Dr Elanca Shelley is the course convenor of the UCT Graduate School of Business Postgraduate Diploma in Management Practice. Image: Supplied.
JOHANNESBURG -  As you progress in your career, you’ll need to spend less time on technical skill and more time dealing with people. Learning the art of management practice will help you navigate the challenges of collaborating with others to get more work done. 

Demand for middle managers is on the rise. According to Career Junction, vacancy levels for middle managers or department managers grew by 17% from January to October last year – and management skills are second on the list of the most wanted skills in South Africa.

No matter what industry you are in, a managerial role involves managing people, even more so in today’s interconnected world where there is a growing emphasis on networks and connectivity between people and groups of people. But managing people can be one of the most daunting challenges facing anyone in their career. When it comes to dealing with people, technical skill can only get you so far. Being good at your job is one thing, but effectively leading a team of people to be good at their jobs is another matter.

Managers also experience the added pressure of needing to manage diverse stakeholders with differing expectations and viewpoints, both inside their organisations and outside of it.

Faced with all of this, what are the essential management skills you need and how do you go about acquiring them? 

Successful management development should cover the following five principles:

1. Manage yourself before you can manage others

The bottom line for effective management is that you cannot manage other people unless you know how to manage yourself and your interactions with others. This requires reflection and self-knowledge to understand your own blindspots, strengths, weaknesses and limitations. Only once you fully understand how and why you behave as you do, can you hope to influence others for the better. Self-mastery goes hand-in-hand with developing better interpersonal skills and more effective communication techniques


2. Check your values

What many people may not realise is that how you conduct yourself, how you approach things and how you make decisions, is grounded in your values. Part of self-development for better management means taking the time to explore the values that drive you and also assessing whether there is alignment between your personal values and those espoused by your organisation. Of course, it is a utopian vision to expect everyone’s values in an organisation to be the same, but there should be some commonality to avoid the underlying tension that comes from needing to uphold your own values versus doing, or asking other to do, what the organisation expects you to.

3. Learn to filter the noise

One of the factors that contribute to the increasing complexity of our work environment is the sheer amount of information available to us. And we are not always sure if it’s accurate, relevant, or even, in the age of fake news, if it’s true. Managers need to sift through this deluge of information to decide what is relevant and what is not when it comes to making decisions. To do this, they will need the cognitive skills and tools to work with and process complexity such as systems thinking (to help see the bigger picture), critical thinking (to sift through and make sense of complex situations), and design thinking (a human-centric and creative approach to problem solving).

4. Put it into practice

No matter how much you learn, you will not be able to be a better manager unless you practise it. Drawing on Henry Mintzberg’s philosophy, at the UCT GSB we believe that management is not a science – it is a practice that is rooted in experience.

There are three elements that play a role in developing a management practice. First, context. Only you can understand your context and all the issues, challenges and stakeholders involved. This understanding must be combined with the second element – the latest management theory. And finally, this must be pulled together by the third element – application and practice in the workplace. This is where knowledge becomes relevant, and effective development programmes should incorporate an element of action learning, of putting ideas into practice. This builds on lived experience for a richer, deeper and more effective learning journey. As Mintzberg notes, “the key to educating and developing managers is to enable them to tap into their own experience: to reflect on it and share their reflections with each other.”

Frequently, students on management development programmes learn as much from discussion with other students as they do from the course content. Bringing your real-world experience to the classroom and being able to discuss it with those who have experienced similar challenges is highly beneficial.

5. Embrace change

Learning to be a manager is not a tick-the-box exercise that you do once and move on. Your management practice will be continuously evolving just as the world of work is changing. You will need to adapt as your context changes. And you will need to keep up with technological advances. One of our aims at the UCT GSB is to give managers the tools to embrace change, to keep learning, and importantly to keep managing the learning and development of their teams.

Dr Elanca Shelley is the course convenor of the UCT Graduate School of Business Postgraduate Diploma in Management Practice.