6 Core Skills of a Brilliant Manager

  • 3GHR  
  • 13 October 2018

People say many things about management, but one thing they seldom say is that the job is easy. If it were, we wouldn’t have such dismal employee engagement rates, hovering around the 30% mark (source: Gallup). 

In contrast with leadership, management is fundamentally practical and goal-oriented. It’s by no means a simple job, but small improvements in key areas can result in big improvements, especially when a manager is responsible for getting the most from a team of employees.

Many managers are promoted because of excellent performance in a specific role. But this does not necessarily translate into an ability to manage people, finances, or even yourself.

This article pinpoints six core areas that managers should focus on; where it’s easy to stumble, but where improvements can make the difference between running an empowered, effective team or failing to deliver against basic managerial goals.

These six skills – or attributes – are all areas that management development can support, but that need to be embedded within the person’s way of working, in order to make a real difference to performance.

Be accountable

Good managers have the strength to hold people accountable for the important stuff they need to get right. It’s easy to default to micromanagement of small details, but what most matters as a manager is keeping the important work on track: the complex projects, the big-ticket budget items, the key strategic initiatives. Numerous studies show managers have chronic problems with accountability.  In a 2018 Workplace Accountability Study of over 40,000 employees across industries, 85% of people indicated that they did not have a clear understanding of their organisation’s top three to four key metrics (the results that are strategically critical to the success of the business).

Given this data, it’s no wonder that 72% of managers claimed that they were holding people accountable, but rarely with success. Lack of clarity contributes to a lack of accountability in the workplace.

Execute what you set out to do

Simply put, execution is everything in management. Business is not a theoretical or academic concept. Far from it.  An excellent idea counts for nothing if not properly executed.

You may remember the old quote, “The devil is in the detail.” Operations matter. Banks need to be experts in managing finances, and construction firms need to build things that people want to buy. Managers will always be judged on execution. On results.


Good managers need to consider how effectively their team gets done what they need to achieve? Were targets reached? How productive is the team, or how innovative? Experienced managers need to be adept at always keeping their eye on the executional ball – it can make the difference between managerial success and failure.

Be patient

Patience is vital in a managerial role. There’s a long list of things that managers need to do every day: tasks set by their own manager or senior team, deadlines, the grinding pressure to do more with less, IT problems, managing clients, strategic initiatives and the rarely straightforward job of guiding, mentoring and supporting a team of people with diverse needs. Everyone also has a home life, and sometimes that can bring further pressure to bear.

Juggling all this can be stressful. Prioritising tasks not just based on urgency but on importance, constantly re-evaluating priorities and successful delegation are all key. Patience is a virtue! Managers that expect to complete their “to do” list daily rarely succeed. This self-imposed pressure and stress can have a huge impact on the morale and productivity of the whole team.

Employees appreciate being treated with patience when things go a little off track. They’ll often remember it and reward managers with better effort down the line.

Be thoughtful

Great managers have the thoughtfulness to take a modest amount of time to praise people when it’s deserved. They avoid the all-too-common trap of being parsimonious with praise. On the flip side, it becomes meaningless if cheerfully delivered every week regardless of individual and team performance, or what has happened in the past seven days.

Well-placed praise is one of the simplest and best management investments managers can make. It costs nothing and motivates effectively. Why don’t managers use it more? We believe in appreciating people; it’s a core part of how 3GHR works with clients and evident in all our training, from executive coaching to bite-sized modules for managers that are new to role.

The skills of giving and receiving feedback are also a vital part of being a thoughtful manager. Perhaps that’s why the giving and receiving feedback module has become one of our most sought out training interventions in the last few years. Pre-register your early interest in our free “Giving Feedback” webinar, scheduled for later this summer.

Be fair

People have a natural tendency to “play favourites”. This is a perfectly natural human tendency.  Some employees are more likable, more flexible, more willing to help. Others are more difficult or challenging to manage. And the larger and more diverse the team, the more evident this will be.

Good managers keep their personal emotions in check, and resist the understandable tendency toward favouritism. By taking the time to account for every employee’s mindset and personal circumstances, they can build a deeper understanding of how to help every team member achieve more. And by resisting the tendency to favour a few high performing or highly likeable people, they will earn respect from the whole team.

Be well

When a manager is unhealthy – physically or mentally – this has a huge impact on their team. In many cases this manifests as stress, poor decision-making, a lack of patience, and the inability to take the time to get to understand what makes team members tick.

But there are impacts on the manager himself or herself too. Mental health – especially stress-related – is a huge issue in the workplace. And relying on a corporate wellness program as the main strategy for improving employee health is like throwing a drowning person a textbook on how to do breaststroke. People learn by example, and they learn by doing.

When managers build work environments with less damaging stress, people report significant improvements in productivity and health. Businesses experience reduced levels of absence from work, with those that are off sick staying off for a shorter time. People are more likely to turn up to work enthused and less likely to underperform because of illness, boredom or emotional distractions.