Understanding the Management Skills Pyramid

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Developing as a manager requires on-going investment in mastering new skills and behaviors. The Management Skills Pyramid (Kammy Haynes) offers a convenient tool for describing the various skill sets successful managers cultivate and develop over their careers.

This article offers an introduction to the topic of management skills development and includes an overview of the Management Skills Pyramid.

Related (linked) posts offer additional context for your exploration. 

Understanding the Role of a Manager:

The manager in today's fast-moving, ever-changing organization has a​ difficult role. While management skills are inherent in every leadership position, the label of manager most often references those individuals responsible for teams and operational activities responsible for the bulk of the work of the organization. Managers exist on the front-lines, in customer-facing roles, and across the organization in various middle and senior level roles.

Key responsibilities of managers include:

  • Providing daily guidance for groups or teams of individuals to achieve specific functions or tasks in support of an organization's operating and strategic plans.
  • Ensuring an organization's policies, processes and standards for performance and behaviors are adhered to in the pursuit of daily work.
  • Supporting the development of team members and teams through coaching, feedback and goal-setting. 
  • Participating in the hiring, evaluation, training and occasional firing of team members. 
  • Providing feedback on group and individual performance to upper management via reporting and briefing processes. 
  • Participating with peers in other functional groups for cross-functional problem-solving and organizational improvement. 
  • Participating with other groups and senior management in strategy and goals development initiatives. 

    The Management Skills Pyramid:

    To be successful, there are many skills a manager needs to cultivate. I am referencing the pyramid structure to show the increasingly difficult management skills you must master at each level and to also display how these management skills build on each other to help you achieve success in your management career. The result is the Management Skills Pyramid shown here. Each level of the Management Skills Pyramid is listed below and is discussed in more detail on the linked pages.

    The Management Skills Pyramid, Level 1:

    Level 1 of the Management Skills Pyramid shows the basic skills a manager must master to ensure the work of the organization is completed at the right pace, quality and cost. These are the fundamentals of the management job:

    • Plan: determine resource needs and necessary investments; schedule activities and work-teams and plan for future needs. 
    • Organize: structure work teams; determine report-to structure, establish processes for collaboration.
    • Direct: provide daily guidance to ensure performance in alignment with company standards.
    • Control: monitor, track and report on output, efficiency, cost and quality.

    Management Skills Pyramid, Level 2:

    Moving higher up on the pyramid and beyond the supervisory and basic management tasks in level 1, you are challenged to cultivate and strengthen your people management skills. These are frequently referenced as "soft skills" in management and leadership literature and define Level 2 of the Management Skills Pyramid. These are the management skills that you use to motivate and develop your staff. There are many specific skills required, and these are discussed in Level 2 of the Management Skills Pyramid, but they are grouped into these categories:

    • Motivation: how to create an environment that encourages people to engage and deliver their best efforts. 
    • Training: how to ensure your team members have the fundamental skills and knowledge they need to execute the tasks of your department or function. 
    • Coaching: how to help your team members discover how to improve performance and behaviors in support of higher individual and group achievement. 
    • Employee Involvement: how to encourage collaboration for problem-solving and innovation in the pursuit of daily work tasks. 

    Management Skills Pyramid, Level 3: 

    As you strengthen your abilities at the lower levels on the pyramid, your own self-development becomes increasingly important. The Level 3 of Management Skills  include:

    • Self Management: how you motivate, engage with others and navigate the challenges of daily work and management life.
    • Time Management: how and where you invest the time of your day. 

    Time management gets its own category because it is so important to your success in all the other skills.

    Management Skills Pyramid, Top Level:

    The Management Skills Pyramid positions leadership as the pinnacle. Leaders perform many of the tasks of managers and in fact managers can serve as leaders. Leaders are focused more on defining direction in the form of vision and on ensuring strategy aligns with the firm's vision and mission and less on ensuring the completion of the daily work of the firm. 

    Management Skills Development and the Pyramid:

    While the pyramid offers an easy to grasp means of the skill sets of managers, in reality, individuals are present in multiple levels at the same time. All management jobs require elements of all levels outlined in the pyramid. Your own development will not necessarily proceed in an ordinary fashion from the bottom to the top of the pyramid, but rather in discontinuous involvement in activities and learning experiences at all levels. 

    The Bottom Line:

    As one wise person once offered, "no one wants a manager who cannot lead and a leader who cannot manage." You are encouraged to use tools such as the Management Skills Pyramid as a general guide to where you must focus your efforts. The most successful managers take their own self-development seriously and focus on continuous learning and improvement in the workplace. 

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    Updated by Art Petty

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