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15 June, 2020

It is said that workers don’t leave jobs, they leave managers. The best managers have learned not only the “hard” skills that are common in every single workplace (budgeting, analytics, certifications, and licenses), but they also have an often-inherent mastery of “softer” skills. And it’s no secret that the best managers not only develop but keep employees.

Some of the five essential skills outlined here, routinely thought of as primarily “Human Resources (HR)” in nature, are actually essential skills all proficient managers must master. Especially in fast-paced environments, these skills are mandatory in a typical work day and can move the needle in any manager’s job performance success.

From planning onsite meetings to giving employee recognition, working as a manager can be tough. Having these five well-honed, HR-like skills can make many aspects of performing the day-to-day job easier. Let’s look closer at the six top skills on the list.

1. Fantastic Listening Skills

While it’s widely understood managers need a mixed variety of leadership skills, an under-looked “soft” skill that all top managers must exhibit is listening. Good leaders have the ability to really understand their workplace, incorporating the views of the various employees they manage.

Taking the time to develop the key non-verbal skill of listening to employees without interruption when they speak. Listening – with the intent to understand – goes a long way toward building trust and rapport within any work environment. Managers looking to build successful interpersonal relationships start with really listening to subordinates.  

Managers who are perceptive and focus on the employee, and not their email or iPhone, become the best listeners and most aware of their team’s overall needs. It is said that most employees don’t want their manager to solve their problem, but rather to listen, giving their full and undivided attention as the employee talks the issue out.

Good managers are active listeners, delivering full attention and eye contact to the employees they converse with. This skill places managers in a better overall position to nurture, understand, and help their employees. 

Engaged listening skills not only can show employees the manager cares, but can also give managers unique and invaluable insight for developing their team.

2. Conflict Management Abilities

While there is nothing wrong with honest disagreements in the workplace, sometimes people-related challenges get in the way of work teams functioning at their very best. Managers who are close to their work team should be able to understand team dynamics the most strongly.

Knowing how to handle team conflict situations in the right way, and bringing parties to work together in a civil manner to reach a working solution, is an important manager skill. Allowing employees to talk out compromises on solutions to solve problems before a manager can go a long way toward accomplishing what’s best for the organization. 

Plus, working things out at the manager/employee level is often more successful than conflicts that must be escalated to the company’s Human Resources professionals. 

Managers simply can’t be successful without some strong conflict-management skills. Having the confidence to address conflict situations heads on is essential for managers at all levels since conflicts are ongoing in most organizations. 

While it takes poise to diffuse some work situations, fabulous managers ultimately look at conflict management as a relationship-building opportunity and dive right in.

3. Pre-Employment Assessment

As you start the hiring process it can be crucial to use your skills as a manager to work with Human Resources to gather the most complex picture of a potential employee possible. While your interviewing process may be well honed, there is always more insight to gain about your prospective new team members. 

One option would be to use a pre-employment test or evaluation to see where they will best fit in, or if they will be a great fit for your management style. Using a test can offer you more information than a resume and interview, no matter how good of a manager you are. Being able to add employees who will be a solid asset to your team will bring you more success. 

HR teams regularly use personality assessments and other tests to have more understanding of the people they support, good managers can also utilize these tools to build a team during the hiring process. A good manager can narrow down candidates to a top two or three and then use assessments in order to help make a final hiring decision. 

4. Negotiation Prowess

Some think it’s the HR team that has to be expert negotiators for salaries, policies, collective bargaining agreements and such. The truth is, at some point, all managers will have to negotiate. Developing polished negotiation skills is helpful to all managers throughout an organization. Why?

It’s common for managers to be expected to oversee a problem when team members just can’t reach agreement. Or for managers to be required to work out transaction details with a customer or vendor. 

Managers with good negotiation skills are sensible, reasonable, and don’t take things personally. Plus, practiced listening skills – see skill #1 in this article above – go a long way in negotiation talks and ensure mutually agreeable solutions.

Managers who learn to work both sides of a disagreement, building rapport so all parties feel listened to, become particularly accomplished in developing their negotiation skills. Best of all, companies appreciate and value this important skill in their leaders.

5. A Knack for Discretion

Among the most important manager skills is knowing when to “keep it to yourself,” or maintain professional discretion in things learned on the job. Handling confidential business and employee information appropriately and in private is important. Breaching that confidentiality line is a mistake inexperienced managers can experience, and even get terminated for.

Managers deal not only with people’s work lives, but they’re also privy to information surrounding employees’ personal lives. The ability to exercise complete discretion is needed; managers must be trusted to handle sensitive information as part of their day-to-day work routine.  

For example, the reasons for employees out of the office on disability, Family and Medical Leave (FMLA), or out because of illness – particularly due to mental health or substance abuse issues – simply should never be divulged inappropriately. The same is true of employee age, performance, and salary data.

Maintaining confidentiality and trust is an essential part of any manager job. Having a knack for discretion will keep you well prepared for whatever comes your way as a manager. Being an ethical manager is one of the most important qualities you can bring to your position. 

6. A Talent for Employee Engagement

American businessman Sam Walton, founder of Sam’s Club and Wal-Mart, is famously quoted as saying, “The way management treats associates is exactly how the associates will treat the customers.” The best employees are happier, more productive in their work, and stay in their jobs longer.

Countless studies in employee engagement count it as a way to get employees “invested” in their work, boosting customer and employee satisfaction alike. In nearly all corporate cultures, employees who feel valued and engaged are the best performers. 

While HR might commission an employee engagement strategy and plan, the bottom-line engagement buck really does stop with the front-line manager. Why? Because managers are on the front line with employees in their work and can directly foster a team culture that motivates and triggers feelings of trust. 

Effective managers can make a huge difference in developing a sense of shared purpose on their team and enhancing it daily.


Management can be a tough job and the challenges in managing others are ongoing. Adding these five invaluable HR skills to a skills arsenal will go a long way toward boosting any manager’s career performance from “good” to “great.” When you take these human resources skills with you every day of your career, you will be all set to be a fantastic manager.

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Gabe Nelson
Gabe Nelson
The blog post is written by guest author Gabe Nelson

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