Do Managers Matter? The 10 Most Important Skills for Great Managers

November 4, 2018

[Updated August 2023] Did you read the title of this blog and wince a bit? I did too. I’ve been a manager for several years and don’t love the idea of people questioning our value. 

The reality is that a good manager has a significant impact on the employee lifecycle. But what makes a great manager? What are some qualities of a good manager? When I came across an article about Google’s multi-year research project on managers’ value and impact, aka Project Oxygen, I found their results both surprising and predictable all at once. They reveal the ten most important skills for good managers... so let’s dig into them!  

Causation Between Good Managers and High-Performing Teams

The evaluation started with reviewing manager ratings from an internal survey and performance reviews. The results showed that high-scoring managers have a significant impact on employee job satisfaction, retention and performance as well as innovation, work-life balance and career development. This is something we’ve also found time and again at Brilliant Ink in our own employee research. 

Here's How to Create Effective Manager Tools & Resources

But, What Makes a High-Performing Manager?   

In 2018, the team discovered ten common attributes of good managers. Some of my personal favorites include: 

1. Being a good coach 
2. Expressing interests in team members' success and personal well-being by creating an inclusive team environment
3. Helping team members with career development 
4. Being a good communicator 

Now, you may be thinking – duh! These are extremely predictable ‘good manager’ traits. But the point of identifying the traits was not just to know them, but to encourage and help managers embody these traits. 

Let’s take a look at the other six good manager skills. 

5. Empowering the team without micromanaging
6. Focusing on productivity and results 
7. Setting and maintaining a clear vision and strategy for the team 
8. Possessing key technical skills 
9. Collaborating with the team 
10. Making strong decisions  

Now What? 

Using this information, the Project Oxygen team surveyed direct reports to show managers how they scored against each attribute. For low-scoring attributes, managers were offered interactive, specific training that was immediately actionable.   

There were also panel discussions featuring high-scoring Google managers to share their best practices and ideas. Performance scores were monitored over the next two quarters and to no one’s surprise, scores improved!   

From looking at this research, it’s apparent that manager soft skills are more important than manager hard skills, and this remains even more important today with the demands of remote work.  

As our team predicted, we saw a rise in manager soft skills. Here are five ways you can help managers develop soft skills!  

So, Do Managers Matter? 

Undoubtedly, yes! And with candid feedback, good data, the right training and best practice sharing, you can grow and develop some rockstar managers. Thanks, Google, I knew I had an important job!

For more bite-sized brilliance, subscribe to our monthly employee experience newsletter, the Inkwell, and follow us on LinkedIn, Twitterand Pinterest!  

Learn 4 Ways Managers Can Improve Relationships with Employees
Lindsay McCleary

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