People Management Skills – Ultimate Guide – Managing Difficult People
By Jacky Clarke
By Jacky Clarke
This Ultimate Guide to People Management Skills will deliver answers and understanding to the following. You can jump to the sections with the links below:
In a world where the diversity in the workplace is only increasing, People Management skills mean more than just having the posture and the look of a boss. It is about forming and cementing relationships, providing the right motivation, keeping the team on track, understanding the needs of an individual and helping people meet their goals.
The benefits are undeniable, a great team will be productive, have drive and motivation, be happy and successful. Poor leadership and management can have a negative effect that can lead to low morale, poor performance and worse, the loss of valuable talent. Thousands of searches are made to try and find the 3 skills of a manager, the top 5 leadership skills or the 3 basic types of management skills. People also look for the best management skills, the type of skills you need to be a manager or leader. There isn’t a silver bullet for People Management skills, you need to work on a variety of skills and behaviours.
Let’s explore the difference between management and leadership, the skills, behaviours and models that make good people managers. In doing so, we will answer some of the core questions above.
People management is useful in all areas of business, although, when we think of business we may think of an office and people in suits and ties. However, another place we see People Management is in sports. It could be any team activity really. But, it’s easy to draw parallels with the world of football. The reasons why you need management skills as a football club manager is similar to why we need these skills in a typical business environment.
Long before the kick-off, the manager has to make sure they think about every aspect of the team’s performance. From having the right tools (the necessary kit in good order) to their physical fitness (training and diet) to the strategy to win the game. All these things are vitally important. However, once the players are on the pitch, the manager can only watch on.
Therefore, with People Management skills, the team has to be instilled with the mental strength, team spirit and motivation to win. If he or she fails to do this, the team will lack a sense of purpose. Communication on the pitch will break down, and there won’t be the will or stamina to beat the opponent.
Now read that football analogy again. This time picture your staff and team and ask yourself this question:
Do your People Management skills enable your team to achieve their goals (and in turn yours) by supporting them with the right tools, a positive physical and mental environment, clear goals and strategy, plus the motivation to succeed?
If the answer is no, don’t worry. This guide to People Management skills is here to help.
‘When leaders feel confident that they can produce creative outcomes, their subordinates become more creative.’ – Dina Krasikova
When people see these positive behaviours in their manager, they are more likely to copy those good habits. Basically, practice what you preach in all aspects of your work.
It is true that in a lot of cases, people do what they see and not what they are told. As a great leader, you should behave how you want your team members to behave. This could be simple things like punctuality, having a positive attitude and being a good team player.
People are more than just the eight or so hours they spend in the office. Getting to know your staff means you can notice if people aren’t acting like themselves. Often, when people aren’t performing well at work it is because they are struggling in another aspect of their life. Knowing your staff well enough and having that trust to have those conversations and get to the bottom of the issue is good for everyone. That person may need some flexibility around work to get things sorted in their personal life. Working together can help to solve things and encourage others to reach out for help. It can also create an engaged employee once the issue has been sorted out.
Working in a transparent and honest environment makes people feel safe. They know what is expected of them and the consequences if they don’t behave ethically. In addition, knowing that the rules are the same for everyone is comforting for staff. Treat everyone as equals without favouritism and discrimination.
Having the drive to be self-motivated is a great skill that your team can then copy in their own work life. One of the best ways to motivate your team to hit targets is to make the challenge fun. This could be making it a competition with prizes, or a monthly team reward for hard work. Simple things that go above and beyond to show your team that you appreciate them.
‘If you look after your staff, they’ll look after your customers. It’s that simple.’ – Richard Branson
The word ‘manager’ and the word ‘leader’ are often used interchangeably, that is people don’t always know there is a difference. Management and managers are an organisational position. They fit into the organisational chart and are responsible for managing a team of people, and reporting up the chain. Whereas leadership and being a leader is a quality that a person has. Not all managers are leaders and not all leaders are managers.
Leader or Manager: Which one are you?
To be a manager, you need to organise people and carry out the day-to-day management tasks, things like performance reviews, managing the team’s holiday schedule, monitoring attendance and sickness and dealing with any potential workplace grievances. Of course, these tasks are important and the team would be chaotic without this. However, these tasks don’t inspire team members to hit their targets and be productive and efficient.
Being a leader is being someone who inspires others to be their best self. A great leader leads by example, motivates people, provides guidance and builds a productive environment where team members get excited about doing their jobs.
People Management is a combination of the two, applied directly to people and not just to tasks. To manage people effectively, you need to connect with them and be able to organise them. Moreover, you must also be able to inspire them and guide them to reach the company targets and their own personal career goals. If you’re not sure how to do that, check out the section on 12 Practical Tips To Be An Excellent People Manager (below).
Management and leadership can be learnt. Taking time management courses and influencing skills training can help you better manage the day-to-day activities of your team. Equally, taking courses on motivational leadership can help you be a better leader. For further information, read our Leadership Skills Ultimate Guide.
‘My idea of management is that it is your job (as the boss) to find really good people, empower them and then leave them alone.’ – Ruth Reichl
We are the soft skills training provider to the UK Grocery Industry, helping Suppliers to win more business. They choose us because of our money-back guarantee, our relevant experience, and because we make their learning stick.
We have already talked about being organised, being a leader and being a motivator. Other important People Management skills are:
Making decisions for your team helps to set goals for everyone so people know what they need to do. Whereas being indecisive makes things unclear for people. They may then struggle to make their decisions and plan their day. People won’t thrive in an uncertain environment.
Have your eye on all the activities in the team at once. Try to be on the ball and be able to do more than one thing at a time. This means you are managing your time better and getting more done. Not to mention, that, your team can learn this useful skill from watching you get more done in your day. However, be sure that you are successfully doing each task rather than doing lots of jobs badly. You need to set the right example.
Communication is a subtle art form. How you talk to people, your tone of voice and your body language makes a huge difference in how people respond to you and the relationships people build. Professor Albert Mehrabian teaches us that communication isn’t just about the words we use, but also the tone and facial expressions during the conversation. Therefore, having an argumentative or disrespectful tone immediately gets people’s backs up. They may refuse before they even know what you’re saying to them. It doesn’t matter what position a team member holds, we should speak to everyone with equal respect, from the CEO to the new starters.
Listening to your team members is vital if you want to be a good people manager. Listening to people actively shows them you care about what they have to say. When you are listening to someone, instead of listening to reply, listen to understand what they are saying instead. James Cash Penney said, ‘The art of effective listening is essential to clear communication, and clear communication is necessary to management success.’
In a group of people, there are often personalities that clash and conflict that comes up. Sometimes, it’s as simple as the air conditioner temperature, but people don’t like to work in a tense environment. As a good people manager, you will be able to resolve conflict and negotiate a fair outcome to keep people as happy as you can and ensures you retain your talent over the long term. In this scenario, having a set temperature for the thermostat in winter and in summer that remains the same and encouraging ‘colder’ people to bring in extra layers and ‘warmer’ people to get a small fan for their desk can help to keep everyone happy. A simple solution that creates a happier work environment.
There will be people in your team who like to be challenged and develop. Moreover, there will be people in the team who like to just do their job and are happy to stay where they are career-wise. Effective team building requires you to recognise these driven people so you can develop and progress them. Also, ensure to still acknowledge the people who reach their targets but are happy to stay where they are. Both types are important in the team structure. The driven members could be trained up as deputy managers and encouraged to apply for progression roles in the future. Meanwhile, the reliable team members that want to stay where they are can keep your team going.
Making time to use the above six skills is essential. One-to-ones provide a good opportunity to work with your team on a personal, individual level. Take a look at our guide to maximise this valuable opportunity. Click on the image below for a higher resolution:
The concept of People Management skills has evolved through the ages as business and industry has developed. For example, in the 1800s-1900s, the main business activity was done in factories, work was very task orientated and Frederick Taylor’s Scientific Management Theory was the approach used. It focused on having tasks and rewarding or punishing workers that met or didn’t meet their targets. The focus was on results, with a mass of workers and a few managers at the top to oversee this.
Things evolved a bit in the mid-nineties with the Bureaucratic Management Theory by Max Weber. This theory added in more layers into the management structure and standardised the tasks that workers carried out. Eventually, it was noticed that not looking after your people led to a dissatisfied workforce and this reduced productivity.
This led to the Human Relations Movement and the start of Human Resources. Appreciating, and looking after people became the focus. This movement is still in place today, with Human Resource Planning essential to every business.
Henry Mintzberg believes that management is something that you learn with experience and he wants an environment for growing your People Management skills in every business. He thinks that there are five different organisation types, this is about how the business managerial structure is set up. For example, having no formal management structure, through to a very structured managerial setup. He also thinks that no matter what type of organisation you have, there should be six basic parts of the business. The details are less important than understanding the belief system he has. The part that applies to good People Management skills is ‘managerial roles’.
Mintzberg’s theory focuses on there being three different roles for managers. The interpersonal, informational and decision-making roles. Within these roles, there are skills to work on to be the best manager you can be. You will see once you have read the list below, that these are all skills that you may already have, or could develop without needing anyone else to do it for you. It is very empowering to know that you’re 10 steps away from being an even better people manager.
Delegating can succeed or fail, depending on how you do it
Abraham Maslow and Frederick Herzberg both created models on motivating people. You can see more about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and how this can be used in motivating people in the next section. We will focus on Herzberg’s model here.
Herzberg’s approach is that there are two parts to motivating people. Motivators, which are directly linked to the job being done and include things like recognition, promotion and the opportunity to progress. Then you have hygiene factors, these are the things that would demotivate people if they aren’t there. Things like the environment and the safety of the workplace are examples of hygiene factors.
Motivators are what is there and hygiene factors demotivate by not being there.
To be a good people manager you should be creating more motivators in your business area. You can do this by giving people variety in their daily tasks. This keeps people interested. Give your team members work at a level of complexity they find engaging. This will make them feel more accomplished at the end of the day. Finally, empower people to make their own decisions so they feel more in control of their working life.
You also want to remove any demotivators which would be the poor hygiene factors. Make sure people are in the right pay bracket, encourage a harmonious and happy work environment so people want to come to work. Encourage good relationships between colleagues and friends. Furthermore, be mindful to create a workplace environment that promotes good mental health.
As a manager, you need to be able to negotiate the management iceberg. The first part is everything you can consciously manage above the water, it’s what you can see, it’s tangible. The second part is all those things that lie beneath the surface and are more difficult to pinpoint. Here, you must learn to subconsciously manage and become more aware. The emotionally intelligent manager is able to navigate his or her way around it.
At a simple level, let members of your team know that you are there for them. Give them the confidence to reach out and ask for help. Indeed, this knowledge alone can boost your team. Even more, this encourages each team player to help another. However, be careful to not give the impression that you are the only one who can solve every problem that arises. Your goal is to empower, inspire and cultivate a team spirit.
With ever more challenging targets, customer demands and, of course, a group of people coming from different backgrounds, you can expect workplace conflict to arise. When that happens, the way to a swift resolution is having a conflict strategy. Take the time to understand the situation, gather tangible evidence, listen to the parties involved and where possible look for a mutually agreeable outcome. However, even when you take a position that isn’t neutral, don’t alienate the other party you rule against.
When you follow a simple strategy and act fairly, everyone is satisfied with the outcome.
Tip: Let your team members know how you prefer to discuss things; Catch up in a weekly 1-2-1? Email for non-urgent matters? A phone call if it is? Do not say, ‘I’m always available, just call me’, because they won’t.
In the book The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni, he talks about how trust is the cornerstone of any successful team. For the people you manage to deliver results, you have to trust them. How to do that is one of the People Management skills you need. If you don’t trust the people you lead, you remove the confidence they need to reach their potential.
It isn’t easy though. There is always a tendency to resort to unnecessary and even counterproductive micromanaging of your team. Stopping the habit starts with effective recruitment. In addition, it is necessary to provide training and establishing solid processes everyone can follow. It also involves treating your team members with respect; see them as partners, only together can you meet your goals.
Combine a lack of trust and micromanagement and you could be fostering some very negative conditions. In the worst case scenario, your team could actively rebel against you.
‘If you’re a business owner doing a lot of hovering, either you’ve got the wrong people, or you need an attitude adjustment.’ – Cynthia Kay
Passive listening makes the people you lead feel unworthy and undeserving of your time. Other bad listening habits include rushing to conclusions, and, worst of all, completing the sentences of those talking to you. These poor habits not only make you miss valuable information and subtle signs but can lead to strained relationships. Lack of effective communication is one of the main obstacles to performance.
How do you fix this? You need to actively listen.
You need to be fully present, stop everything you are doing and focus on the person talking to you. Also, pause before replying and never hesitate to ask for clarification. Furthermore, rephrase what you hear in your own words, so that the speaker can gauge whether you’ve understood them well.
Many experts agree that effective listening motivates the people who work with you. Therefore, it is one of the People Management skills you should strive to acquire.
Tip: Create ample time and space to listen to your team’s concerns.
One of the most valuable People Management skills is to encourage the mentality and language of ‘we’ rather than ‘I’. The ‘we’ perspective makes everyone feel that their effort in achieving team goals are appreciated. This is a key leadership and People Management skill that you should work on.
As the team leader, sharing the credit will earn you not only respect but also recognition.
Tip: If you want recognition share the credit.
The importance of delegating effectively can have a very motivating effect and lets you work on tasks that need your attention the most. Apart from making you more productive, delegating boosts team spirit as well as confidence. It also leverages the strengths of each team member. Remember to delegate to team members who are capable to carry out the task. This achieves two things at once. The person feels confident that they have the skills to do the job. Moreover, you as the delegator are reassured that the job will be done well because the overall responsibility remains with you.
Tip: Use the Eisenhower Principle of urgency versus importance to choose tasks to give to your team. Begin by letting your team handle tasks that are least urgent and least important. Also, don’t confuse abdicating responsibility with delegating!
Being part of the decision-making process grows a sense of ownership. Ownership creates more passion, dedication, and loyalty.
Good team management involves the team members in decision-making which ensures that you use the skills and knowledge of the team. Past experience, expert knowledge and creative thinking can go a long way in contributing to sound business decisions.
Tip: Develop the good habit of asking for feedback from your team members.
Confident people managers inspire those they lead to be creative and more productive. Confidence is one of the many People Management skills that enable you to make decisions, resolve conflict and command respect.
The first step to building your confidence is to accept that you are human, that you have strengths and weaknesses, and knowing yourself well enough to know what those are.
Exercising and demonstrating our strengths boosts confidence and gives us the energy that our people can feed off. Be mindful not to focus too much on any weaknesses you have. This can be draining and counterproductive. Knowing your weaknesses will help you to draw on your team members who have strengths in those areas. After all, your team is there to support you.
Confidence is being sure of what you know and who you are. Therefore, understanding more about yourself and new People Management skills and leadership skills should be part of your learning journey. Listen to what others have to say, read books and attend workshops that expand and deepen your expertise.
Confidence also goes beyond what’s inside, how we physically feel and look can affect us. Investing in a balanced, healthy lifestyle (with plenty of room for fun) is worthwhile. Also, work on your communication skills. Take a course, if you need to, on how to communicate with your body posture. While these might seem minor, they have an enormous impact on how people perceive you. This, in turn, influences how you feel about yourself.
Tip: Embrace the power of autosuggestion to grow your confidence. That means consciously programming your attitude.
Simply put, take an active role in what you are urging and directing others to do.
You are defined by your actions, not your words. Honesty, integrity and commitment are outstanding values, and when combined with the effective People Management skills we are talking about here, you can expect others to follow you and show the same behaviours.
Being in a position of authority means people will look up to you. Doing what you say you will and how you present yourself has a profound impact.
Exhibiting high standards earns respect. Uphold these and you’ll find your team doing the same. Be on time for 1-2-1’s and meetings, keep your word, reward a job well done, celebrate success. These gestures will plants seeds of trust and reliability within the team.
Invest time in living and breathing your values and standards, you will then see this mirrored in your team’s behaviour and performance.
Tip: Work to gain respect from your team.
This is where your intuition should help you make decisions. Prominent business leaders like Warren Buffet, Richard Branson and Oprah Winfrey are known to rely on their instincts.
In the absence of hard evidence, a well-reasoned hunch, validated where possible by data or the team, can be a leading light when nothing else seems illuminated!
‘Intuition is the natural intelligence that allows us to see ahead of the curve, to generate innovative ideas, to communicate powerfully, and to do so without having to study spreadsheets or gather piles of data.’ – Simone Wright
Tip: Read our Ultimate Guide to HBDI to help you understand how our brains work, especially in regard to problem-solving.
In his book, ‘Leaders Eat Last’, Simon Sinek states that good leaders and managers should show empathy. He explains why a good manager has to understand things from the other person’s perspective. Managing is more than just demonstrating good People Management skills; it’s also a responsibility to look out for others.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs highlights what motivates people in different ways; basic, psychological and fulfilment needs. Behaviour can change when one or more of these needs are not met. What this means for you is that sometimes you’ll have to dig deeper to understand a performance issue. People are more than just their job, a holistic approach to your team members well-being and a flexible give and take approach can show your team that you care about them as a whole person.
Take a look at our adapted Hierarchy of Needs for the modern workplace, below:
Take, for example, that one of your best team members misses several deadlines. After the first discussion (and possibly a reprimand), you learn their workload is OK and they are happy at work. Using sensitivity you’ll need to probe to find the underlying reason. It could be a difficult family situation, money problems or health issues.
The point is, sometimes the cause is outside of your control and what you can directly influence. You will need to work together with the person to come up with a solution that meets the needs of both them and the organisation.
In his book, ‘Accelerate’, John P. Kotter, emphasises on the need for understanding when managing people. He points out that you must look at things from your employees’ viewpoints. That way you will understand their driving force and come up with effective strategies that will motivate them even more.
Tip: Always imagine yourself in the shoes of those you manage to understand their perspective to situations.
It’s number 11 on our list of People Management skills, but it’s one of the most important.
It’s good to have a clear set of organisational values, a great strategy and engaging vision. We’ve all seen the motivational posters on the wall telling us all about it. Let me tell you a secret, they don’t get the work done. Sure they help with how you go about the work, but getting it done well, on time and by the right person? Not so much.
You need to be smarter, very SMART in fact. Having goals clearly defined, documented and integrated with good processes will increase the chances of success greatly.
However, it does even more than that! It helps people focus, prioritise and know what is expected of them….it also creates a sense of purpose motivation and ownership…AND you get to measure tangible results which means you can do more reward and recognition that improves performance and team spirit.
Phew! See why it’s important?
Tip: Check out the useful ready reckoner (above) to assess if your objectives are truly SMART.
Change is the only constant and it rolls at an ever-increasing pace. Being a good leader means staying ahead of the curve. Furthermore, being a good manager means being aware of what is on the horizon and keeping your team heading in the right direction.
Do nothing and you risk being overtaken by events, other people, or your own team. To stay ahead of the game, continually look to develop your People Management skills. Try to spare some time to learn every day. If you do that, your leadership skills will grow exponentially.
Tip: Use these 5 Steps to Overcome Resistance to Organisational Development and effect productive change.
The easiest way to develop your People Management skills is to attend a training session on the core skills and behaviours. This will help you understand the theoretical models in the classroom. This could be a People Management course, or a shorter course on one of the skills, for instance, feedback. It is then critical that you embed the skills by using them in your day to day role.
The suggestion for this would be to get someone to coach you. This could be an external professional or someone you trust in the business to push you. The main purpose of executive coaching is to help you think about your behaviours and skills differently. Moreover, to make sure that you are being held accountable for using the skills you have. You only become a better leader by pushing yourself to use new models and change your behaviours.
You can find further insight, detailed definitions and clarification of all the key People Management terms mentioned in this guide in our Glossary of Terms.
‘Good management is the art of making problems so interesting and their solutions so constructive that everyone wants to go to work to deal with them.’ – Paul Hawken
‘Employees who believe that management is concerned about them as a whole person, not just as an employee, are more productive, more satisfied, more fulfilled. Satisfied employees mean satisfied customers, which lead to profitability.’ – Anne Mulcahy
‘The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.’ – Ralph Nader
‘Management is nothing more than motivating people.’ – Lee Lacocc
‘Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us’ by Daniel Pink.
This book looks at how to be a good people manager by motivating people. Daniel compares extrinsic (from outside) and intrinsic (from inside) motivating factors. This just means the difference between rewards, such as, money or praise and being naturally satisfied from within.
He also looks at comparing two different approaches to tasks, one being a step following approach and the other a more creative approach to find out which is more motivating. Another concept it focuses on is flow. This has three parts: (1) having clear goals, (2) immediate feedback and (3) the difficulty level is set slightly higher than the capability of the person doing the task.
This book focuses on making the most of your team members’ individuality and strengths. Using interviews with experts in the field means you get to hear from lots of managers that do this well and learn from them.
Watch our People Management skills playlist from our YouTube channel:
Simen Sinek discusses how great leaders inspire action in his TED Talks video below:
In his TED Talks video, Dan Pink explores the puzzle of motivation:
Jacky is a training consultant with seven years of experience in developing individuals and teams. Passionate about helping people be the best they can be, she gained her CIPD Level 5 in Learning and Development. This gives her the ability to write in-depth articles that help readers think about topics in a new way.