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What makes a great people manager?

Ask any child what they think a boss does, and they are likely to say ‘they tell people what to do’…

But is this really what a manager does and what you have to be good at?

Here at CAPE, we don’t think so…

So, what do people managers do?

A recent evidence review published by The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) shows that the role of a people manager includes:

  • Overseeing day-to-day business operations
  • Communicating information
  • Coordinating work tasks and activities
  • Supporting, coaching, supervising and evaluating employees
  • Implementing organisational strategies and policies
  • Acting as change agents

What are the key characteristics managers need to have to be able to do this?

In Cape’s research – interviewing over 30 managers across different sectors, industries, and sized businesses – we asked them what they believed were the most important qualities that a great people manager should have from their experience. 

The responses we received were varied. Some people were clear that there were one or two non-negotiable characteristics. For others, the list was longer…

Here are the 8 characteristics that were mentioned most frequently:

  • Empathy
  • Effective/open communication
  • Ability to listen
  • Authenticity
  • Ability to set clear direction/vision
  • Self-awareness
  • Supportive
  • Organised

What we noticed from the responses was that seven out of the top eight characteristics were those often referred to as ‘softer skills’ or human qualities (with empathy being listed as key by nearly half of the interviewees).

There’s very little mention of technical management skills (or being able to navigate performance management or sickness absence processes for that matter)!

From these findings, we recognise there is quite a high expectation of what a people manager should be like and be able to do. But what makes an effective people manager?

What makes an effective people manager?

Recent research published by the CIPD – Effective people managers: An evidence review. Practice summary and recommendations – show that a few factors can influence the effectiveness of a people manager:

  • Leadership style – People managers play a crucial role in directing and guiding employees towards achieving common goals. Leadership styles adopted by managers can have a significant impact on employee engagement, commitment, and ethical behaviour.
  • Skills and experience – Research shows that to be successful, people managers need to possess good people skills. This means being proficient in communication, mentoring and coaching, resolving conflicts, building trust, psychological safety, and fostering cohesion within their teams
  • Bandwidth and support – There a few key factors that can affect a manager’s ability to lead their team effectively:
  • The larger the number of employees reporting to a people manager (also called span of control), the less time the manager can devote to each team member. As a result, their effectiveness as a manager may be reduced.
  • The time spent on non-managerial tasks. Research has shown that when managers spend too much time on non-managerial tasks, their team’s performance suffers. Ideally, no more than 30% of a manager’s time should be spent on non-managerial work.
  • Lack of support: To effectively support their teams, people managers require a supportive organisational climate. This includes access to support, advice and training.

How to develop people managers

Developing people managers is crucial for any organisation that wants to ensure that their employees are engaged, motivated and productive. And as per the same evidence review published by the CIPD, there are three ways to develop people managers:

  • Select candidates with good people skills during the recruitment process. Once selected, people managers should be provided with training to further develop these skills.
  • Allow people managers to focus more time on their management responsibilities – by reducing the amount of time spent on non-managerial tasks and the number of people they manage so they can focus on their management responsibilities and develop their people management skills.
  • Create a supportive organisational climate so people managers can be more confident in their roles and better equipped to handle any challenges that may arise.

To Summarise…

Reading this article and various studies, we cannot help but recognise that there is quite a high expectation of what a people manager should be like and be able to do.  For a new people manager, potentially this could feel overwhelming and feel like something that could not be achieved in a short time or without adequate support.

That’s why it is important to provide people managers – experienced or new ones – with training to develop these skills and improve their performance and impact of the team.

Please do contact us if you would like to dive into things a bit deeper or if you would like some other resources around this subject.  

CAPE Coaching & Development equip, empower, and enable brilliant People Managers through development programmes, workshops and 1-2-1 coaching. Learn more by visiting

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