For business graduates with a management career in sight, the following skills will be essential for impressing your employers and climbing the career ladder

If you're hoping to progress into a management role you'll need a more finely tuned skill set. If you're invited to interview for a position, use your past experience to explain how you've acquired and developed the following skills as you answer management interview questions.

Interpersonal skills

Management jobs are all about people, and being able to build successful relationships is integral. If you want to lead a team, you'll need to earn the respect of your colleagues. To do this, you need to know how to effectively deal with other people.

Setting time aside to get to know your team members on both a personal and professional level, through social activities or team-building training, while still maintaining professional boundaries, will go a long way to earning their respect.

You need to demonstrate your managerial qualities and authority, while maintaining the ability to play your part as a member of a team.

Communication and motivation

Effective leaders must master all forms of communication including written, verbal and listening skills. As a team manager you're the line of communication between frontline staff and senior management. You'll liaise with a variety of people, from entry-level employees to heads of departments and CEOs, in a number of different ways - via email and social media, over the phone and in presentations, meetings and one-to-ones.

You'll need to establish a trusting relationship with your employees so they feel comfortable sharing information with you, and vice versa. To ensure that lines of communication remain open you'll need to make yourself readily available and accessible to your employees to discuss any issues or concerns that arise. Having an open door policy or weekly or monthly team meetings should facilitate this. Let your staff know that they matter by keeping eye contact, smiling and listening attentively.

An open, positive attitude at work goes a long way to creating a healthy work environment. Don't shut yourself off or put yourself on a pedestal. Simple gestures, such as active encouragement, recognising achievements and taking an interest in the lives of your employees, ensures that staff feel valued. A positive workplace creates happy, motivated employees.

Organisation and delegation

As a manager you'll juggle multiple responsibilities, so excellent organisational skills are vital. You'll need to manage your own workload, oversee the work of other employees, attend meetings and training sessions, carry out appraisals and review company policies. Sloppy working practices, tardiness and a general lack of organisation won't be tolerated at this level and will set a bad example to your staff. Effective organisational skills reduce stress, save time and ensure that important deadlines are met.

Many managers ease their own busy workload by delegating tasks to colleagues. To do this effectively you need to analyse and identify the skills of your employees and assign duties to each depending on their skillset. Delegation isn't a sign of weakness, and can in fact multiply the amount of work that a manager can accomplish - while developing the team's confidence and skills.

Forward planning and strategic thinking

It's a manager's job to think of the bigger picture, so as well as focusing on today's tasks and responsibilities you'll need to plan for the future. This means setting priorities in line with company goals, reviewing systems and policies, and attending training and managing the CPD activities of your team. As a strategic thinker, you'll encourage innovation and change in order to make your team and the organisation as a whole more productive and profitable.

Problem solving and decision-making

You'll be tasked with spotting and solving problems on a daily basis in a managerial position. This requires outstanding attention to detail and the ability to remain calm under pressure. To ensure that your team is productive and that the workflow runs smoothly, you'll have to think on your feet when problems arise. Creative thinking will help you to come up with innovative solutions that minimise the impact on your team and the business as a whole.

Thinking on your feet also comes in useful when you have to make a snap decision about how to successfully complete a task or meet a business goal. Being able to quickly weigh up the pros and cons of a situation and make an informed decision is essential.

Commercial awareness

This skill is in huge demand among business employers. In fact, according to recruiters, commercial awareness is something that the majority of graduates lack.

If you want to progress to management level, an understanding of the marketplace in which a business operates and of what makes a business successful is essential. To demonstrate this you'll need to show that you:

  • are aware of the organisation's mission and aims
  • have an understanding of the job sector that the company belongs to
  • know about the political and economic issues affecting the business
  • can identify the company's competitors.

Mentoring

As well as being business-focused decision-makers, managers also need to play a supportive role. If you've reached this senior level you have a repertoire of experience, knowledge and skills, and it's your job to pass this knowledge along and share your skills with other colleagues.

This involves training and advising staff and building their confidence and skills. In a management position you'll be the driving force behind the progression of team members.

How do I develop my management skills?

The good news is that you can develop all the required competencies relatively easily. All of the above skills can be learned, honed and developed through a number of activities such as:

  • Joining student societies - gaining experience in leadership roles is easy while at university so be sure to take advantage of all opportunities. You could work your way up the ranks and become the captain of a sports team, or sign up to chair a pre-existing club. If your area of interest isn't represented you could use your initiative to create and president your own society, or alternatively you could apply to represent the student body as a students' union officer. Learn more about standing for student elections and the importance of extra-curricular activities.
  • Internships and volunteering - upon graduation you could take part in an industry internship. These look great on your CV and provide a first-hand glimpse of what it's like to manage a team. As well as building up your skills and confidence, internships also provide you with a list of useful contacts, which could help you to secure a job in the future. To gain experience in a supportive capacity, you could volunteer as a mentor or sports coach. This could see you working with adults in the community or with children in education settings. Other relevant volunteering activities include leading a community team on an environmental project and managing a group of charity fundraisers.
  • Part-time work - management and leadership skills can also be built through part-time employment in team/department leader and supervisory roles. It doesn't matter where you work, you could manage bar or hospitality staff, supervise retail or factory workers, man reception desks or lead admin teams. All experience is valuable, especially when you're in a position of responsibility.
  • Studying for professional qualifications - research from the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) reveals that three quarters of employers believe more graduates should undertake professional qualifications since these provide evidence of, and help to develop, practical managerial skills. To find out what training is on offer, see management courses.

Find out more