5 Soft Skills Most Managers Think They’ve Mastered (But Haven’t)


It’s a human tendency to want to preserve positive self-regard, and managers are no different.

Whatever the reason may be–being too absorbed with your own work or not have enough channels for constructive communication with your team, for example–many managers often think they’re doing relatively well as leaders, including in terms of developing soft skills.




To be honest, though, it’s more likely that your employees are reluctant to bring up issues causing dissatisfaction with their employers. Yikes.

No need to get paranoid, though: use this list of 6 soft skills for managers as a way to check yourself on the job, or or take a WSQ course in leading workplace communication and engagement at SSA Academy.


1. Empathising

A manager who demands results without attempting to put himself in his employee’s shoes is likelier to create a toxic workplace culture than a manager who takes the time and effort to truly understand the challenges faced by his team.

Here’s an analogy. The phrase “I see you” can mean two very different things:

  • A threat that engenders feelings of being under constant, pervasive surveillance, OR
  • A genuine statement borne of empathy and understanding.



Which one are you?

If you can’t empathise with your employees, you’re also limiting your ability to effectively support them in overcoming said challenges and cultivating their resilience in the long-term.


2. Cultural sensitivity

We might live in a meritocratic society, but refusing to see that there are differences between members of a diverse team beyond “talent and hard work” might put you on the fast track towards being a culturally insensitive boss.

As the world around us becomes more and more appreciative of cultural diversity, managers need to keep up with the times by making the effort to become culturally competent leaders.



Be honest with yourself

  • Do you harbour harmful stereotypes, prejudices and other counter-productive modes of relating that could potentially offend and alienate certain members of your team?

Foster a culture of openness amongst your team

  • Ensure that everyone feels comfortable coming forward in case of any instances of intentional or unintentional racism, sexism, etc.
  • Actively work against participating in or enabling cultural micro-agressions (subtle but ethnically offensive acts or statements often done without thinking)
  • Don’t presume to know or understand everything about a particular culture: ask if in doubt and take it as a learning opportunity




3. Tact

One of the trickiest yet crucials skills on the list, no manager can hope to be a truly effective leader without knowing how to exercise tact in the workplace.

The situation is compounded when one faces the difficult task of attempting to lead in an environment where office politics are deeply entrenched.




Don’t play favourites

  • It’s natural to prefer some over others, but be extra wary of unconsciously favouring one employee over another.
  • Keep track of who got which assignments when to ensure that you afford everyone equal opportunities to excel

Giving negative feedback

  • The sandwich approach might be a popular of getting criticism across, but while it might lighten the blow, it can also reduce the urgency of your criticism.
  • Be precise and detailed about your criticism. Use your employee’s past successes to bolster their self-efficacy in making improvements

Performance reviews

  • There’s no reason to wait until the biannual performance review to shoot off all your criticism to your employee at one shot.
  • It’s likely to be counter-productive, overwhelming, and stir up feelings of resentment if the employee feels unfairly treated at not being given the chance to correct herself beforehand



4. Receptivity to criticism

If you want to foster a healthy workplace environment that’s open to constructive criticism, you should be just as open to it as you expect your employees to.


It may come as a bit of a surprise to hear negative feedback from those under your charge, but how you react in these situations can play a huge role in earning (or losing) respect from your employees.



Don’t take it personally

  • One of the worst things to deal with when you’re giving someone else constructive criticism is having to deal with them being overly defensive and deflecting every single point you try and make.

Don’t play rank to shut down criticism prematurely

  • You’ll just create a larger rift between yourself and your employees than before, and make yourself appear really unapproachable.

Listen attentively before speaking

  • Pay attention to your body language and choose your words carefully to express your perspective

Ask if it’s an individual or team sentiment

  • Knowing this helps you to deal with problem accordingly. There’s no need to escalate a matter that can be dealt with in private. 



5. Dealing with employee mistakes

Blunders are bound to occur, even to the best of employees. Handling such situations with equal parts finesse and assertion is the mark of a good leader.

The most important aspect of your conversation with the employee at fault is to emphasise accountability and personal responsibility.



Make the gravity of the situation clear

  • There is no need to escalate into threatening to fire anyone without just cause.
  • Exercise extreme caution in utilising such threats: using this too often loses its meaning and rapidly erodes team morale

Facilitate self-reflection

  • Adopt a problem-solving mindset by getting them to analyse what exactly went wrong, why it went wrong, and how it could have been avoided
  • Invite them to think of a solution to prevent repeating the same mistake, moving forward. It’s helpful to give them some time to do this, for instance telling them to get back to you about it the next day.



Skip the paranoia and augment your effectiveness as a leader with SSA Academy’s WSQ course on leading workplace communication and engagement!


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