Jory MacKay
Jory is a writer, content strategist and award-winning editor of the Unsplash Book. He contributes to Inc., Fast Company, Quartz, and more.
May 07, 2024 · 11 min read

What makes a good manager? 9 essential qualities and skills

What makes a good manager? 9 essential qualities and skills

Managers who build trust, provide mentorship, and inspire those around them drive a 70% increase in their team’s productivity and engagement. But unfortunately, it’s an upside many managers miss out on.

In reality:

Nearly half of all employees say they simply don’t trust their manager to have their back.

Despite a busy workload and multiple responsibilities, the best managers find a way to blend their hard and soft skills to deliver on their goals while providing support, direction, and guidance to their team.

If you’re a new manager or a leader looking to strike the elusive perfect balance, this article is for you.

Jump to a section:

In this guide, we’ll cover the common mistakes managers make, and how to overcome them with practical hints, tips, and techniques to help you grow into a manager your team will love.

What makes a good manager? (And what gets in the way?)

A good manager leads, mentors, and supports their team to achieve their goals while ensuring their team’s work aligns with the broader company strategy and objectives.

To do this, they must rely on various hard and soft skills, including communication, organization, and strategic thinking.

But proper team management is no small feat — especially with the constant distractions, changing workload, and company, team, and personal pressures that get in the way of being a great manager.

Here are just a few of the regular roadblocks that get in the way of being a great manager:

Illustration showing what makes a good manager and listing the points below

Being a manager is no easy job. Management is a full-time balancing act, where you’ll need to navigate different personalities, goals, resources, and setbacks to create a high-performing and adaptable team. To do all of this, you need a blend of hard and soft skills that enable you to become a master tightrope walker.

How to become a better leader today: 9 practical lessons

No one becomes a great manager overnight. It takes years of learning, practice, and making mistakes to get it right.

Nearly half of all employees say they simply don’t trust their manager to have their back.

To help you start your journey, we’ve pulled together nine practical tips and tricks to help you and your teams excel:

1. Get to know your team's strengths and weaknesses

As the famous saying goes, a team is only as strong as its weakest link.

While we all have weak areas, everyone has their strengths, too. As a manager, it’s your job to uncover those strengths and organize the team in a way that enables everyone to do their best work.

Practical tips and tricks:

Real-life example:

Florian has started a new Project Manager role, responsible for a team of three junior consultants: Sarah, Javeed, and Imogen.

Florian has a one-to-one meeting to get to know everyone and asks them to complete a Clifton strengths test. This uncovers that Sarah is a well-organized communicator, Javeed is highly analytical, and Imogen’s strengths lie in creative thinking and problem-solving.

2. Set clear goals and expectations

There’s nothing worse than feeling confused about your responsibilities. Not only does it make you less productive, but it can also cause stress and disengagement.

As a manager, you must be clear about the problems you’re solving and the tasks each team member will complete to contribute.

Practical tips and tricks:

Real-life example:

Florian’s project will deliver an updated mobile app to the organization’s customers. Florian breaks the overall project objective into a range of sub-objectives for the team to track their progress against.

Florian assigns each team member a role relative to their strengths, with Sarah as the Stakeholder & Communication lead, Javeed as the Business Analyst, and Imogen as the Solution Designer.

3. Consistent and clear communication

More than any other skill, mastering consistent and clear communication is key to staying aligned with team members. Everyone likes to communicate differently, so managers must adapt their style and technique to maximize performance.

Practical tips and tricks:

Screenshot of Planio showing the Planio Team Chat box open and users aksing questions

Real-life example:

Florian discusses the preferred communication styles for the project with the team. Given everyone works remotely, they’ll have to use video calls and IM chat to stay in sync. Javeed asks Florian to keep their communication structured via email or one-on-one meetings to help reduce distractions during his analytical work.

4. Make time to support team members and give feedback

Even the most independent of employees need support and guidance. The best two ways to offer support are to take a mentorship approach and find an effective mechanism to give and receive feedback. This way, you’re there to help without micromanaging.

Practical tips and tricks:

Real-life example:

As the team’s most junior member, Florian knows Imogen will need more structured support. They agree to use the ‘Stop, Start, Continue’ model in monthly catch-ups meetings to pass meaningful feedback.

Both Sarah and Javeed are more senior team members, so Florian takes a laid-back approach, ensuring he’s available to provide direction whenever needed.

5. Create an open and collaborative culture with team rituals

The highest performing teams have a bond that helps them create new ideas, overcome challenges, and deliver outstanding results.

That type of bond comes from a culture that enables everyone to collaborate while being open and honest about their successes and failures. As a manager, it’s your job to create that culture.

Practical tips and tricks:

Real-life example:

Florian’s team is adopting an Agile approach to their project delivery, using sprint planning and retrospectives to collaborate on their work openly and honestly. The team puts in place some other rituals to help them bond, including a monthly award for the biggest achievement and a post-weekend catch-up to share what they got up to.

6. Don’t shy away from conflict, instead manage it effectively

Conflict is an inevitable part of life, and that extends to managing a team too.

Many managers try their hardest to avoid conflict, but that’s a mistake. Sometimes, conflict can cause positive sparks, leading to creative ideas and innovative solutions, so it’s all about managing rather than avoiding it.

Practical tips and tricks:

Real-life example:

Florian’s team is getting along well, but he knows that conflict will inevitably arise at some point in the future. Florian studies some conflict resolution techniques, including compromise, negotiation, and active listening, to help him get the team back on track if ever he needs it.

Conflict is an inevitable part of life, and that extends to managing a team too.

7. Develop your own leadership and management style

While much of being a good manager is about looking after your team, you also need to be true to yourself. This is essential when it comes to building your own management style that aligns with your own strengths, weaknesses, and ways of working.

Practical tips and tricks:

Real-life example:

As a relatively new team manager, Florian researches different management styles. He completes the Fiedler Least Preferred Coworker (LPC) test to determine his natural leadership style.

He also asks the team the qualities and attributes they’d like to see most from him as a manager. He takes this information and decides to take a democratic approach to leadership, focusing on aligning and sharing decision-making across the team.

8. Master delegation to keep your own burnout at bay

With so much on your plate, the key to success as a manager is knowing when to delegate and when to keep them to yourself. If you try to take on too much, you won’t have the capacity to be there for your team and could drive yourself to burnout.

Practical tips and tricks:

Real-life example:

As a project manager, Florian is used to taking on high-pressure tasks and delivering them to tight schedules. As the team expands, he realizes he can’t do this all of the time, and needs to delegate tasks to balance the workload. He prioritizes his tasks and delegates those he can to the team members with the right skills.

9. Lean on collaboration tools to make your job easier

The life of a tightrope-walking manager is a busy one. To help make the tasks a whole lot simpler, the best managers use collaboration tools to keep everything their team does all in one place.

Practical tips and tricks:

Screenshot of the Planio issue list with the percent done shown clearly per issue

Planio includes powerful project and task management (for both Agile and traditional projects), custom workflows, built-in team IM and video chat, cloud storage, and more.

Real-life example:

As Florian gets established with his new team, he realizes he needs a way to keep everything organized. He researches several collaboration tools, with a focus on features to manage projects, store documents, and help communication. He chooses the right tool and sets it up for him and the team.

Don’t fall for these easy-to-make managerial mistakes

Even though management is hard, you can make life easier for yourself by avoiding several common pitfalls.

Let’s look at five of the easiest management mistakes to help you avoid them in the future:

Illustration of the managerial mistakes you could make listed below

Becoming a great manager is a lifelong endeavor. But the more you practice the necessary hard and soft skills and avoid the common pitfalls, the better you’ll become.

Your team will thank you for becoming a better manager

Becoming a great manager takes a lot of learning, practice, and the pain of making some mistakes. But like many things, the best way to progress is to take small steps, implementing little changes that build up over time.

If you’re new to management, the tips in the guide are a great place to start, helping you get the foundations in place to lead a great team.

But even the best managers need help, and that’s why so many use project management tools such as Planio. With features for time management, task tracking, communication, document management, and much more, it’s a one-stop shop to help you and your team turbocharge your project outputs.

Try Plan.io with your own team — free for 30 days (no credit card required!)