Management Skills that are Essential for the 21st Century

When Performance Matters

Management Skills that are Essential for the 21st Century

In the current business environment change is a constant and yet we know that change is unsettling and therefore must be managed. Many businesses however see change management as the domain of a few specialists rather than an essential skill set for all managers.

This article looks at the broad range of skills needed by today’s managers and how these skills might be applied to better change management practices.

General Management Abilities

Before addressing the role of the manager as a change agent it is worthwhile to review the general abilities the manager requires. These are:

  • Treat the members of the group as individuals and delegate to them effectively
  • Enjoy trust and confidence of their staff
  • Participate while enjoying good working relations
  • Take risks where necessary yet must be patient
  • Must ensure that the group is well organised and trained to do the job
  • Set up excellent communications with the staff, colleagues and boss
  • Must accept the responsibilities of leading
  • Ensure corporate objectives are being met or worked towards


General Management Skill Sets

Given that an effective manager must have the abilities listed above, we need to look at the individual skills that will allow the managers the ability to display these characteristics and therefore fulfil their role to its greatest potential.

The skills can be divided into four areas:

Management Breadth

These are the skills which allow the individual to integrate and harmonise the diverse elements involved in managerial situations, using the resources available.

Thinking Power

The skills which the manager uses to think through problems systematically and develop new approaches.

Proactive Achievement

These skills enable the manager to choose and reach ambitious goals and to stay ahead of events.

Managing People

The skills which allow the manager to effectively work with and through other people to achieve results.

The skill sets within these four areas are listed on the following pages with examples of each being given. A few of course may be included in more than one area.


Skills Examples

Persuading or Bargaining

Flexibility of Argument

Perseption of Issues


Awareness of morale

Effect on others / organise activities

 Counselling / Coaching

Turn on/turn off others

Encouragement of others

Gaining commitment

Openness of communication


Passing work to others

Sensitivity to abilities of others

Getting things done through other people


Expression clear/unclear

Understanding: own and others



Identification of key tasks

Setting objectives

Approaching tasks clearly


Structuring tasks/resources

Making arrangements for task activity



Putting tasks in order of importance

Recognising first/second/etc actions



Contingency planning/activity

Changing in response to need

 Information Extraction

Looking for information

Awareness of information needs

Finding information


Distinguishing between elements of situation

Ranking variables in a situation


Testing Information

Controlled scepticism

Checking data and proposals

 Generating Alternatives

New ideas

Creative solutions

Objectives approached in a new way


Examining benefits of options

Looking for risks

Keeping objectives in focus


Choosing between alternatives

Looking for best approach

Keeping objectives in focus

 Risk Taking

Going for high pay off action

Conscious decisions to go for action

 Responsibility Taking

Being prepared to take the lead

Willingness to provide help


Utilising skills



Change Agents

Changes in an organisation need change agents, people to act as catalysts and manage the change process. A normal assumption is that change is initiated and implemented by 'managers' but in reality a change agent can be a non-manager such as a technical specialist or an outside consultant hired by the company. Often organisations will engage consultant firms for large change programs, such as major systems implementations. This has advantages and disadvantages in that while they may have extensive change implementation experiences they lack detailed knowledge of the culture, history, people etc.

The manager as a change agent should have the attitude of "If it is to be, it is up to me!" Where managers within an organisation are initiating and managing the change process it is critical that they accept that they are accountable and responsible for achieving the change required. The change manager should agree their role and what they are to achieve with their own manager. People, who despite effort to motivate the for their role, only partly committed to achieving the change should not be given change agent roles.

Introducing change invariable increases the potential for conflict. For a manager to be an effective change agent requires an excellent understanding of the nature of organisational conflict, its negative and positive functions and how to handle it, hopefully helped by the organisation's formal structures and processes.

Managers as change agents provide leadership to the change process. At the very least managers have the responsibility to listen to suggestions for change, even if they seem a little far out at times. Managers' responses fall into two categories:

º Reactive: tackling problems as they arise
º Planned change: anticipating problems yet to come

Processes Used by Change Managers

In planning and effecting change managers will use a variety of skills. Depending on the nature of the change these could include all or some of the following.

Strategic Planning

Planning that begins with defining the organisation's mission and includes scanning the environment to ascertain opportunities, merging this assessment with an evaluation of the organisation's strengths and weaknesses to identify an exploitable organisation-environment niche in which the organisation will have competitive advantage. Strategic planning means putting the processes in place that ensure an organisation or department is doing the right things.

Business Planning

A business plan explains how an organisation is to achieve its strategic goals. Business plans are key to providing staff with direction. Managers, as well as developing the business plan, must ensure that their employees have the responsibilities, skills and resources to accomplish the set objectives.

Organisational redesign

The purpose of organisational redesign (or restructure) is to ensure that people are employed within a structure that both enables and encourages the to make the full range of their expertise available to the task of implementing the organisation's strategies. Good redesign aligns an organisation with the strategy it is pursuing. It does not necessarily mean downsizing.

Organisation Development

Organisation development is a range of techniques to change people and the quality of interpersonal work relationships with culture change, team building, communication, performance management, and organisational redesign.

Cultural Change

Many organisations undertake change programs without addressing the change to culture –"the way we do things around here" - needed to succeed. The change agent must assess the organisation's culture against the overall change program objectives for alignment and effect change to culture where necessary.

Performance Management

Good change managers and change ready organisations integrate the achievement of change objectives into the organisation's performance management systems, with people being motivated for and measured against achieving the change objectives. Performance management should specific objectives and measures and have consequences – either good or bad – for people achievements and behaviours.

Management Development

The skills needed by change managers are those that will allow them to manage staff, build constructive relationships with their fellow managers and team, and to help their organisation achieve its strategic goals. Motivation and leadership skills are essential for effective people management, as is delegation and modelling the new behaviours they expect their people to display. Good change managers ensure that those managers involved in the change process have the right management skills.

People Management

If management development is about developing subordinates managers to ensure they have the right skills, change managers must ensure that they have the necessary people management skills to lead and manage others through the change process.

Relationship Building

Change managers need to quickly pick up the skills needed to communicate and build or maintain relationships with their peers, staff, customers, suppliers and to contribute as an equal (not superior) team member.



















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