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Career Advice

9 Skills You Need to Master Before You Become a Manager

Posted by Emily Moore

Last Updated November 9, 2021
|6 min read

There’s no doubt that being a manager has its perks — increased prestige, recognition from upper management, and a higher paycheck among them. But as with anything worth aspiring to, it’s not all fun and games. As a manager, there are plenty of times you’ll find yourself in tough spots. Maybe you need to let someone know they’re no longer a good fit for their role, or smooth things over with an upset client.

Because of that, it’s important that you don’t simply jump into a management role without having prepared for it first. If you want to do it right, there are a number of skill sets that you should build up first. So before you throw your hat in the ring for a manager position, make sure that you’ve got these 9 traits down pat.

1. An Understanding of Budget and Financials

Even if you don’t work in a particularly quantitative field, understanding budget and finance is critical if you want to climb up the corporate ladder. The higher you go, the more people expect you to prove the impact that you and your team are having.

“Managers must always know what the numbers mean: how they were derived and what they may or may not hide,” says Roy Cohen, career coach and author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide. “As a manager, you cannot blame others for mistakes if you are clueless about the process by which they are reported. It is viewed as lazy and irresponsible. Even if you overlook a flaw at least you can explain why the oversight occurred.”

Suffering from numbers-phobia? Don’t worry — you can easily brush up your skills if you take a course in accounting, budgeting, or spreadsheet analysis, Cohen says.

2. Delegation

Control freaks, you’ll want to pay especially close attention to this one. As a manager, you’re tasked with not only your own projects, but also overseeing others. With that added level of responsibility, you often simply won’t have the time to single-handedly take on everything that needs to get done. And when that moment comes, you need to know how to hand it off.

“An important part of getting things done as a manager comes through delegation,” says career coach Angela Copeland. “You have to learn to let go and rely on your team. And, most of all, you’ve got to trust them. The happiest employees are those who feel they have a supportive boss who trusts them to get the job done.”

3. Prioritization

On a similar note, the limited bandwidth and resources you’ll have as a manager will also make identifying the most mission-critical projects and tasks essential.

“As a new manager, you will inevitably be asked to take on more than you and your team have the time or budget to do,” Copeland says. “The ability to prioritize initiatives will propel your management career forward. It will allow you to set reasonable expectations for your manager, and will help shield your employees from burnout.”

4. Basic Technology

If you don’t already know your way around a spreadsheet or PowerPoint, it’s high time that you start figuring it out.

“The ability to prepare spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations and other documents is a lifesaver for executives who cannot always rely on administrative support; particularly for those who are road warriors or who work for leanly staffed companies,” Cohen says. “The same [goes] for a basic understanding of tech troubleshooting. When you are dependent on those who are junior to you to rescue you from a crisis, you lose your power and authority.”

5. Communication

Strong communication skills are always a boon in the workplace, but if you’re leading a team, they go from a plus to a must. You’ll likely find yourself having to provide constructive feedback, navigate crises, and possibly even let people go — all of which require a delicate hand.

“Hard conversations are important as they cause growth and change. But, change is also painful, so these conversations are not easy. To be an effective manager, you have to be prepared for the hard conversations,” Copeland says.

6. Emotional Intelligence

One of the traits that will help you hold these difficult conversations? Emotional intelligence.

“A huge part of developing and retaining successful employees boils down to emotional intelligence,” Copeland continues. “Having empathy and an understanding of others will help you to motivate your employees to get on board with your vision. This is also a critical skill when it comes to selling your ideas to higher level executives.”

7. Project Management

Being a manager means you can no longer shrug off the missteps of others on your team, brushing it off as not your fault since you took care of the individual items you were assigned. As a more senior employee, you’ll be expected to see things through from start to finish — no ifs, ands, or buts.

Project management represents virtually every aspect of your role as a manager,” Cohen says. “No matter what your role and responsibilities as a manager [are], you will need to know how to motivate and inspire high performing teams to work together collaboratively and with a shared commitment.”

Don’t worry if you aren’t a certified professional project manager, though, says Cohen. “You just need to understand the process and to appreciate that members of your team each bring different work styles and motivators to their job. It may be enough to read a book on effective project management and leadership. Perhaps identify a senior mentor to help you stay on track,” he suggests.

8. In-the-Trenches Experience

However, just because you’re spearheading a project doesn’t mean you won’t be expected to get your hands dirty with day-to-day execution, either.

“Be willing to roll up your sleeves. When your team knows that you can perform in the job in a pinch, they are less likely to cut corners and you are better able to establish both your authority and credibility quickly,” Cohen says. “Work alongside them on occasion as a reminder that you know your stuff.”

9. Backbone

As the old saying goes, heavy is the head that wears the crown. Being a manager often requires that you make tough decisions and stand for what you believe in.

“Being a manager will push your boundaries of right and wrong. Before becoming a manager, you need to develop a strong sense of your personal values and the courage to stick up for them,” Copeland says. “You should be comfortable standing up for what’s right, even when it’s not comfortable. Your employer and future employees will thank you.”

It’s important to develop empathy, but still know “the difference between BS and the truth,” adds Cohen. “Good managers are fair and reasonable. But they are not milquetoast. They have learned how to be assertive while identifying and addressing their own weaknesses.”

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