Is He Management Material?

Successfully managing people involves acquiring a cluster of skills. These can be learned.

April 12, 2018

You have a sales team of six and, although you’ve stepped away from selling, you’re still spending at least half of your time managing those salespeople. Should you bite the bullet and promote your best salesperson—let's call him Bob—to manager? God knows he’s dropped enough hints.

Or, let’s say you’re down a production manager—a critical position at any home improvement company. You'd rather reward someone internally with that promotion than go outside the company and hire someone experienced. You’ve got your project manager Pedro in mind. Yes, he can run a siding crew, but can he manage seven or eight crews at the same time, secure materials, assuage anxious homeowners, the whole thing?

Are You Interested in Management?

Sooner or later, every growing home improvement company will face the dilemma of whether or not to promote an employee into a management position. A seasoned manager hired externally presumably comes with the skills to step in and comfortably assume those responsibilities, but the employee you’re promoting will have to learn them. If he fails, you’ve failed. What are the chances a promotion like that will work?

There are plenty of capable managers in all businesses, but really good ones—those who rise above the level of acceptable mediocrity—are few. A common misconception is that a certain personality type is better suited for managerial roles. In actuality, “learning how to become a good manager just takes a little effort,” notes marketing manager Brianna Hansen. Effort implies willingness. Anyone in any job must self-manage and decide just how much passion and energy to bring to the work, but that depends on a lot more than your personality. 

Certain essential skills are required, of course, but ambition is also crucial. You need someone who wants to make more money and further his or her career, who truly cares about the job. Pedro may be intimidated by all that responsibility. Your star performer Bob may have no interest in managing others. Without those aspirations, an employee isn't likely to succeed as a manager. The best way for you, the general manager, to find out if someone is interested in management is to simply ask.

Three Broad Areas of Skill

Say they are interested. It’s far from a done deal: According to management organization Harmonics, 60 percent of new managers fail within the first year. What happens? Here's a list of 15 reasons why they fail, which includes performing managerial duties the same way he or she did as the star performer and immediately acting “as the expert, giving orders and direction." New managers need to know that becoming a manager will mean acquiring a host of new skills, including conversational and interactive expertise.

Social psychologist Robert L. Katz, an authority often-quoted in his field, divided managerial or administrative skills into three broad areas: conceptual skills, human skills, and technical skills. Conceptual skills involve ideas and are typically abstract—for instance, your sense of the organization and its purpose. Human skills involve—you guessed it—people: interactive skills that inspire, motivate, and explain. Technical skills involve things, or in construction, knowledge of how buildings are put together.

While managers need skills in all three areas, your first-line management is likely to be heavier on the technical skills, followed by human skills, with the least amount of time and energy focused on conceptual skills.

Learned Skills

When you’re suddenly in charge of a group instead of just yourself, the parameters change. A manager must be able to efficiently use not only his or her time, but the team's as well. How will you use the hours in your day, in your week? What are your expectations for how your team members use their time?

Possibly the more challenging skills needed in management involve interacting with other people. Jill Geisler lists 10 necessary skills for managers, including the ability to question conventional ways of doing things and challenging assumptions that govern how someone does their job. Other essential skills are emotional intelligence—reading the team and providing what it needs, whether that's optimism, constructive criticism, or tough love—and resilience. 

First-time managers also quickly find out that employees must be managed as individuals. “Be aware that people have personal lives and do the best you can to be sensitive to them,” advises WikiHow. “Treat everyone as your equal regardless of their title or position.” Everything ultimately relates back to having awareness of your team, both as a whole and as individuals. 

Motivate, Communicate, Coach

Effective managers hold the power to transform an employee's dull or onerous duties into something worthy of pride, self-esteem, and accomplishment, if they can bring together the aforementioned skills. 

Association for Talent Development (ATD) blogger G. Riley Mills cites an ATD study where 83 percent of respondents said that communication is most important to success and a Gallup study showing that 70 percent of employee engagement ties back to the manager's influence.

Failure to communicate expectations often trips up first-time managers but can be improved by frequent meetings with direct reports to discuss constructive feedback. Aspiring sales manager Bob will need to coach his team members in managing their time and follow up consistently in order to improve team output. New production manager Pedro will need to clearly lay out for his team how he wants roofs replaced and siding installed. 

Seasoned managers would agree that it’s especially important to give each person new opportunities. “Create a partnership with each employee, giving them a chance to grow and learn new skills,” advise Managing for Dummies authors Bob Nelson and Peter Economy. “Show them how you can help them meet their goals within the context of meeting the organization’s goals.”

When Bob or Pedro can do that, he will have crossed the line from manager to leader. Leaders and managers “are not the same thing,” notes Alan Murray in The Wall Street Journal. "The manager’s job is to plan, organize, and coordinate. The leader’s job is to inspire and motivate.” In order to be effective, you have to be something of both.

About the Author


About the Author


Philadelphia-based writer Jim Cory is a senior contributing editor to Professional Remodeler who specializes in covering the remodeling and home improvement industry. Reach him at coryjim@earthlink.net.

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