A new study on skills in the workplace has revealed a list of the most important skills that workers expect a manager to possess, with leadership right at the top of what they want.
Around half (51% of men and 45% of women) of the 2,048 working-age adults polled by Censuswide, on behalf of Digits, thought leadership skills were the most essential.
Verbal communication and teamwork skills ranked joint second for over a third (35%) of people, closely followed by empathy and problem-solving skills (30% and 29% respectively).
Surprisingly, written communication skills came last on the list (8%) – proving to be less popular than a strong work ethic (21%), good time management (18%), and conflict resolution (15%).
Just one in 10 of those surveyed reported having no specific skill requirements of a manager, suggesting that most people do have pre-existing ideas around what makes a good or competent manager to them. Whether their actual managers meet their expectations, on the other hand, is a matter for another survey.
The most important skills needed by managers, ranked by popularity, are:
- Leadership skills (48%)
- Verbal communication skills (35%)
- Teamwork skills (35%)
- Empathy (30%)
- Problem-solving skills (29%)
- A strong work ethic (21%)
- Good time management (18%)
- Conflict resolution (15%)
- Written communication skills (8%)
Of course, ‘leadership skills’ is an umbrella term that can mean different things to many people. And it can encompass a range of hard skills (job-related knowledge) and soft skills – transferable skills that help individuals work and interact with others – such as adaptability, flexibility, communication, teamwork, time management and problem-solving.
There is no one-size-fits-all, explains Bradley Burgoyne, head of talent at Digits: “We’ve got more generations in the workforce today than we’ve ever had. And, each group of workers prefers slightly different managerial styles and leadership qualities.
“Every individual has their own expectations about how they want their managers to lead them, coach them, support them, relate to them, and empower them. Those skills don’t just happen, even the best managers need to receive regular training and development from their employers.
“The challenge for HR and L&D teams is to ensure that their training strategy is broad enough to cater to all levels of employees in the organisation because, I think, everyone benefits from leadership or management development.
“It’s important that employers actively listen to their workforce and find out where the skills gaps are – what training do employees think they need? What training do employees think their managers need and what leadership qualities do they respond best to? They can then utilise the data to create training courses or a series of engaging development activities in their learning management system, that are really relevant to the people within the organisation rather than something that could, potentially, be seen as just a tick-box exercise.”
According to Burgoyne, some of the core leadership skills of a modern manager include:
- Vision setting – having clear business goals for the team and being able to influence and gain buy-in from team members to work towards that vision. This also includes some change management skills, as setting a vision and taking a team on a journey to reach it, inevitably involves helping people work through change.
- Empathy and listening – builds trust and connection between individuals and their managers. Managers need to be mindful and show their team that they understand and relate to them as human beings, that they recognise that each person has different needs, different skills, and a different perspective on how they approach different situations at work.
- Inclusive leadership – managers that want to create a high performing team need to be able to provide high levels of psychological safety within their teams, where feedback is welcome and encouraged. An environment where everyone feels included and safe enough to provide feedback, feels that the feedback that they provide is valid, and that action will happen as a result, helps to build a team with a sense of purpose in what they’re doing and a growth mindset.
- Coaching skills – rather than always telling people what to do, good managers trust and empower their teams to use their skills and knowledge to find the answers and achieve an outcome. A quality coaching conversation will help someone to realise that they knew the answer all along or feel empowered to go and find the answer. This can support an employee’s sense of purpose and self-validation and create a far more autonomous team.
- Self-awareness – to lead others successfully requires managers to reflect inwards and understand their management style and learn how to adapt it for different situations. There are multiple challenges facing managers today, many that they may not have experienced before, so it’s important to be really agile, adaptable, and constantly thinking about the wider world and how that might need to change your approach.
- Collaboration skills – managers don’t need to have the answers to every question. The world of work is too complex and fast-moving for one person to be able to come up with all the solutions all the time. Encouraging collaboration – with other individuals, other teams and other departments – to find answers by working together or reaching a shared goal through a collaborative process, will help improve the performance of the entire organisation.
Further analysis of Digits’ survey results showed clear generational divides between what people at the start of their career considered to be important managerial attributes compared to those who have been in the workforce for a decade (or two). Almost twice as many people over-55 (who’ve probably experienced a few different managers during their working life) than those aged 16-to-24-years-old think leadership skills are a must-have for managers (56% vs 28%).
Although leadership skills are ranked the highest across all age groups, what comes next varies. A strong work ethic is popular with a quarter (25%) of 16 to 24 year-olds, verbal communication skills are preferred by 24 to 34 year-olds and the over-55s (36% and 44% respectively), while teamwork skills are highly rated by over a third (36%) of those aged 35 to 54 years old.