Be as transparent as possible

Transparency builds trust. 

While it's not necessary to share every detail with your team, being open about significant decisions and changes is important. 

If a decision impacts your team's work, ensure you communicate the 'why' and 'how' clearly to avoid misunderstandings and frustration.

For example, if you need to rearrange your team’s priorities this quarter and a month’s worth of their work is essentially being wasted, you need to over communicate the why and the how of that decision. 

Adapt to your environment: In-person vs remote vs hybrid

Where and how your team works can impact how you interact with them, the ways you communicate, how often you get together, and the relationships you build in and outside of work hours.

Adjust the way you manage your work environment as best you can to create team cohesion and efficiency.

Remote workplaces are more at risk of siloed behavior while workplace productivity can suffer from in-person environments where there are more distractions. Keep in mind your environment as you manage your people. 

Always look to improve your leadership skills

Great people managers are always learning and looking to develop people management skills.

They know what their strengths are and their weaknesses because they regularly ask for feedback and reflect on their performance. 

You can become a great people manager by not only learning what management best practices are but by implementing them everyday. That’s where a new form of management training comes in: Waggle.

Waggle is a manager’s AI co-pilot, there to help them stay on top of management tasks, lead effective meetings and improve their managerial skills through real-time coaching.

Join Waggle’s waitlist today.

It’s how you can become a manager who’s team positively impacts business performance quarter after quarter.  

8 People management skills you need to lead effectively

People management requires a blend of both technical and interpersonal skills (sometimes called hard and soft skills). 

For this, we’re going to focus on the interpersonal as they’re the most widely shared across people managers while technical skills can vary by team.

Here are some key skills you need to lead a team effectively:

Active listening skills

Active listening is more than just hearing what your team members are saying. It's about understanding their perspectives, acknowledging their ideas, and responding in a way that shows you value their input.

Communication skills 

Clear and consistent communication is crucial for managing people. It helps align the team, prevents misunderstandings, and keeps everyone feeling supported.

Organizational skills

As a manager, you'll need to juggle multiple tasks, manage your team's workload, and ensure that everything is running smoothly. Strong organizational skills are key to keeping everything on track.

Time management skills

Time management is about more than just meeting deadlines. It's about prioritizing tasks, managing your own time effectively, and helping your team do the same.

Conflict resolution skills

Conflict is inevitable in any team. Effective managers can mediate disagreements and turn them into opportunities for growth.


Change is a constant in any business. Managers need to be resilient and adaptable, able to lead their teams through unexpected challenges.

Decision-making skills

Managers frequently need to make swift decisions, often under pressure. The ability to balance risk and reward and make informed choices is critical.

Motivation skills

Inspiring your team and encouraging their best performance is a skill that can significantly impact a team's morale and productivity.

Helpful people management resources 

Here are a few people management resources that can help you become an effective manager:

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