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In recent years, much business and leadership education has focused on the quantitative or "hard" skills necessary to be an effective manager. Although the importance of technical skills like financial management cannot be understated, effective management also requires "soft," or qualitative, characteristics that cannot be easily measured. While there are literally dozens of soft skills that comprise a great manager, communication, leadership, delegation and trustworthiness are some of the most important qualities.
On any list of desirable soft skills, communication is usually near the top. This doesn't mean you need to be an inspiring orator or a brilliant wordsmith, but you need to be able to communicate professionally and clearly to senior management, employees, customers and other stakeholders. Good communication skills ensure that your ideas are understood and that your department can move forward toward meeting its goals and priorities. Proficient communication skills help you build strong relationships with your colleagues.
Leadership is another sought-after skill for managers. Some may argue that leadership is a hard skill, as there are certain technical aspects to being a good leader. However, leadership qualities are generally based on one's personality, experience both in and outside of work and a personal philosophy, so this is also a soft skill. While different organizations need different types of leaders at various times, in general, leadership is important because companies need individuals who can not only motivate others, but also provide guidance and direction and implement strategic plans.
Listening skills are important for all professionals, but especially for managers. Learning to be an "active listener," that is, truly listening to what someone else is saying and digesting their words before formulating a response, shows respect for others' ideas and opinions. Being a good listener also ensures that you have all of the facts before you make a decision or try to solve a problem, an important skill for a leader.
Successful delegation is often cited as an important skill for managers. Not only is it impossible for any one person to handle all tasks, but failing to delegate can lead to micromanaging and other problems in the department. Managers need to not only be willing to delegate responsibilities, but also to determine who to delegate to and when, and to effectively motivate those individuals to follow through on the assignments.
Effective managers can evaluate situations, recognize potential -- and potential issues -- and make decisions based on the consideration of multiple variables and points of view. Being able to think critically has become increasingly important as the pace of business has increased, and managers are faced with more complex decisions every day. Being willing to question assumptions, look deeper than the surface and find potential in every situation is an important skill.
You will never be able to effectively lead others and motivate them to perform if you are not trustworthy. Managers must remain true to their word, be transparent and be willing to admit mistakes if they expect others to do the same.
Most managers are expected to work across departments, coordinating with others to implement plans and develop strategies. As more businesses move to a cross-functional team environment, a manager's ability to network and build working relationships across the organization becomes more important. Proactively networking and getting to know other managers can help propel your career forward.
Great leaders are those who are able to recognize a job well done and give credit where credit is due. Showing appreciation with a simple "Thank you" can go a long way toward motivating a team, but publicly acknowledging and celebrating accomplishments builds loyalty and commitment.
Even in the most functional teams, there are likely to be issues with employee performance and discipline. It's important for leaders to handle disciplinary problems swiftly and fairly, because failing to do so can undermine their authority. Effective leaders address problems as soon as they occur, follow established procedures, implement strategies for correcting the problem and follow through on those strategies.
Last, but not least, managers must be able to motivate their teams. This requires understanding your team, what they value and what gives them purpose. Motivational leaders keep employees in the loop and help them understand their impact on the company. They provide opportunities for growth, and they create meaningful reward and recognition programs to keep employees happy and productive.
An adjunct instructor at Central Maine Community College, Kristen Hamlin is also a freelance writer and editor, specializing in careers, business, education, and lifestyle topics. The author of Graduate! Everything You Need to Succeed After College (Capital Books), which covers everything from career and financial advice to furnishing your first apartment, her work has also appeared in Young Money, Lewiston Auburn Magazine, USA Today, and a variety of online outlets. She's also been quoted as a career expert in many newspapers and magazines, including Cosmopolitan and Parade. She has a B.A. in Communication from Stonehill College, and a Master of Liberal Studies in Creative Writing from the University of Denver.