7 Essential Skills for First Time Managers

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If you’re coming into management for the first time, it’s natural to feel daunted – even slightly overwhelmed –  by your new-found responsibility. 

Working as a manager can be a fulfilling and rewarding role. It’s often one where you can feel like you’ve been thrown in at the deep end when you get your first-time position, with a survey cited in People Management finding that a staggering 1 in 4 managers have never had any formal management training.

If you’re a first-time manager about to start a new position, or you’re aspiring to be one, we’ve decided to explore seven essential skills for first time managers to help you enhance your overall leadership and management practice in this blog.

1. Leadership – Leading by example to build trust

Trust is an absolutely essential quality in a manager – employees even regularly rate it as one of the their top traits that they consider evident in a good manager. 

As a result, leading by example is a practical strategy to follow to ensure that you build trust. Leading by example – behaving and working in the way that you expect to see from others – proves to others that you’re a principled leader, who doesn’t expect special treatment because of the fact that you get to make decisions and have different levels of power from non-management team members. 

One of the biggest challenges you’ll come up against when you become a manager is how the power differential changes the dynamic between you and members of your team. Whilst, previously, you all would have had the same power levels, now, the power balance is different, with you holding more sway over the actions of your team members. This can often cause your team members to have less trust in you and to treat you differently. You’ll be even more aware of how important trust is to managing teams if you’re coming into a position as a first-time manager in a new organisation. 

How to lead by example is relatively simple: subject yourself to the same rules, the same expectations and the same treatment that you would expect from the people under your direction. Be honest, fair and transparent. 

2. Motivation – Inspiring your team

Motivation and the ability to inspire others have become concepts that are slightly cliched when you’re talking about management. That said, they are still fundamental to getting good results out of the people that you manage, so mastering the ability to motivate staff is something that all first-time managers should be prepared to do. 

According to a survey cited in this Harvard Business Review article about motivating teams (a really good resource to check out if you’re looking for more guidance), communication with their manager is one of the most important issues for employees. Good communication, combined with respect and a focus on autonomy, can give employees the support and the space to develop their skills. In short, good leadership can inspire greater productivity and lead to better staff retention– in the age of the 2030 Skills Gap, something that your HR department will definitely thank you for. 

A woman on a phone sat at a desk

3. Continuous improvement – Gaining feedback

If you’re managing a team for the first time, it’s important to keep track of how your team, and how your line manager, think you’re doing in the role. This can alert you to any areas of your practice that you need to develop or improve in the short-term. 

Gaining feedback from those people is typically how you would do it. There are a number of ways that you could get feedback from your team.  You could easily bring up the topic in a typical one-to-one with a team member, asking them how they find your management style and if there was anything that they’d improve about it. This can be a good strategy to help ‘humanise’ you as a manager, demonstrating that even though you’re a manager, you’re still human and open to feedback. 

This blog by Indeed has some excellent advice on the best ways to gather feedback about your performance from your team. 

4. Management – Delegation

One of the crucial skills that a manager needs to do their job well is – you guessed it – the ability to manage tasks and assign work to others.  

In most work contexts, this means being comfortable with project managing a range of tasks and delegating work to the people most suited for it. As a result, delegation skills will be crucial to your success as a manager. 

If you’re a first-time manager, it’s likely that you probably don’t have much practical experience of delegating. You may have learned about delegation through any training you’ve completed or courses you’ve studied, but delegating in the field is a different kettle of fish compared to a thought experiment. 

Delegating is all about giving over responsibility for the completion of a task to someone else. To be able to do it effectively, you’ll need to balance the urge to micromanage with the need to give your employees autonomy to complete a task in the manner they see as most appropriate. You’ll also need to be able to identify the unique skills and weaknesses of your team, and which tasks they’d all be better placed to complete. 

Delegation is ultimately about assessing balance. If you’re looking for some more guidance, this blog by Forbes has some great advice about how to improve your delegation skills.

A man pointing at a screen in an office

5. Realism – Aligning expectations with reality

Most failures in management can be traced back to a failure to align expectations with reality., both when you’re engaging with your team and you’re interacting with other managers and departmental heads.  

How many times have you found yourself agreeing to work on a last-minute, urgent task with unrealistic deadlines, despite knowing professionally that this approach is detrimental to quality?

When working as a manager, you’re likely to be hit by a range of competing tasks thrown at you from other managers and senior staff across your organisation. This will require you to maintain a realistic overview of your team’s capacity, and, sometimes, align the expectations of other staff members who require tasks completed by your team urgently with reality by pushing back. 

Maintaining and enforcing boundaries when it comes to the reality of work that your team completes is a hard skill to master but one that’s absolutely essential to your success as a manager. 

Here are some of the best strategies to help balance expectations with reality when it comes to managing work requests: 

  • Use your emotional intelligence to navigate the situation and anticipate potential stumbling blocks
  • Adjust your goals to fit a changing situation and context
  • Be transparent
  • Be honest
  • Be clear and concise

6. Strategy – Building a positive company culture

It should be becoming clear that being able to balance competing demands is a key part of a manager’s skillset. That in itself is the key component of another essential skill to a manager: the ability to think and work strategically. 

A strategy is simply a plan to achieve a long-term aim. Throughout the course of your manager career, you’ll be called upon to implement strategies and make them a reality in the workplace. 

Of course, if you’re a first-time manager, this can be pretty overwhelming. One way to get used to this way of working is to gain some practice implementing a smaller strategy. 

One of the simplest strategies that many organisations use is the aim of building a positive company culture. A positive company culture has the long-term benefits of improving employee retention, improving the public perception of your brand and enhancing productivity. Focusing on building a positive company culture through your day to day actions can be a great way to develop your strategic thinking, as well as your ability to put strategies into action. 

A woman on a phone in an office

7. Confidence – Leading with confidence

Managing your team with confidence – with a faith that you know what you’re doing and that you can trust the validity and quality of your decisions – is absolutely essential when it comes to setting up success in your practice. 

Even if you don’t feel 100% confident in your abilities currently, ‘fake it until you make it’ is probably one of the best strategies that you can use to immediately boost your confidence. This fascinating article by Psychology Today explores the phenomenon, and the science behind it, in more detail. 

Essentially, the ‘fake it until you make it’ approach is relatively simple. You simply act as if you have the quality that you want – in this case, confidence. Your brain interprets your feelings and actions as being evidence that you must, of course, have that quality because you’re acting as if you do. It then works to reinforce that quality, effectively helping you to develop it. 

Adopting this approach can really help you to lead with the confidence that you definitely have – it’s just a case of discovering it. 

Manage with confidence

The seven skills we’ve outlined above are things that we consider essential knowledge for first-time managers. If you’re looking for help developing your skills, there are lots of different strategies that you could use. 

A cost-effective, practical way to enhance your management skills whilst still working is to study an online professional qualification from a professional body like the Chartered Managers’ Institute. Courses like these are flexible, able to be shaped around your life and your prior commitments. 

We hope you’ve found this blog useful and that it’s inspired you to develop your own management practice. 

Develop your management practice with a 100% online management qualification and download your free CMI course guide here.