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8 Professional Development Goals for Managers

Leader and manager effectiveness is a top priority for 60 percent of HR leaders in 2023—and for good reason. 

Nearly a quarter (24 percent) say their leadership development approach doesn’t prepare leaders for the future of work. Managers must continually improve and adapt to meet their team’s changing needs. 

The right professional development goals for managers can help you build a more effective leadership team.

Why is professional development essential for those at the management level?

Employee development is vital at every job level. No matter how much experience or skill someone has, they can always learn something new.

Great leaders—including staff managers, middle managers, and C-suite executives—consistently hone their managerial skills and strive to improve their team’s performance. This can better equip them to reach their departmental goals and help your organization achieve strong business results.

8 Professional development goals for managers 

Become a skilled active listener

Effective listening skills are crucial for managers to maintain open lines of communication and build trust with their team members while enabling them to do their best work.

What is an active listener?

An active listener fully concentrates on what their team members are saying. They’re completely engaged in the communication process to understand the meaning and intent behind what’s being said. 

How to become an active listener

Active listening is a skill that can be learned quickly and fine-tuned over time.

Here are some ways managers can improve their active listening skills:

  • Make eye contact. Maintaining eye contact is a common—and important—non-verbal cue managers can use to show their team members they’re paying attention.
  • Tune out distractions. An active listener fully focuses on the person speaking. Managers should avoid peering at their phones, fidgeting, or doodling during conversations with team members.
  • Pay attention to body language. Mirroring the speaker’s facial expressions, nodding, and leaning in are indicative of active listening and letting team members know their manager is interested in what they have to say.
  • Ask questions. Managers may ask questions to clarify what their team member is saying.
  • Paraphrase. Active listeners recap what they heard to ensure they understand what their team members said.

“You need to create a safe environment for people to be able to speak up and voice issues or [give] praise,” says Celine Grey, Director of Sales Enablement, Normative. In that environment, employees can “help each other, ask for help, [and] reach out to different people in the organization.” That means leaders can leverage everyone’s strengths—not just those of a handful of team members.

Become adept at time management

Managers can get pulled in a lot of different directions. For instance, they may manage direct reports, collaborate with other leaders, and spearhead their strategic projects. 

They may also have many administrative tasks, from responding to emails and Slack messages to approving vacation requests. As a result, every manager must learn to prioritize and balance their key responsibilities.

Why is time management important?

Thirty-eight percent of employees surveyed say they spend up to an hour a day on tasks or meetings that aren’t important to their roles. Effective time management skills can help company leaders focus on their most important and impactful initiatives while completing administrative and urgent tasks. 

Key benefits of effective time management include:

  • Greater efficiency and productivity
  • Higher quality of work
  • Better work-life balance
  • Less stress and burnout

How to become adept at time management

Managers can improve their time management skills by:

  • Setting priorities. Urgent or administrative tasks can get in the way of strategic projects. Prioritizing what to do each day can help leaders manage their time better.
  • Getting into a routine. Routines can help managers save time and energy while still allowing them to be creative. For example, some may start the day responding to emails, while others will reserve this time for their most important work.
  • Timeboxing. Setting start and stop times for a given project ensures managers will only spend a little time on any task so they can complete their daily responsibilities. Adding these tasks to a calendar can help keep managers on track.
  • Breaking up big projects. Big projects can feel intimidating, especially for managers with limited time to complete them. Dividing them up into smaller chunks can make them more manageable. 
  • Learning when to say ‘no.’ Saying yes to too many things can negatively impact productivity and quality of work. Managers must learn to say ‘no’ to the things that take their time and divide their focus.

Read more: 33 Examples of Employee Strengths & Weaknesses + How to Improve Them

Learn to motivate through empathy and interest

Modern leaders connect with their team members to build genuine relationships and mutual understanding. These relationships enable leaders to demonstrate empathy and interest in their direct reports.

“Day after day, people do not come to work for a time clock,” Frank Molinaro, VP of Human Resources at Security First Insurance, writes in Forbes. “They come to work for a person. And for them to give anything other than the minimum, they must have relationships with that person.”

What does it mean to use empathy and interest to motivate team members?

Showing empathy and interest signals managers care about their team members and want them to succeed. In return, team members feel that their work doesn’t disproportionately benefit the manager and the company but also contributes to their career goals. 

This outlook can improve employee motivation, so each team member does their best work and participates more actively in team projects.

How to develop empathy and interest

Managers can be more empathetic and show interest in their team members by:

  • Listening. Managers should set aside time during each meeting to see how their team members are doing, discuss personal matters, and ask how they can best support the employee.
  • Opening up. Managers can encourage their team members to open up by sharing their vulnerabilities, such as mental health or parenting challenges.
  • Showing compassion. Addressing their team members’ needs—whether that means being there to talk or offering resources to help—is a great way for managers to show they care.
  • Offering recognition. Acknowledging each team member’s contributions with praise, financial incentives, and career growth demonstrates appreciation.

Be a mentor

Mentors support, advise, and guide their mentees to help them achieve their professional goals. A mentor may come in many forms—including a teacher, a manager, or even a stranger—and someone may have more than one mentor at a time or throughout their life.

Why mentorship is necessary for effective management

Managers succeed when their team does. Mentorship is a great way to offer career development and guide team members to be the best version of themselves. 

This goes beyond setting performance goals and offering opportunities for employee development. Mentoring also encompasses sharing details about one’s career progression, facilitating introductions, and offering emotional support.

Mentorship best practices

  • Discuss professional goals. Mentors should strive to understand their mentee’s career goals and aspirations so they can help chart a path forward.
  • Set aside sufficient time. Great mentoring requires a solid time commitment to meet regularly, listen, troubleshoot challenges, offer feedback and advice, and help in any other way needed.
  • Offer alternative perspectives. A good mentor will ultimately support their mentee’s goals and choices while challenging assumptions and offering alternative perspectives and ideas. They may also facilitate introductions to other experts when additional perspectives would be beneficial.
  • Provide equal opportunities. An excellent mentorship program will ensure equitability in who is mentored and how they’re advised.

Read more: How to Create a Coaching Culture

Make adaptability your best strength

Managers are subject to sudden, unexpected changes from both company leadership and their direct reports. For example, the company’s strategic goals may change, or a team member might quit at an inopportune time. 

Adaptability can help managers appropriately respond to these situations to lead more effectively.

Why is adaptability important for managers?

Workplace changes and challenges can be stressful for everyone. Adaptability enables managers to roll with the changes and overcome challenges with minimal disruption to their team and company. 

A good attitude during transitions can also help their colleagues and direct reports adjust to evolving organizational needs and directives.

Ways to become more adaptable

Adaptability is a skill that requires ongoing practice to maintain it—and intentional effort to improve it. 

Managers can consider the following strategies to improve their adaptability in the workplace:

  • Embrace a growth mindset
  • Improve problem-solving skills
  • Seek the positive in every change
  • Practice active listening 
  • Develop emotional intelligence
  • Stay open-minded to new ideas and ways of doing things
  • Keep learning

Read more: How to Future-Proof Your Organization

Learn how to have difficult conversations

It’s natural to try to avoid uncomfortable conversations, but it’s sometimes necessary for managers to have them. These might include addressing performance issues, disputes between team members, and layoffs. 

Managers must learn how to handle these interactions appropriately.

Why is tact so crucial during a difficult conversation?

Difficult conversations can be uncomfortable. However, tactfully communicating can help put everyone at ease, maintain relationships, and improve the outcome of the discussion. 

For example, delivering an employee performance improvement plan can feel awkward for the manager and distressing for the team member. Managers can reduce tension by sharing the facts and allowing the team member to share their thoughts about the problem and potential solutions. This can help the employee feel supported and strengthen the relationship.

“Without the ability to lead through challenging situations or conflict with active listening and empathy, leaders will lose credibility and demonstrate that their team can’t trust them with the ‘hard stuff.’ While leaders don’t need to have all the answers or solutions, they must consistently model behavior that demonstrates a willingness to hear their employees and lean in to developing a solution.”


Meredith Fish, VP of People and Culture, WorkRamp

Best practices for having difficult conversations with positive outcomes

Difficult conversations are part of the job, and they may not get any easier with time—though some best practices can help improve their outcomes:

  • Practice empathy. Managers should consider the situation from the other person’s perspective. This will help them stay open to the employee’s thoughts and feelings so they can respond appropriately.
  • Set a loose goal for the conversation. Managers should have a desired outcome for the discussion but be prepared to compromise based on how the conversation unfolds.
  • Be a good listener. Active listening is an important communication skill that will help managers understand their team member’s perspectives around a difficult situation.
  • Brainstorm solutions together. Asking the other person for a solution to a challenging issue can take them off the defensive and help them feel like they have some control over the outcome.

Learn to delegate

Managers can’t do everything themselves. Instead, they must learn to delegate work to their team and trust the work will be done to their satisfaction. One approach to delegation is to learn and perfect The Doctrine of Completed Staff Work.

What is the Doctrine of Completed Staff Work?

The Doctrine of Completed Staff Work is a U.S. Army memorandum that has been used in both military and civilian organizations to promote effective and total delegation. It stipulates that direct reports should complete projects in their entirety before presenting them to their managers for approval.

Employees may bounce ideas off their colleagues but should not submit any work to their manager until the project is completed in its entirety.

Why it’s important to master the skills outlined in this doctrine

Mastering this level of delegation has many worthwhile benefits:

  • Clarify project ownership. The employee has complete ownership over the project and may complete it as they see fit, eliminating any confusion about who’s ultimately responsible.
  • Encourages teamwork. Employees may engage their colleagues to help them think about or complete their work.
  • Enables time management. Everyone on the team completes their assigned work, freeing up the manager’s time for strategic initiatives and leadership responsibilities. 

Become skilled at upward management

Company leaders typically have many responsibilities in addition to managing direct reports. In fact, they hire team members specifically to help them complete projects and meet goals.

Employees can make their boss’ job easier and improve their work experience by “managing up.”

What is upward management?

Upward management is when employees take the initiative to manage their relationship with their boss. This can include helping them solve problems, taking work off their plate, and helping them be a better leader.

For example, a CHRO might practice upward management by sharing People insights that could help the CEO determine the best location for a new office. Similarly, a recruiter may manage up by pointing out biased language in job descriptions and offering to spearhead rewrites for evergreen roles.

Upward management helps team members demonstrate their expertise and helps managers elevate their team’s results. It also improves relationships and empowers teams to accomplish more.

Best practices for skilled upward management

Managers should practice upward management with their managers and encourage their direct reports to do the same.

Some best practices for upward management include:

  • Relationship building. Upward management works best when company leaders and their team members have a strong working relationship. Employees should strive to understand their manager’s goals, vision, and motivations in order to understand them and increase the chances of mutual success.
  • Proactive communication. Managers should encourage open, honest, and proactive communication so their employees know it’s welcome. This opens the door for employees to manage up when they feel a need or sense an opportunity.
  • Honest feedback. Feedback needs to flow both ways for upward management to work. Managers should share their communication preferences, the ideas they found most helpful, and anything else that helps their team members understand how they can be helpful. Their team members should share how they like to be managed, recognized, and coached in order to reach their career goals.

How WorkRamp can help managers set and achieve professional development goals 

An All-in-One Learning Platform like WorkRamp allows you to create customized leadership training for your business needs. You can develop courses that focus on your team’s professional development goals and deliver them when and how your managers learn best. 

Want to learn more about how WorkRamp can help managers reach their leadership development goals? Contact us to book a free, personalized demo.


Complete the form for a custom demo.

Jen Dewar

WorkRamp Contributor

Jen Dewar is a marketing consultant in HR technology, focusing on developing educational content for HR professionals and recruiters. She is passionate about diversity and inclusion, lifelong learning and development, and treating people like people throughout candidate and employee experiences. Outside of work, you can find Jen snowboarding in Tahoe, enjoying a glass of wine in Sonoma, or hanging out at home with her family.

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