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Natalia Rossingol

Key Management Skills & How to Develop Them

As the expectations on managers evolve, what are the key management skills you should focus on developing? Let's take a look.

Do you ever find yourself overwhelmed by the complexities of being a manager? Striking the perfect balance between technical expertise and people skills can feel like walking a tightrope.

Over the years, the very essence of management has undergone a radical transformation. Gone are the days of simply demanding efficiency; today's managers are the driving force behind inspired teams, leading by example, and igniting a passion for success.

And as management has evolved, so have the skills required to thrive in this dynamic landscape.

What are management skills?

Management skills are abilities and competencies that help managers perform their basic functions - planning, organizing, and leading. These skills are not necessarily innate personality traits – they’re developed and learnt through experience in the process of managerial work.

Here we should stop to explain what is meant by the term “managerial work.” This is a wide term covering a variety of responsibilities, which can be confusing.

For this reason, to make things easier, Henry Mintzberg, a Canadian academic specializing in management, identified three categories of managerial roles:

  1. Interpersonal - figurehead, leader, and liaison.
  2. Informational - monitor, disseminator, and spokesperson.
  3. Decisional - entrepreneur, disturbance handler, resource allocator, and negotiator.

Each of these management roles requires certain skills. Sometimes, the skills required for these different roles overlaps, too. In any case, it’s the roles that determine a set of skills you must possess to be a successful manager.

Types of management skills

Good management is the art of making problems so interesting and their solutions so constructive that everyone wants to get to work and deal with them. – Paul Hawken, an American environmentalist, businessman, and writer

A basic typology of the most important management skills comes from a 1955 article by Robert Katz “Skills of an effective administrator”, published in the Harvard Business Review.

Katz's typology includes three categories – technical, human, and conceptual skills. These categories are very broad, and each of them includes a variety of narrower skills. They are all equally important, and at each level of management, a mix of the three is necessary.  

Technical skills

This type of skills concerns proficiency in management activities, which requires knowledge and the use of certain tools, methods, and techniques. These are skills needed to perform specialized tasks. For example, computer programmers, firemen, and doctors need to have very specific skills to do their jobs. These skills are task-related, which means they are used when working with things rather than with people.

Once a person gets promoted to a managerial position, he or she may move away from applying technical skills on a daily basis. However, a manager must have a good specialized knowledge, and here’s why – technical skills allow managers to properly train and evaluate their employees. It’s impossible to train people and provide guidance when you yourself are not familiar with the process.

Besides, it’s not enough to merely possess technical skills – a manager has to continuously improve them, otherwise there is a risk of losing touch with the field.

To stay technically relevant, Camille Fournier, the author of “The Manager’s Path,” gives the following recommendations:

  1. Pick an unknown area and ask a subordinate who’s a subject-matter expert to explain it to you.
  2. Attend meetings, especially those where the team discusses failures, to understand what exactly caused a problem – poor communication, ignoring standards, or something else. 
  3. Keep up with the industry trends, looking for new opportunities.
  4. Create a network of peers outside of your company. Let them share experience and ask their opinions about new trends.
  5. Never stop learning. Read articles, blog posts, and learn from your team. Talk to your skip-level reports more often.

Of course, new responsibilities, like meetings, planning, and administrative tasks take a lot of managers’ time. However, if you don’t stay technical, you risk falling behind in your career.

You may be on a management career path, but that doesn’t mean you should wash your hands of technical responsibilities. – Camille Fournier

Conceptual skills

These skills, also called entrepreneurial (by Mintzberg,) visioning (by Collins and Porras,) futuring (by Mackinnon,) are the ability to see the organization as a whole. While technical skills focus on things, conceptual ones focus on ideas.

Conceptual skills let a manager see the connections between the units of the organization – how they interact with each other, how one unit affects the rest, and how the organization fits in the overall business context. This way, they are closely related to creativity, which enables a manager to see opportunities and envision future success, as well as the path to it.

It would be fair to say that conceptual management skills are a characteristic feature of leaders, not managers – or, at least, of managers who represent themselves as leaders.

Human skills

Human skills are the ability to work with others and be a team player. They are concerned with people, and are used in conflict resolution, communication, and building a healthy organizational environment. Human skills help a manager to understand the behavior of subordinates, their motivation, and interactions among them. This way, they let a manager motivate employees and discover their potential.

The typology described above still dominates – however, in the management literature, new categories have appeared. They may seem to be parts of the three main categories but might have a potential to develop into completely separate ones.

Tim O. Peterson (Oklahoma State University) and David D. Van Fleet (Arizona State University) provide a list of these new categories:

  • Analytic skills – the ability to analyze variables and see connections between them.
  • Diagnostic skills – the ability to determine causes of problems.
  • Administrative skills – the ability to create and follow policies and procedures needed to organize the work process.
  • Flexible skills – the ability to be adaptable in a rapidly changing environment.
  • Interpersonal skills – the ability to build trusting and safe relationships among team members. 

Besides these five, the authors also mention skills like decision-making and communication, which we will discuss below in other sections in more detail

4 key managerial skills and their subtypes

Organizational skills

Organization is about creating order. A company is a system – of managers and employees, tasks, goals, and resources. A system cannot exist without order, so there must be someone who organizes the chaos. This person is a manager.

Organizational skills are an umbrella term covering many narrower abilities. We can divide these skills into two categories – physical and reasoning, based on the nature of the things that are getting organized.

Physical organizational skills

These concern physical orderliness:

Organizing workspace properly. The physical space where people spend their time working is a serious factor that can both increase or decrease productivity. Consider the following:

  • How departments are situated in a building. When people who are supposed to closely interact work on different floors, or even in different buildings, it makes communication more difficult.
  • Open space workplace. It’s not the best environment for boosting productivity. It can be very hard to concentrate when you are constantly listening to the conversations of others, and when you can easily be pulled out to answer a question or do something.

In their book “Peopleware,” Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister mention that while environmental trend in the workplace is toward less privacy – and this is often dictated by the desire to save money – it can lead to the loss of effectiveness and, logically, to the loss of money. 

The prudent manager could not consider moving people into cheaper, noisier, and more crowded quarters without first assessing whether worker effectiveness would be impaired. – Tom DeMarco, Timothy Lister

Record keeping. It’s important to keep track of what’s going on in the company, so documenting is very useful. It decreases your chances to miss out on important information, such as ideas and solutions proposed during meetings or feedback provided by subordinates or clients.   

Organizing documentation. Knowing where documentation is stored enables you to access important information easily. This concerns both physical and virtual workspace.

Reasoning organizational skills

These are skills managers use to solve problems and organize teamwork:

Coordination. A team is a group of people who work toward one goal, so their efforts must be aligned and coordinated. A manager needs to facilitate collaboration between units and individual team members – otherwise different departments and even individuals risk moving away from the common goal, and it’s harmful to the organization as a whole.

Planning. For a team to accomplish its goals, people must understand what needs to be done, what methods and resources are needed, and what the deadlines are. Even though plans often undergo changes and, for this reason, should not be taken too literally, they give a sense of direction.

Plans are nothing, planning is everything. – Dwight D. Eisenhower, former U.S. President

 Planning is also about setting priorities, which helps focus on what really matters.

Time management. Time is one of the most valuable resource, and it’s not renewable. This is why it’s very important to use it wisely. Improving your time management skills can help you use your time efficiently and maintain a work-life balance.

There is a great technique called 4Ds of time management. It consists of analyzing your tasks and categorizing them into 4 groups based on their importance and urgency:

  1. Do – when tasks are important and urgent, do them immediately. Also, this group covers the tasks that don’t take much time, so it’s more effective to do them right now rather than letting them pile up – for example, answer an email or make a phone call.
  2. Delay – when tasks are important but can be done later, you can feel free to delay them. This can be a request from a colleague, or a new idea – basically, everything that is worth attention but not urgent, and takes time to be accomplished.
  3. Delegate – when tasks are urgent but not serious enough to be done by the manager only, you can delegate them. Just make sure the person you delegate it to is proficient enough to accomplish it. For example, you can ask another person to make a report.
  4. Delete – when tasks are neither urgent not important, don’t do them at all. These include unnecessary meetings and email.

 Delegation. It’s worth discussing delegation as a separate skill. A manager has many responsibilities, and it’s easy to get buried under a pile of unfinished tasks. At the same time, it’s not necessary. You can delegate some of your tasks and get more time, decreasing the risk of professional burnout.

Delegation is also a great tool of empowerment, which allows employees improve their skills, learning to work autonomously. It can be the first step of creating self-managed teams, the effectiveness of which has been proved by a variety of companies.

Communication skills

The value of communication in a team is hard to overestimate. While effective communication drives a team to success, poor communication leads to different misunderstandings, and misunderstanding causes a lack of productivity and, consequently, a failure to accomplish a task.

Speaking about communication, Scott Berkun, the author of “Making Things Happen,” mentions a biblical example: the story of the Tower of Babel. In this fable, a group of people attempted to build a tower that reached the sky, but were punished for their prideful ambition by losing their ability to understand each other. And so, with the builders unable to communicate, the tower was never finished.

Berkun underlines that the lesson of the story is simple – if you can’t communicate, you can’t succeed.

Doing this doesn’t require an extroverted, game-show-host personality; nor does it demand a brilliant sense of humor or magical powers… Instead, it starts by admitting communication and relationships are critical to success. – Scott Berkun, “Making Things Happen”   

Communication and meetings

Meetings can be a helpful way to maintain communication. During meetings, you can collect information, get feedback, and find solutions. However, meetings are not always productive – indeed, they can become a huge time drain.

The problem often lays in poor meeting organization. First of all, there should always be a meeting agenda that gives the meeting purpose. Meetings that don't end when a solution is found but instead get padded out to until an hour has elapsed are often more habitual than purposeful. In most cases, they can be replaced with one-on-ones.   

Secondly, managers should remember that time spent in meetings is time spent not on actual work. So, it makes sense to reduce the number of unnecessary meetings, as well as the number of people attending them.


Julie Zhuo, the author of “The Making of a Manager” calls feedback one of the most fundamental managerial jobs. She underlines that truly good feedback is the one thing that most inspires people to change their behavior. Feedback should be regular and, preferably, it should include multiple perspectives - not just that of a manager.

Zhuo mentions that feedback should start with setting clear expectations that would let employees know what is considered a success, and what is considered a failure.

Active listening

This is another component of meaningful communication. Active listening skills enable managers to hear more than what’s said. This skill includes the ability to give another person your undivided attention, being truly interested in what’s he or she is saying and listening without interruption.

Listening actively, you get a chance to understand the other point of view. It also lets you notice the emotional state of the people you’re talking to, which helps you see their motivation. This way, active listening forms empathy.


Empathy is the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes and understand the situation from their perspective. Empathetic managers genuinely care for their team members – for their professional development, emotional health, and personal well-being. They are compassionate and understand that employees are human beings who have personal problems and cannot always work the best way possible.

They also have emotional intelligence, which means they can perceive emotions of others and interpret them correctly.     

Not all people are empathetic by nature. Empathy as a management skill is relatively new – in autocratic organizations, where management is more top-down, empathy is not a trait expected from a leader.

However, times change. People's mindsets are fortunately shifting, and managers are increasingly encouraged to consider employee wellbeing and satisfaction, and to build supportive, open team cultures. To achieve these aims, empathy is a vital component.

Decision-making skills

Decision making is a process of choosing an option out of two or more. It involves information research, the analysis of pros and cons, and the ability to take a risk.

There exist several decision-making models – frameworks that allow you to make a decision using a certain algorithm. Providing step-by step recommendations, decision-making models save your time and reduce the risk of mistake – and that is important, since one decision influences many other, creating a snowball effect.

The five most popular decision-making models are as follows:

  1. Rational. This model helps you analyze the situation and all the options logically, excluding all emotions and staying objective.   
  2. Intuitive. This one lets you use your intuition, making decisions quickly based on your gut feeling.
  3. Recognition-primed. In this model, you think of a past situation that is similar to the one you’re experiencing now, and act as you did before.
  4. Creative. You brainstorm ideas and pick the one you like, and after that, evaluate the idea critically.
  5. The Vroom-Yetton model. It’s based on the idea that every situation requires a different approach to decision-making, offering 5 options: autocratic 1 (when the leader makes a decision totally by him or herself,) autocratic 2 (when the leader makes a decision but asks for the team’s input, not necessarily informing the team what the problem is,) consultative 1 (when each team member shares information individually,) consultative 2 (when information is discussed by a group,) and collaborative (a decision is made by a group.)

Conflict resolution skills

In a workplace, conflicts will happen. Even though we typically perceive conflicts as something negative, it is not necessarily so – conflicts can form a platform where new ideas are born. When people freely express their opinions, treating each other with respect, they can find a great solution. This is what productive conflict is about – about healthy problem-solving.

In a conflict, a manager should be a facilitator helping the sides to understand and respect each other. He or she can ask questions, suggest brainstorming sessions, and making sure that everyone is involved in the discussion.

How to develop management skills    

Each of the skills we discussed above requires special actions to get developed. However, we can still give several general recommendations that might help you start improving as a manager:

Analyze your current actions

Think about your management style, your work habits, and your relationships with the team. What are your professional and personal goals? What have you accomplished so far? How do you usually solve work-related issues? This will help you set a direction for improvement.

Ask for feedback

It's not easy to be objective when you're evaluating yourself, so talk to your subordinates. Learn more about your own strengths and weaknesses. Let yourself be vulnerable, and admit you’re not perfect. This will relieve pressure and bring you closer to your team.

Be present

Do not distance yourself from your team. Be approachable and ready to help. Attend meetings to know what’s going on. Talk to people in person and get to know them better. Listen actively, ask questions, and let people share opinions. Your management position lets you create a climate of psychological safety for people to feel comfortable at work.

Get inspired by others

There are many books on management where you can find valuable advice from people who really know what management is. They all talk about the same thing, but each author shares something unique as well. There is no need to reinvent a wheel.


To run an organization well, you will have to continuously improve yourself, developing essential management skills. Some skills will be easier to acquire than others, and some will take time. But the effort will pay off – not only will you yourself become a better professional, but you will also help other people grow. And this is truly valuable.

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