What skills do new bosses need most?

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This topic contains 24 replies, has 20 voices, and was last updated by  Henry Brown 8 years, 9 months ago.

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  • #101946

    Dan Gephart

    cyberFEDS’ HR Observer Herb Levine spoke with The Federal Coach (and fellow GovLooper) Tom Fox about the session he’s doing at next month’s Next Generation of Government Summit in Arlington, Va. Tom said there is a misconception that it should be easy for a good employee or team member to become a good boss. I agree. We all know tons of people who were promoted because of their technical skills, but they had no real people/management skills.

    Tom said new bosses need specific skills, at the most basic levels. They must know how to:
    Set expectations.
    Monitor performance.
    · Provide feedback.

    To Tom’s list, I’d add conflict resolution. What skills do you think are necessary for federal managers to have? Does your manager have those skills? (OK, maybe you don’t want to answer that last one) …

  • #101994

    Henry Brown

    Communication skills to implement all other expected skills: Doesn’t much matter if one can set expectations or determine how to resolve conflicts if one cannot communicate them.
    I include in communications skills the ability to understand the different filters that people put up that limit the communications. These filters can be based on many things including: different generations, personal experiences, personality, motivating issues amongst others.

    Related to communication skills should be the ability to be an effective liaison between those below the supervisor and those above.

  • #101992

    Tammy Biggar

    This subject interests me because I am running for office and will need to lead nine women should I get elected this fall.

    The advice I was given was to sit down with each one to discuss their personal career goals. Second, set up a six month review for each employee to provide feedback and discussion.

    Next, when an employee comes to complain, ask her/him for a solution to that particular problem. (I would be real interested in suggested reading for conflict resolution as well.)

  • #101990

    Stephen Peteritas

    Mean what you say, the proof really is in the pudding. You can say all the right things but if your actions don’t follow them up it means absolutely nothing.

    I remember I had a boss that I really liked and worked really hard for and everything was fine but at the first sign of trouble he totally threw me under the bus. Being the boss means that the buck stops with you and you have to own up sometimes. Obviously it can be an employees fault but as the overseer you have to share some of that blame.

    Pointing the finger back at yourself goes a long way!

  • #101988

    Tammy Biggar

    I appreciate that. My favorite boss was also someone who easily accepted the responsibility for the office. I have never been so impressed as when he accepted responsibility when I had screwed up. That was 25 years ago! It also made me want to work harder.

  • #101986

    Erica A Morin

    I guess I’ll weigh in with my take as both a boss and a staffer. You can find a list a mile long of the skills you need to have as a boss. You can read books, take classes, find a mentor/coach and memorize the list. However, until you apply what you learn in a practical manner, it is just words. Below are my top 5 “skills” that helped me as a new boss (and I didn’t learn them all when I was “new”).

    1. Sense of humor – if you take yourself so seriously that you forget how to laugh at your own mistakes or others, then your employees and bosses will always be on pins & needles around you.
    2. Focus on the speaker – one of my staffers told me once that I totally won his support and loyalty when the first time he came into my office with an issue, I turned my chair to face him and when the phone rang I never looked at it.
    3. Let your staffers know you will go to the mat for them even as you sort out any issue; however, let them know that if it turns out unfavorably for them, you will not hold back the consequences.
    4. Treat others as you want to be treated – oldie but goodie – but don’t be naive or a doormat. Staffers, coworkers and bosses all have their own agendas and turf. Understand them and remain flexible and open to ways other than your own.
    5. Admit when you don’t know the answer and ask for input.

    Bottomline – be true to yourself and be the boss you always wanted to have.

  • #101984

    Bill Huddleston

    I think one of the most important skills for both new managers and all employees is that of listening. Ironically it is probably the skill that most people receive the least amount of professional development in. The executive coach section of govexec dot com actually had a post about this a few days ago.

    Here’s my response, and if any govloop readers would like the ECQ worksheet mentioned, please just send me an e-mail. Thanks, Bill

    Post re Leadership Skill – listening:

    There actually is a government wide program that provides many opportunities to develop and practice one’s leadership and project management skills, including what many leadeship experts consider the most important, that of learning to listen. What is this program — it’s the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) which is a mandatory, completely voluntary program held each fall in every U.S. Federal agency.

    If you would like my article about the leadership development opportunities that are available in the CFC, plus my Excel worksheet that matches the ECQ (Executive Core Qualfications) competencies to the CFC roles available, please send me an e-mail with “Fed CFC” in the subject line and I’ll be glad to send you both.

    Bill Huddleston
    The CFC Coach
    BillHuddleston1 at gmail dot com

    The opening line of my leadership article is “Did you learn to swim by reading a book?”

  • #101982

    Tracy Kerchkof

    I learned how important a boss is to job satisfaction when I was an intern at the USDA-NRCS in college. My first summer I had a great boss. He was genuinely interested in my professional development, and made it a point to include me in relevant projects, training, and meetings. He also did not hesitate to give me real work to do, and listened to my questions and ideas for improvement. He created an open and friendly atmosphere by being a good listener, being very knowledgeable (but willing to not only admit he didn’t know something, but work to find out), and never making me feel like I was stupid. I could go on and on….

    The next summer, he had been promoted, and there was a new boss. I didn’t meet him for a week, because he was always out doing “projects” but no one on the staff know where he was or what projects he was working on. When he was finally in the office, he waited to have a face to face meeting with me, and the whole time he was obviously distracted and wanting to do be doing something else (picking up the phone when it rings, not turning his cell sound off, looking at his emails, etc). He told the whole staff that he did not want me working on any projects on my own and didn’t give me anything to do in the meantime. So, I just went out in the field with everyone as often as possible (where I wasn’t allowed to do anything, but the staff usually would let me anyway because I had worked with them the previous summer). Eventually, he told his supervisor (who had heard glowing reviews from my previous boss) that I was not doing a good job in front of a member of our staff (who stuck up for me). and that led to me being transferred to another office for the rest of the summer. After that summer, I decided not to stay with the NRCS after graduation. (also, that second boss was demoted).

    Long story short, new bosses, be like my first NRCS boss.

  • #101980

    David Tallan

    A lot of good points here.

    In addition, I think one of the most important skills for a boss doesn’t involve his or her employees at all. It’s the ability to manage up and across. To manage executive expectations, secure resources, deal with issues raised by colleagues and superiors. If you’ve got a high performing team who’ve bought into the vision and know what is expected of them, this skill can really free them up to get the job done.

  • #101978

    Nichole Henley

    My best advice is don’t step up if you CANT STEP UP! I truly believe that leadership is pretty much an innate ability. It can’t be taught. Sure a few good techies can get away with being a supervisor and things will run smoothly. But for the majority, it comes down to their people skills.

    Supervising/leading is a social position. Technical pros are the worker bees. Leaders are the ones who know the culture, climate, people, major issues in an organization and are able to step up because it is natural way of doing business for them. These are the people you want to work for- they’re well connected, they see issues coming down the pipe, they know who to pull in for help, they know who to give assignments to, etc.

  • #101976

    Deb Green

    Great question – and one that there’s about a thousand answers to.

    Some individuals may be naturally inclined to be leaders, and others may need some level of training and awareness to get into the right frame of mind. An individual who commits to practicing what they learn can be just as capable, if not more, than another with innate leadership qualities.

    Communication is key, a good network is crucial, but so is the ability to acquire and maintain trust. If your employees don’t trust you to make a good decision, stand up for them as appropriate, or hold folks accountable when needed, there’s probably a lot of wasted effort going on. Trust is also crucial for your credibility, which will speak volumes about you before you even meet your first employee.

  • #101974

    Eileen Roark

    The best managers are those who value their individual employee’s skills and talents and assign them appropriately. Being in a large organization (like DOD), does not give managers the right to treat their people as faceless “billets” who can be shuffled at will. Good managers also value their long-serving employees, rather than trying to hustle them out. During a Town Hall meeting in my (former) agency, our bosses actually stood up and told the CSRS people to take a hike (i.e., retire), to make room for new hires. I was – and remain – furious about this, and more so because not one person in the audience had the guts to challenge them. Another critical skill of good managers is the ability to put their employee’s needs ahead of their own selfish ambitions. Managers should be there for their employees, not hiding in their offices working on resumes and going on job interviews. In poll after poll, managers in my (former) agency – especially those at the very top – got consistently low marks from the workforce. If the new hires feel that management doesn’t respect and value them as people, they’ll go elsewhere. On the other hand, perhaps the workforce ultimately gets the managers they deserve.

  • #101972

    Kathy Sciannella

    Respect your employees. Acknowledge good work and give feedback on sub par work (in private so the problem can be corrected).

    Treat your subordinates as adults. Too many bosses revert to treating subordinates like children to be managed and monitored. A good manager gives a subordinate a job and lets them do it. They don’t micromanage. Everyone’s style is different.

    Reognize diversity. Diversity means differences and that means that some of your subordinates won’t work with the same style that you have. A different working styles does not mean thes the wrong one.

    Reward. Reward. Reward. Awards, verbal feedback, an e-mail. Make your staff feel appreciated and that they work they are doing is important.

    I submit these suggestions both as my experience being a a subordinate and someone who has supervised staff.

  • #101970

    Carol Foss

    New bosses need a lot of help. If they are very young, under age 30, they need to do a little maturing.
    They need to remember employees are human, and life happens to everyone. They need to remember the Golden rule or “treat your people good and they’ll treat you good.” (or take of the employees and the employees take care of the boss.) They need to remember what they went through to get to be a coach, and where they came from, and finally take some HR classes along the way, so they can learn some diplomacy. The government is guilty of hiring very good technical experts, who need lots of help with people skills.

  • #101968

    Don Jacobson

    For new managers I think the most powerful things to do are:

    1. Get to know your people. That’s the only way to get a good feel for their strengths and motivations.

    2. Show interest in developing your people. This tends to be motivating to them and helps them improve their skills. But don’t just focus on formal training. A lot of the best learning (including leadership learning) comes from challenging and varied assignments that make the employee stretch and give them greater perspective.

    3. Acknowledge that you don’t have all the answers. A lot of new managers are too insecure to admit that they don’t know it all. (I was that way in my first management job.) That just makes them look foolish to their staff. Most employees love to feel that their opinions and knowledge are valued. Show humility and ask for their help.

    From what I have seen, one of the most difficult things for inexperienced managers is dealing with conflict. It takes backbone to deal with under performers, protect your staff from abuse, or speak truth to power–but doing so is absolutely critical. The good news is that this can be learned… and it is self-reinforcing because when you actually deal with problems they go away.


  • #101966


    I would say, they need to Accept Feedback as well. There is alway room for improvement….for everyone!

  • #101964

    Christina Morrison

    Communicate Communicate Communicate with your staff. The best managers are crystal clear on what they expect from their team. A manager should never give you a task where you are unsure about what they want the out come to be in the end.

    Like you said, sometimes the best people are made managers, but that doesnt mean they will be good managers. New managers need training on how to be a manager.

  • #101962


    I have a boss right now who is a power seeker. Likes to use technical terms in order to confuse others not in the field and to make him look smart. Probably my least favorite boss. No teamwork. Just wants his name in front of the higher ups. The problem is that my boss is covering up for lacking the ability to understand the nature of the projects. Furthermore, my current boss went to a less-known and renowned university than most of the people in our Agency and I think this makes him feel inferior. My favorite bosses are the team players. Treats people like we are all on the same level and as a team attempting to do the best work we can. Power seekers are hard to work with and hard to work for.

  • #101960

    R J Parry


    Here is a good link to add to your favorites


  • #101958

    R J Parry

    I would include listening skills. UNDERSTAND what people are telling you. You dont have to agree with them!!! Take the time to let them “lay-out” their plan or offer suggestions, you may find a nugget of information that can assist in implementing change in your organization.
    As a supervisor, I learned it isnt about being the one who knows it all but being the one who knows who can provide creditable information.

    Conflict resolution suggestion: Fix the problem NOT the blame.

  • #101956

    Tammy Biggar

    Don, excellent post. Would you expound on your last paragraph? I have been advised that if an employee comes to me to complain, that I should listen and then ask that employee for their input on how to fix the problem. I expect this is to prevent future frivolous complaints but also to include them in the team effort of providing solutions.

    If it is a personality conflict, do you have both people come in at the same time?

    What do you mean by “speak truth to power”?

    I appreciate any insight you can give.

  • #101954


    Couple of things:
    1. Know your role.
    2. Do your own work.

  • #101952

    Tom Melancon

    Conflict Resolution skills are a must. As the Program Manager for one of the largest shared neutrals mediation groups in the country, I can tell you that the two single biggest mistakes I see in new Federal Managers are (1) not confronting innappropriate workplace behavior until it becomes a bigger issue than it had to be, and (2) confronting innappropriate behavior so poorly the employee has ammo for a retaliation or EEO case. The Seattle Federal Executive Board ADR Program is developing a training program titled “Conflict Prevention and Resolution for Managers” that will be available before the end of the year. I’ll send out a link to GovLoop members when its ready.

  • #101950

    Don Jacobson

    A great resource for learning how to deal with bad performance or behavior is Stewart Liff’s recent book, The Complete Guide to Hiring and Firing Government Employees. Liff provides a ton of good advice on how to handle bad performance and behavior so you can 1) try to help employees improve and 2) have a solid case for removal if nothing else works.

  • #101948

    khanna johnston

    I would add the ability to inspire.

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