It’s long-established that people skills—the ability to communicate, motivate, and empathize with others—are key to success in any career. And they can be particularly important for those in people management roles. You should consider these skills when hiring new employees for your small business and develop these skills among your current employees and managers.
We scoured online sources—from academic studies to LinkedIn polls to career magazines and websites—to find the top 15 people management skills employees, especially managers, should have.
Communication tops the list for nearly all articles and surveys on soft skills and people skills. It’s imperative that employees and managers be able to listen to co-workers, customers, subordinates, and superiors, and then respond in appropriate manners. This means varying your style according to your audience as well as being able to coherently and convincingly share your own thoughts.
Harvard Business Review (HBR) highlights this skill as particularly important for an increasingly remote workplace (due to the COVID-19 pandemic and changing worker expectations). Good communication helps build relationships, avoid misunderstandings, and make workplaces more productive.
Communication is key to improving employee engagement, but it’s just a start. Check out our article for more tips on getting employees involved and invested in their work.
2. Showing Respect
Communication only goes so far if respect is not part of it. According to a Glassdoor survey, disrespect was the most cited issue with managers, with 43% of respondents saying they’ve had a disrespectful boss. When employees don’t feel respected, they are less likely to speak up in meetings or share ideas, and it adds to workplace stress.
3. Ability to Persuade
This is especially important for managers, according to LinkedIn, and something hiring managers should be looking for. “To advance your career, brush up on your ability to effectively communicate ideas and persuade your colleagues and stakeholders that it’s in their best interest to follow your lead.”
If you’re looking to improve your leadership skills, start with our article on management styles.
4. Engendering Trust
Trust is vital for any organization, but even more so as we enter an era of remote work. People who feel trusted are more likely to perform to expectations. On the other hand, managers have to be careful not to blindly trust. As late President Reagan said, “Trust but verify.” Frequent informal performance reviews, clearly communicated expectations, and open communication help maintain a trusting workplace without resorting to “Big Brother” tactics.
This does not necessarily mean being available any moment of the day, but being open to hearing about problems, errors, and other workplace challenges and responding in a fair and impartial way. According to The Predictive Index, 80% of employees feel they can approach their boss with problems, which is good. However, only 67% feel they can make a mistake without their manager holding it against them. While some errors must have consequences, the best managers foster an environment of responsibility rather than punishment.
No one likes to work with someone who loses their temper. The best leaders know how to be calm in a crisis, look at employee mistakes as learning opportunities rather than occasions for discipline, and keep a calm and focused outlook in stressful situations. If this is a challenge for you, check out Dealing with People You Can’t Stand: How to Bring Out the Best in People at Their Worst by Rick Kirschner.
Thoughtfulness involves keeping your subordinates in mind. It’s expressed in many ways—empathy for a co-worker who is having problems at home or recognizing that team members in an argument may each have valid points. It also means remembering to give credit where credit is due, as well as smaller things like remembering a birthday or a work anniversary. Thoughtfulness makes employees feel valued. This is another skill, according to HBR, that may be of even greater importance in a remote work environment, particularly when dealing with employees new to remote work.
Looking for ways to give kudos to your employees? Read our article on the top employee recognition and appreciation ideas.
The opposite of micromanagement, macromanagement means a more hands-off style of leadership. Macromanagers focus more on the big picture and less on the day-to-day operations, giving workers more freedom to get the job done. Macromanagement requires trust but can lead to a less stressful, more creative working environment that lets employees grow. That can lead to more job satisfaction as well as more time for managers to concentrate on the big ideas that can grow a business.
9. Ability to Run a Meeting Successfully
How many times have you been in a meeting that ran long and accomplished nothing or left frustrated because one or two people dominated without contributing? Running a good meeting is an important people skill, and it involves preparation as well as being able to stop Chatty Chad from taking up the scheduled hour with sidebars about other projects.
You’d think this would be a no-brainer, but honesty is more than a value—it’s a skill. It’s not always easy to be honest, especially when delivering bad news. Yet not dealing with an issue to avoid conflict can be dishonest. So, in addition to valuing honesty as a quality, you need to work on being able to give honest opinions in a way that does not offend and having the courage to be honest even when someone might be hurt.
Disciplining an employee is not easy, but it is part of being honest with your workers and yourself. Read our article on how to discipline an employee for creating and managing a fair program for all.
11. Giving Fair Feedback
While linked to honesty and communication, giving fair feedback is its own skill. It involves understanding the role of the employee, their talents, and their needs and creating achievable goals with them. It’s also important to keep track of their work and look for trends that should be praised or addressed. Learn more in our article on performance management.
12. Supporting Team Morale
It’s no surprise that low employee morale can affect reaching goals, productivity, employee turnover, and ultimately your profitability. Supporting morale takes a combination of communication, thoughtfulness, honesty, and openness. It also requires understanding your employee workload and not overloading them with projects and tasks (especially busywork), and keeping an eye out for signs of burnout.
Decisiveness may not seem like a people skill per se, but it’s an important soft skill that inspires confidence. Many people believe decisiveness means being able to make quick decisions and stick with them. While there are times when speed is vital, the real skill is knowing when and how to seek out the needed information and having proper judgment in decision-making.
14. Foster Creativity
John Cleese, actor, producer, and doctor of psychology, who studies management and creativity, says creativity is not a talent, but a way of operating. As such, fostering a work environment that encourages creativity is an important people and leadership skill. This goes back to trust and communication, as do so many people skills.
It also means allowing employees time to think and bounce ideas, even unworkable ones, off each other and allowing humor, which helps people enter a relaxed, playful state that encourages creativity. See if that wacky non sequitur leads to something else.
15. Lead by Example
Again, this should go without saying, but good managers set an example. It’s vital that you develop a good work ethic of showing up when expected, putting in the extra effort, maintaining a positive attitude, and getting your own work done.
Check out some inspiring quotes from managers on what they consider key traits for leaders.
To keep your workforce, you need good people skills. After all, studies have shown a primary reason people leave a job is to escape a bad boss, but even more than that, good leaders foster good working environments where employees want to stay.
The need to keep your workforce satisfied may be more important now than ever, as the pandemic reset how workers view their work life. The Wall Street Journal reports that between April and August 2021, US workers left their jobs nearly 20 million times, which is 60% higher than the resignations handed in during the same period in 2020, and 12% higher than in the spring and summer of 2019 when the job market was the strongest it had been in almost 50 years.
Focus on the skills discussed above as part of your hiring efforts and ongoing development initiatives to ensure you don’t lose valuable employees because of poor people management skills.