What Skills Do Managers Need Today?

The fight for social justice, hybrid work models, and shifting employee expectations are changing the workplace. Change brings ambiguity and uncertainty that may require managers to adapt their mindsets and skillsets.

Today, the manager’s role has evolved beyond command and control. Take, for instance, Admiral Hyman Rickover, who was known as the Father of the Nuclear Navy. “He was a tough, hands-on leader who steamrolled anybody who got in his way — both inferiors and superiors. Such an approach would probably not work in today’s business or military,” says Thomas Sciance, consultant and AIChE Fellow.

Managers are now responsible for coaching their teams, overseeing complex workflows, and constantly communicating with employees and senior leadership. The pandemic has further changed the role of manager. “Employees’ lives have been disrupted by COVID. Many are trying to work from home while caring for and schooling their children. Managers, as a result, must become like concierges, meeting the needs and engaging employees wherever they are,” says Alyson DeMaso, founder of Raising Beauty, a holistic life-coaching practice.

“Empathy is the keyword now. During disruptive change, such as with the pandemic, managers need to be empathetic about the challenges their people are facing in their work and home lives,” adds Bruce Nilson, managing partner at leadership consulting firm Future Directions.

Follow these tips to become an effective manager today.

Practice resilience

Resilient leaders can bounce back from adversity and weather chaotic times. Resilience requires developing an agile mindset, allowing space for your emotions, and making conscious decisions. When you practice these skills as a manager, you help your team work more effectively.

Let go of the nine-to-five mindset

As the economy emerges from the pandemic, many organizations are adopting a hybrid work schedule that allows employees to work remotely part of the week. “When working remotely, your employee may be waking up at 6 AM to work on a task, attend an online meeting or two, and care for children in the afternoon. They may not finish the task until after their kids are in bed. As a manager, you need to understand they’re getting the work done, but not within the confines of a traditional workday,” says DeMaso.

Counter isolation with connection

Many employees are feeling disconnected and isolated because they are working remotely. “If you can’t be there with them in person, you have to work harder to ensure there is a personal connection. Make sure your employees feel they are a part of the team,” says Anthony Pollard, manager of process engineering at Renewable Energy Corp. For instance, you can schedule periodic check-in calls with each employee or get everyone together on a video coffee break for an informal chat.

Build trust to deepen engagement

“A good manager understands they need to develop genuine, trusting relationships with their people. Employee engagement is directly related to the quality of the relationship they have with their boss,” says Nilson. Build engagement by expressing confidence in each team member’s abilities and giving them credit when a project is completed successfully, especially in front of senior leadership.

Adapt your style to the team’s mission

If your group is goal-oriented, your role as a manager is to keep the team focused on moving toward its goals. This requires setting up meetings so group members have opportunities for close contact with each other.

“Process-oriented groups, on the other hand, depend more on training and methods development, and benefit from a softer, more collegial style of management,” says Sciance. As a manager, you might need to train your team to problem solve using methods like decision tree analysis and then coach them as they work toward a solution.

Leverage team members’ skills

Recognize each team member’s value and talents and connect these to the overall goals of the organization. “If a person isn’t in a job aligned with their skillset, move them to a better fit. Effective managers work with the hand they’re dealt by seeking to bring out the best in others,” says Nilson.

Focus on priorities and outcomes

In a remote or hybrid work environment, you cannot see what your employees are doing every day. “It becomes even more critical to set clear expectations and checkpoints for autonomous work,” says DeMaso. “Focus the team around how everyone can work together to get tasks done.”

Build your own support network

Tap others both in and outside of your organization for advice and feedback. Having a network can help you see things from a different perspective, adapt your approach, and manage job stress.

Communicate with clarity

Managers have always been the bridge between senior leadership and workers. “In this role, you are pivotal to the success of the organization. You have the power to talk about what’s really at stake and do so with clarity and empathy for others at all organizational levels,” says DeMaso.

This article originally appeared in the Career Connection column in the June 2021 issue of CEP. Members have access online to complete issues, including a vast, searchable archive of back-issues found at www.aiche.org/cep.