What makes a good manager TODAY— 5 critical skills

Image of leaves hanging on a line to demonstrate the changing role of a good manager.

The events of 2020 undeniably changed organisations around the world. The pandemic overturned the growth plans of many organisations, and the world of work as we know it has changed forever. The same can be said for the role of a manager and the skills they will need to thrive in this new environment.

Managers have had to get to grips with new leadership styles to support their teams in ways many of us never thought possible. They’ve been guiding their teams through hybrid, remote or nomadic working models, or even through a combination of all three. They’ve been supporting their teams to calibrate to a ‘new normal’ as well as adjusting themselves to an agile way of working.

So, what skills have managers developed as a result of the pandemic?

Many will have learnt to be more empathic — empathy has been crucial during turbulent times where almost everyone had been affected in one way or another by the pandemic. Good managers had to re-establishing psychological safety in their teams, so that whether working remotely or in-person, their teams have a sense of trust and can feel safe to share new and innovative ideas. And it goes without saying that flexibility and agility have been key skills required from managers more than ever before. Managers have needed to show a willingness to do things differently even if the way they’ve operated in the past has been successful – they’ve pushed themselves outside of their comfort zone to adjust to this ever-changing ‘new normal’.

A good manager will need to work alongside the tech

Managing change is part and parcel of being a manager — and a good managers needs to be prepared for the unpredictable. But the pandemic showed change on a new scale. It’s not only taught us some valuable leadership lessons for dealing with this, but also shifted the way we work, and has accelerated an inevitable challenge – the relationship between humans and technology in the workplace.

Whilst we knew that the world of work was shifting due to robotics and technology, COVID-19 appears to have increased that speed of change. As a direct result of COVID-19, larger organisations are now actively seeking new technology to undertake roles that would previously have been undertaken by humans at in-person workplaces.

The Future of Jobs Report 2020’ reported that 43% of businesses surveyed indicated that they are set to reduce their workforce due to technology integration. The report predicts that by 2025 the time spent on current tasks at work by humans and machines will be equal.

This means that 50% of an organisation’s work could be tackled by technology or robots. As a result, the way we employ and develop our existing managers must change, if we want to equip them with the skills they need to manage a thriving and productive integrated workforce of humans and machines.

So, what skills will managers need to not just survive but thrive in the future? How can your organisation support its managers in preparing for the future of work and, as a result, what impact will this have on management training and leadership programmes?  

Why do managers need to change?

Why do managers need to change?

You may be familiar with a management theorist called Henri Fayol. He was a French Mining Engineer from the 1800’s who founded a general theory for business administration, often referred to as Fayolism. In his theory he outlined five basic responsibilities of a manager that still resonate in the workplace almost 100 years later. These five responsibilities are planning, directing, staffing, organising, and controlling. These ways of managing have worked for over a decade and can be implemented best in a stable work environment, but with the current challenge of rapid change this model is becoming outdated, and good managers are changing the role through adapting themselves to meet the demands of today.

The idea of AI and automation technologies still feels a little bit like a sci-fi movie, but in practice they are already rapidly changing workplaces and starting to affect a manager’s role. Organisations like Gartner aim by 2024 to take on almost 69% of a manager’s current workload through technology such as: VPA’s or virtual personal assistants and RPA’s or robotic process automation – like chatbots.

How much a manager’s role will change over the next 5 years will depend on their industry and employer – but whether these changes take place over 5 years or 10 years, change is on its way and managers need to be ready for it no matter the industry or organisation.

What skills do managers need to thrive

What skills will a good managers need to thrive?

Whether you are looking to upskill your team of existing managers or seek out desirable skills for future candidates, here are the skills that managers of the future will need if they want to thrive in a workforce consisting equally of technology and humans.

1. Be ‘Tech-savvy’ not ‘Tech-shy’

AI and automation are already taking over many administrative management tasks, so it goes without saying that managers will need to be upskilled in technology. As we advance into the future it becomes imperative to introduce newer and more developed technologies to transform the workplace into a more productive environment – we therefore need to turn from ‘tech-shy’ to ‘tech savvy’. A good managers will have the skills to continuously educate themselves on new operating systems so they can keep up with emerging issues.

2. Innovation is key

The time of technology, AI and robots will be an experimental phase of the workplace, so managers will need to react to problems creatively. Innovation is critical to having a sustainable business and innovative managers are key to helping your organisation stay fresh and filled with new and creative ideas. Innovation drives businesses to remain competitive and to stay ahead of competitors; managers who are innovative are great problem solvers as they adapt quickly to drive solutions.

Useful innovation isn’t always about discovering the next big thing – it’s often about harnessing those everyday opportunities to improve. Without ideas, there is no innovation. Idea generation is a core element of problem-solving for continuous improvement. Helping your managers to understand the complete cycle of innovation can help them to solve problems, deliver continuous improvement and generate new ideas for the future of the workplace.

3. Emotional intelligence

Though it may not seem obvious at first glance, there is a huge link between innovative managers and emotional intelligence. An emotionally intelligent manager is someone who can relate to their colleagues, motivate teams, resolve conflict, and inspire others to take positive action. The greater your emotional intelligence, the more creative and innovative you can become.

Over the next 10 years, it’s expected that emotional intelligence will become a more prominent component as part of business values, to meet the demands of Millennial and Gen Z workers. Managers who have a heightened emotional intelligence can assess what isn’t quite working in their teams and adapt, as they are able to understand their teams’ perspectives and teams will become more and more diverse. As Gen Z enters the workforce and baby boomers retire, there will be a cross-generational collaboration and it’s a manager’s job to make this collaboration work – managers and leaders will need to be inclusive and sensitive to everyone, so the greater the level of emotional intelligence, the more successful the team.

What does this mean for the future of management training programmes?

What does this mean for the future of Management Training Programmes?

Quite simply, it needs to adapt!

Prepare for Technology that doesn’t exist… Yet

One of the biggest gaps in a manager’s tool kit right now is technology and preparing for technology that doesn’t exist yet. This may feel like an impossible task, but there are ways we can help managers to get ready for a shift in technology; helping them to develop a growth learning mindset is a great step in that direction.

Lifelong learning is the key to career progression and taking ownership over our learning can help us move towards becoming tech gurus. Equipping your managers with the practical tools to drive their own learning and development will get them into the habit of experimenting and trying new things when it comes to technology.

Consider adding a module about ‘Managers Mindset’ into your Programme – have your participants research Carol Dweck’s work on growth and fixed mindsets or check out our ready-to-go 100-minute virtual workshop on developing your growth learning mindset that can be flexed and built into your Programme

Alongside a growth mindset, there are some additional things you can do to help your managers when implementing new technologies: –

1. Help your managers to understand the logic behind the move to a new technology.

Before you start any efforts to describe the details of new technology or train them on how to use it, you have to first demonstrate its value. The proof really is in the pudding. Some solutions reduce the time required to drive a goal; others eliminate the need for people to perform repetitive tasks.

Once you can demonstrate how a tech solution can help your people, they will begin to get on board. If you can help managers to see its effectiveness, the way they communicate the change with their team will be more positive and will contribute to the overall success of its implementation too.

2. Provide a cheat sheet.

Providing a cheat sheet is a really simple way of helping managers get to grips with new technology. In your cheat sheet include step by step user guides, examples of problems that could occur and how to fix them, reminders of problems or challenges they may come up against, any rules used to solve problems and definitions of terminology or a glossary of lingo to ensure your managers speak the tech language… this aids the communication in the early stages of implementation.

3. Be supportive and upskill them on dealing with change!

One of the main reasons managers feel hesitant about the implementation of new technology, is that they expect to feel resistance from their team. So, help managers and their teams by upskilling them to deal with change. Check out our 100-minute virtual workshops to help managers to lead change and manage change.

4. Create a Culture of Innovation

To create true innovation it needs to become part of your management culture. Innovation and ideation require managers to be open-minded and create a safe space where their teams can create new ideas and feel safe to make mistakes, as studies highlight time and again that failure is a crucial part of the learning process. The great news is that once you’ve encouraged your managers to embrace a growth learning mindset, you’re halfway there.

For innovation to be born our managers need creativity and vulnerability. People need to feel safe to fail to be both creative and vulnerable. Therefore, it’s imperative that we help our managers to create an environment of Psychological Safety in their teams if they are to innovate in the future of the workplace.

In Management Development Programmes, if we are to help our managers and their teams succeed and be innovative, we will need to support them to create an environment of psychological Safety. Check out our blog ‘How to Build Trust and Psychological Safety in Teams’ for more information and ideas.

5. EQ Testing

By improving a manager’s emotional intelligence, they will be more able to build productive relationships and leverage the strengths of their team. In fact, the World economic forum found that 90% of top performers are high in emotional intelligence. This means that having a high emotional intelligence increases performance as well as people management skills. Emotional intelligence is important, it’s part of who we are, and as such it impacts every aspect of our lives including our work. A good manager will need a high emotional intelligence for the future of work, as we move into a more diverse society. The first step towards improving emotional intelligence is to know your start point and this can be achieved through EQ testing.

Building an EQ test or assessment into your Management Development Programmes will help managers to identify their strengths and where they can improve emotionally. You could also consider building this into your on-boarding process or hiring process as part of a pre-employment test to help identify great candidates for future management positions. Once you have identified areas for upskill you can then use this information to build and tailor a programme that flexes to your managers, instead of proceeding with a ‘one-size fits all approach’. Grouping your managers based on their strengths and areas for emotional intelligence improvement, would be a good way to use your programme to develop them as individuals.


The future of work is fast approaching, and it’s important that organisations help their managers expand their skills now and get ahead of the technology curve. Done well, we could see management development programmes change dramatically, as we work on the personalized development of individuals to raise their skills and capabilities to levels which allow them to perform as outstanding managers of complex teams. 
If you’d like to find out more about how at VTT are supporting organisations with the delivery and design of virtual Management development programmes and preparing managers for the future of the workplace, get in touch by contacting us here.

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