Top 5 Skills for People Managers


Are you an individual contributor ready for that next step? Are you managing staff now but want to do a better job? If you’re wondering what it takes to be a people manager and how you can develop or refine your expertise, read on for the top five skills people managers should have.

What is people management?

People management is a complex and challenging area that requires the balancing of time, resources and productivity to effectively meet organizational objectives. Part science, part intuition, good people management means tailoring your approach regularly to motivate, develop and retain good employees.

There are a number of amazing leadership books that can guide you on your journey – some of my favourites include:

This doesn’t include classics like How to Win Friends and Influence People, the 7 Habits of Highly Effective PeopleThe One Minute Manager and others. But they’ve all got one thing in common – inspiring, thought-provoking advice on how you can be your best, authentic self and get the most out of your teams.

What makes a good people manager?

Depending on your organization, personal style, and team size, there are many different ways to be a good people manager. Context is super important here – there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach to people management as all people are different! However, research and experience has shown that there are several skills that are particularly important for people managers to have.

Let’s take a look at the top five:

#1 – Leadership Skills

People managers must be able to inspire and motivate their team members, and lead by example. But what does this mean? There are a number of different leadership styles that will help clarify how to demonstrate your skills. I use Facilitative Leadership which means I collaborate with team members and provide direction without taking control. Some of the skills facilitative managers use include being impeccable with their word, celebrating others’ accomplishments, listening for what’s NOT being said, understanding team members’ motivations/desires, testing assumptions, finding opportunities for those who want them, making difficult decisions and handling conflicts. Some of the traits I use to demonstrate leadership are integrity, humility and conviction.

#2 – Emotional Intelligence and Interpersonal Skills

Great people managers understand the value of strong working relationships. They are self-aware and manage their own emotions, as well as understand the emotions of others. They work to create a safe and productive work environment for all, handle difficult situations and anticipate reactions accordingly. The best people managers I know demonstrate both adaptability and emotional resilience – they’re not quick to fly off the handle when something goes wrong. They pause, reflect, adjust and move forward.

#3 – Communication Skills

Effective two-way communication is essential for people managers, as they’re responsible for communicating with staff at all levels of the organization. Good people managers listen first – and create an environment where staff feel safe and heard. Middle managers in particular need exceptional communication skills as they’re sending and receiving communications from everyone around them, including providing feedback and guidance, delegating tasks, and communicating expectations and goals.

#4 – Problem-Solving Skills

People managers must be able to anticipate, identify and solve problems within the team, both individually and as a group, as well as more broadly along their business lines, to improve the overall performance of the organization. Over the years, I’ve learned that asking staff for their input on solutions generates the best outcomes as they’re often the closest to the problems. Flexibility and collaboration improve both employee engagement and buy-in on decisions.

#5 – Critical Thinking

People managers must be able to think strategically, both in terms of their team and the organization as a whole. They must be able to understand the broader business context, identify opportunities for growth and development, and make decisions that support the long-term success of the organization. They must be willing to challenge norms, take risks and look for efficiencies in order to support and protect their teams. Staff are able to do their best work when they trust their manager has their – and the organization’s – best interests in mind.


These are just a few examples of the many skills and abilities that people managers need to be successful. Different skills will work in different organizations, at different times, with different employees. Your own approach will be a blend of your experiences, values, and learned people skills like the ones above.