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Stephen Walker

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Soft skills for a difficult job pt2


The struggle to hold the balance between top management and employees can be fierce. Stephen Walker concludes his look at how soft skills are important to the new manager.

I was extremely fortunate in my manager and my first team too. They were all good people. My team had been upset by the structural change and were always going to take it out on the new guy. It just happened to be me. My manager was very patient, coached me and supported me through some difficult times. Without his support the organisation could have lost the entire team to other jobs.

In today’s pressured organisations where does the new supervisor turn for advice? There is so much 'just tell them "work hard or go"' attitude around, where do you turn for sensible advice? Does HR still have this repository of wisdom? Or is HR’s role limited to ensuring the 'go' part of the management advice is conducted properly through the disciplinary procedures? Has HR morphed from Human Resources to Hiring (and firing) Regulations? The new supervisor, first time manager, needs coaching in what to do and how to behave.


Management training is useful. It gives you some words on what you should do. That is far removed from knowing how to do it. If you have to make a lot of mistakes to find out how to do it, you risk alienating your team forever. A supportive boss is necessary for success. You need to ask, question and understand what you believe you should do. You need an experienced manager to provide that view. We can’t leave out coaching and personal development. If the boss can’t be supportive then bring in outside help. It isn’t expensive compared with the new team messing up.

Personal characteristics

There are three personal characteristics that stand the new supervisor in good stead.

  • Self-motivation. Taking that first supervisory role is tough. You need a strong will not to give up or concede to your team. There will be times when you have to apologise for getting it wrong. You need the will to stick to your guns.
  • Vision. You can’t lead a team without leading them somewhere. You need a vision of where that place is and why it is better than here.
  • Emotional intelligence. You need the skills mentioned in pt1 to communicate effectively and bring your team along with you.


I don’t see any alternative to equipping the first-time manager with the training and resources needed to develop their management skills. This is a massive opportunity for the training industry if we can develop practical 'how-to' content to go alongside the 'what-to' that is traditionally provided. The new manager needs self-motivation, resilience and a vision that will carry them through that difficult first year.

All in all, soft skills are hard to do. It is easier to hide behind your desk or a barrage of hierarchical orders to avoid putting yourself at risk of criticism. Learning is a trial and error process. The training industry provides some excellent products to reduce the mistakes. Let’s hope they use them!

Read part one of this feature here

Stephen is a co-founder of Motivation Matters, set up in 2004 to develop organisation behaviour to drive greater performance. He has worked for notable organisations such as Corning, De La Rue and Buhler and has been hired to help Philips, Lloyds TSB and a raft of others. A published author of articles and Conference speaker, Stephen delivers workshops across the country. He says the crux to achieve higher performance is managerial behaviour. You can follow Stephen on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Blog


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