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Line manager skills: the 5 most important and effective

Published 29th June 2017 by Investors in People
Line manager skills multitasking

Line management is a tough - but rewarding - gig and one that’s a continuous learning journey.

If you made a list of the most important line management skills, what would you put on it?

We’ve had a think and come up with 5 that we think are ‘meta’-skills and have a transformative effect on all aspects of line management.

Do you agree with our selection? While you’re at it, take a look at the six things all line managers wish they’d been told earlier.

Self-management

There’s a truism in life that you can’t love someone else until you love yourself. Well, it’s very hard to understand and manage someone else until you seek to understand and manage yourself.

While we may be given the authority to manage others, we are not given the abilities, nor are we born with these. Good people managers cultivate their potential through intense self-study as they seek to better understand the human condition and, in doing so, develop a style in getting the most out of both themselves and others.

It’s very hard to understand and manage someone else until you seek to understand and manage yourself.

There’s another reason why self-management is important: it helps drive consistency. To be effective, line managers must fight against the urge to be driven by the trials and tribulations in their work and personal lives. By better understanding their emotions, they’re more able to ‘take a step back’ and deliver a consistent experience to their direct reports.

Communication and listening

Many problems in management are driven by people having different communication styles and different thresholds for understanding nuances and meaning. These drive different expectations, which can lead to conflict. Communication and listening skills can be improved by practicing active listening, honing your vocabulary and seeking clarity over style. It’s also about being hyper-comfortable with honesty because when we talk ‘around the topic,’ it’s even more likely our meaning won’t be clear.

Good communication is intrinsically linked with humility. If we assume what others are thinking, or going to say, or how they feel, we wait to speak, rather than seek to understand and be understood. Good line managers never assume: they ask questions to get the full picture before making judgements or decisions.

Results-driven thinking

As the workforce becomes more diverse, driven by trends including an ageing workforce, there will exist more difference - in approach, personality, values, behaviours and more. Line managers that have a fixed view on what constitutes a ‘good’ approach will find themselves clashing with direct reports.

When line managers are results-driven and are clear about this, they empower each member of their team to focus on team goals while employing methods and ideas that are most effective for them.

Good line managers value diversity and individuality because they appreciate the performance improvements these qualities can, when nurtured in the right way, bring to teams.

Big-picture thinking and prioritisation

Jobs have become broader instead of deeper: the standard cliche of ‘doing more with less.’ As such, employees often have never-ending lists of tasks that need to be done. This makes organisational goals and - by extension - team goals crucial to maintaining high productivity. An ability to focus, both in the short-term and long-term, often separates the successful from the unsuccessful companies.

Good line managers never assume: they ask questions so they can get the full picture before making judgements or decisions.

Unless line managers have the ability to think strategically and cascade down organisational goals to team goals, team members will find it hard to prioritise because they won’t know what is most important at any one time.

Industry disruption is making this skill even more important: an organisation’s focus can change more rapidly than in the past as it responds to emerging challenges, and so line managers must be able to quickly ascertain what’s important and communicate this to the team.

Delegation

This is intrinsically linked to the last skill, big-picture thinking and prioritisation. A line manager could be the greatest strategic thinker on earth, able to cascade organisational goals down to team goals and individual goals with ease, but if they can’t effectively orient their team towards these goals, they aren’t actually making a difference to performance.

As we discussed in our article on the 6 things line managers wish they’d been told earlier, delegation is a critical line management tool. It allows line managers to:

  • Ensure work gets completed in timeframes that suit both employee and organisation
  • Ensure the tasks that get completed are both aligned with organisational goals and empowering to the employee
  • Develop employees by stretching their abilities while giving them the support they need to grow

Without the confidence and skills to delegate effectively, being an effective line manager is very difficult, if not impossible.