Thursday, September 12, 2013

Soft Skills for Managers

And why they’re important

Managers and supervisors are normally responsible for coordinating and organizing work activities, planning and allocating resources, as well as managing people. While they need certain specific, technical skills, it is often the "soft" skills that are the most critical as well as the least understood, and the hardest to master. Soft skills are the attitudes, personality traits, characteristics, habits and behaviors one displays when working with others.

There are many soft skills that can be useful in different situations. But, which are the most important? The answer can certainly depend on your particular work environment. In addition to effective communication skills, including active listening, the ability to delegate and leadership (inspiring others to follow you), here are the skills that in my observation can be the most beneficial.

Critical Thinking

Much of a manager's time is spent solving problems, so the ability to think critically is one of the top soft skills managers need. Critical thinking skills allow managers to evaluate and analyze problems in order to come up with effective solutions.

Decision Making

The ability to make quick decisions is critical to succeeding as a manager. Decision making skills come into play when deciding on which employees to hire, which strategies to implement and what steps to take to solve problems. Understanding the benefits, risks and consequences of a decision can help you make the most appropriate one.

Time Management Skills
The one resource we never seem to have enough of is time. To succeed as a manager, you must use your time wisely. In addition to the ability to prioritize and to delegate, you have to be able to maximize what you are able to get done in the time you have. Then you have to help ensure that your employees carry out their duties as well. You have internal customers and may have external customers; effectively managing your time is essential to serving your customers.

Emotional Intelligence 

EI is normally defined as the ability to understand, interpret, and respond to the emotions of others; the ability to perceive, control and evaluate emotions. As a successful manager, you need to be great at engaging, listening, understanding others, while making yourself understood. Self-awareness and the ability to recognize other people’s emotional patterns allow managers to adjust the way they communicate.  Or, to use an old cliché: It’s not what you say sometimes but how you say it. And I’d add, when you say it and to whom.

Constructive Appraisal 
People make mistakes. They also do great things. A manager must be able to provide feedback in either case. If your staff members perform well, showing appreciation and recognizing their efforts and successes goes a long way towards building an effective team. It also gives you the perfect opportunity to provide them with tips for further improvement. If an employee screws up, you need to be able to provide constructive or corrective criticism. It’s a chance for the employee to learn and grow; not a time to ridicule and disparage.

Everyone has weaknesses. To become a good manager you should be able to evaluate yourself. This means being aware of your own weaknesses. Know your limitations and find ways to work around or improve them.

Good Manners
Your employees pay attention to how you interact with everyone. As a manager, you’re expected to be a role model for employees. You must maintain good manners and proper business etiquette in all your dealings and communications. On the phone, in e-mail or speaking face to face, you should be courteous, professional and understanding. Your goal is to make your employees and colleagues feel comfortable around you and trust you. Poor treatment will simply lead to distrust, lack of respect and poor performance. 

Managing Discipline
Despite our best efforts, conflicts will occur, and people will sometimes behave outside of acceptable norms. Being able to deal appropriately and effectively with conflict reduces the risk of negatively affecting the workplace. Further, a lack of discipline in an organization can reduce the motivation and production of all employees.

You must do what you say you’ll do; walk the talk. It is equally important for your peers, subordinates and your boss to believe they can depend on you. Without that, you will not have the support you need to accomplish the goals of your organization.

The quality of being open, honest, and sincere is so important. Tell it like it is. Don't sugar coat things. Don't say what you think someone wants to hear. You don’t want to leave people guessing what you really mean; if they have to guess, they’ll often make it up as they go along, and that isn’t productive for anyone.

Work Ethic
You were hired to do a job, just as your employees were hired to do a job. Do you do it? You should be one of the hardest working people on your team, if not the hardest working. Do you deliver what’s necessary both within your team and to other teams?

Mental Agility/Flexibility
The ability to think and draw conclusions quickly, as well as the ability to mentally adapt quickly and fluidly with a changing environment. We all know how quickly business circumstances can change. Goals change, needs change, the environment changes. Managers need to be able to adjust to change and make decisions quickly.

Your technical skills may be what got you in the door and hired, but those skills are no longer enough. Or maybe they were never enough. Developing and improving your soft skills will allow you to be a more effective manager, and will help your employees be more successful.

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