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Oct, 2017

Managers: what are the key skills to success?

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In companies, managers are the backbone that connect employees to management, strategy to implementation and individual interests to collective interests. They contribute to making work meaningful by motivating each employee and supporting their development, by organizing the work, following up and mobilizing the global intelligence to achieve expected results. What are therefore the key skills that are required when you are in this position?

Listening and communication dominate the HR Congress in the French-speaking regions.

This congress, named “Meaningful work, the challenge of the 21st century”, welcomed 550 people in Lausanne last September. The theme of the quest for meaningful work was discussed throughout the entire day through conferences and workshops, such as “Towards Meaningful Leadership”, “Meaningful Work 4.0” and “Lasting Development, a Promise for Meaning”, to name a few.

Parallel to the event, fifty people, which was about 10% of participants, were questioned on their perception of the key skills that a manager must possess. On average, each respondent gave between 2 and 5 unsolicited responses and was then asked to define these different skills to clarify their thinking.

In the end, the top 10 skills were released:

active listening

  1. Listening: understanding the needs of others, their methods and putting themselves in their place;
  2. Communication: consistency between words and actions, rephrasing, creation of quality relationships in a sharing environment, clarity and body language;
  3. Being able to motivate: inspire, engage and be meaningful;
  4. Being able to develop employees: follow the team’s skills progression, support it, spot potential and make it grow;
  5. Adaptability: knowing how to adapt to one’s environment, peers, the firm’s or the region’s culture;
  6. Having a global vision: knowing how to anticipate, having a systematic vision and perceiving the context;
  7. Being a role model: having respect for others, benevolence, respect for the rules and commitment;
  8. Being able to give and receive feedback: positive or constructive;
  9. Managing performance: focused on results, solution-oriented, goal-setting and follow-up;
  10. Decision-making: being brave, daring to make unpopular decisions and being coherent (without any back and forth).

Other skills proposed included: stress management, being realistic (being able to identify challenges), trusting, open-minded, being assertive, having technical skills, being able to favor teamwork and being analytical.

This initial list gives us a pretty good idea of what it takes to be a good manager.


Lyon 917  Workshop: Communication Remains in the Lead

At the end of September, Skillspotting organised in Lyon a workshop focusing on tomorrow’s managerial skills. Targeting leaders and HR directors, this seminar for exchange and co-construction had the goal of helping consolidate their competitive advantage while developing their managers. This was done along three perspectives: What are the skills that truly create value? How can managers be naturally included? Which actions are needed to significantly increase performance?

Eleven managers, occupying varying positions (HR director, HR manager, team leader, director, etc.) participated and worked over the course of two hours sharing their experiences as managers and employees. Together, they built during the workshop what they saw as being an ideal reference point, which was composed of 15 essential skills. A good manager should be able to:

active communication

  • Communicate: speak clearly, present structured ideas, be convincing;
  • Establish SMART goals;
  • Be result-oriented: actively seek out ways to achieve goals;
  • Analyze and synthesize effectively;
  • Be solution-oriented: actively seek out ways to solve problems;
  • Network by creating quality relationships;
  • Question oneself and develop oneself by drawing on one’s experience;
  • Be client-oriented: considerate of the needs and expectations of internal and external clients;
  • Possess technical skills: to be a resource in their field, be up-to-date and support their team by providing them with expertise;
  • Be proactive: take initiative and suggest improvements;
  • Promote change (processes, tools, etc.);
  • Motivate employees;
  • Develop their team’s skills; and
  • Be a role model: be an example for others, be fair and trusting.

We can notice that the themes covered here are very similar to the list of key skills compiled after the congress, even though some are formulated slightly differently.


A Junction with the Analysis by Zenger and Folkman’s Firm

If we wish to define what makes a good manager, another question must be asked: How do we know that these skills make a difference, that they promote an increase in performance, both at a human and at a financial level?

To start answering this question, we must jump across the pond – a consulting firm conducted a meta-analysis in order to define which managerial skills had a real impact on the efficiency of a company (in terms of profit, client satisfaction, employee motivation, etc.)

Thus, we analyzed this source. By comparing their results with those obtained in Lausanne and Lyon, the missing elements in either list were:

  • Innovation;
  • Supporting change; and
  • Having a strategic vision.

In other words, attributes that are considered more “long-term”. We could explain this with the hypothesis that managers are often short on time and they over estimate short-term elements. (See our article on the time and effort management).

Nevertheless, overall, it is interesting to note that these lists of skills cover practically the same points. In fact, per this study, the key managerial skills and sources of performance are:

  • Honesty and integrity (be an example);
  • Technical expertise, knowledge of the environment;
  • The ability to analyze and solve problems;
  • Creativity and innovation;
  • The ability to question and develop oneself;
  • Result-oriented;
  • Forward thinking goal setting;
  • Proactive and initiative taking;
  • Communication;
  • Ability to inspire and motivate others (to attain a higher performance);
  • Creating quality relationships;
  • Developing others;
  • Having team spirit and promoting teamwork;
  • Having a strategic vision;
  • Supporting change; and
  • Being client-oriented (internal and external).



We can note that some of the skills proposed are more focused on the manager’s role/mission/goals and are considered meta-skills.
For example, “motivate and inspire others” is a goal for managers. And to do so, one must already have a certain skillset, such as good communication skills, such as listening or being enthusiastic.

In general, it is useful to think about concrete and observable actions to define a skill and ensure that they are not in fact a meta-skill (a combination of several skills).

We reach here the notion of skills granularity or, put another way, the degree of detail in which we wish to go into.

To clarify the difference between personality traits and actual skills, we will be offering a white book in March 2018 that delves further into this topic. We will also put into perspective research on this theme as well as innovative practices that have been put into action across the globe..

To be continued…

Sources : 

Photo credits :

© Dusit Panyakhom / 123 RF
© Dmitriy Shinorosov / 123 RF
© Dmitriy Shinorosov / 123 RF
© Dotschock / 123 RF