What Are Human Skills in Management? - Definition & Example

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  • 0:00 Managerial Skills
  • 3:15 Human Skills at Each…
  • 5:21 Human Skills in Action
  • 6:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jennifer Wiley-Cordone
Effective managers are able to work well with people, using the human skills essential to successfully lead. Learn how communication and relationship skills ease the way for accomplishing a business team's goals.

Managerial Skills

It's a sitcom cliché: the peppy young job applicant tells the seasoned professional that she's a people person, alerting the audience to an upcoming comedic incompetence. But for every trite expression, there is a kernel of truth. This is the case with people person skills, or human skills, which are necessary for managers. Also called human relational skills, these skills involve communication and attention to relationships with others.

While human skills are important, management theorist Daniel Katz recognizes that they can't stand-alone. He partners them with conceptual skills and technical skills.

  • Conceptual skills take in the big picture of the entire organization and use abstract ideas to set strategic initiatives.
  • Technical skills accomplish tasks for those working on the front lines; they are techniques, practices, tools, and processes.

Organizational management, according to the classical management theory, can be viewed as a tiered pyramid. Supervisors or lower-level managers at the base work directly with employees to coordinate the daily tasks of the business. Middle managers occupy the center level and function as longer-term goal setters. They set these goals in alignment with the organization's strategic objectives, which are developed by those at the tip of the pyramid, top-level managers.

Every manager uses each of the managerial skills. However, the proportion of activities that involve technical, conceptual, or human skills differs in various industries and at each level of management. What does this look like? Let's consider an example.

A Tale of Two Managers

Two managers, John and Sylvie, both head the legal departments at technology companies. John's firm is an established company that has been in operation for 50 years. His department's primary focus is suing other companies for patent violations. As a result, John's team has become the primary revenue source for the company. He has significant support and a staff of 15, including paralegals and administrative assistants.

Sylvie works for a tech start-up that makes skateboards with an integrated social media connection. It has just received venture capital funding. The venture capitalists anticipate disability and personal injury lawsuits and invest in the company because there are eight lawyers on staff. With paralegals and administrative assistants, Sylvie, like John, has 15 people reporting to her.

Both John and Sylvie are on the same management tier, but Sylvie may need more human skills than John because she coaches her team in negotiations with anxious parents. John also needs human skills, including negotiation. But he might rely more on strong technical skills to monitor his team as it scours pages of patent law. They both could require the same amount of conceptual skills to ensure their teams meet organizational objectives.

So, different situations influence the ratio of managerial skills. Now, let's take a closer look at how human relational skills change with each successive step up the pyramid.

Human Skills at Each Level of Management

Top managers have the most choice in how they exercise any of these skills because of their position in the hierarchy. They rely most on conceptual skills, because they need to see the big picture and connect the dots between abstract ideas in order to set strategic initiatives. At this level, they also need significant human skills to manage relationships among their peers, with competitors, with partners and suppliers, and with high-level stakeholders, like the board of directors. Technical skills are also necessary to ensure that their strategy is realistic.

Communication and strong relationships - the human skills - are the most needed by middle managers. They must share information and ideas up, down, and across the organization in order to achieve their aims. They also use conceptual skills to set and adjust goals to facilitate strategic objectives. Clearly, they require more technical skill than the managers above them because they need to understand the work of those they supervise.

In order to effectively manage front-line employees, lower-level managers need some human relations skills. But direct supervisors do not spend much time on work that requires conceptual skills. Instead, they need more technical skills as the most hands-on and visible managers.

Families of Skills

It makes sense that Katz's three skills are evidenced in different mixes at rising levels of management and in different industries. But what do we mean when we talk about 'communication and relationships'? Let's look to the work of Sidney Fine for a better sense of these skills. Fine described three families of skills: data, people, and things. Although developed independently, you can see that Fine's families and Katz's skills roughly correlate so that data = conceptual, people = human, and things = technical.

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