People Manager: Definition and Best Practices

Aug 10, 2023 | Employee Engagement, Performance Management, Professional Development

No company can succeed without effective managers. No matter the brilliance of its top leaders, every business relies on people managers to put ideas into action. A great people manager catalyzes passion and drive among employees at all levels. 

However, HR leaders spend 28% of their time dealing with problems created by poor people managers. And the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reports that 1 in 3 employees say their manager can’t lead people. 

What’s the solution? Double down on growing people managers within your company.

Let’s explore exactly what the people manager role involves. Then, we’ll look at why it’s so critical—and best practices to follow within the role. Finally, we’ll explore how to best support your people managers so they’ll fully shine.

Table of Contents

1. People Manager Responsibilities

2. The Importance of Good People Managers

3. Types of People Managers

4. How to Be a Good People Manager

5. How to Best Support a People Manager

6. People Manager FAQs

People Manager Responsibilities

According to Gallup, engagement is a people manager’s number-one responsibility. Everything else hinges on that. Consider that only 33% of employees in the U.S. and 21% worldwide are engaged. That makes this role pivotal to a company’s success. 

People managers have an essential role in any organization. They engage, monitor, and develop a team of direct reports. People managers hold ultimate responsibility for the success of their team’s projects. 

Here are some typical tasks and responsibilities of people managers:

  • Training employees
  • Leading team meetings
  • Structuring projects and workflow
  • Assigning tasks and deadlines
  • Providing coaching and feedback
  • Keeping the team focused on goals
  • Reviewing performance metrics
  • Delivering evaluations
  • Reporting back to leaders

People managers translate higher-level organizational priorities into team responsibilities. Through all of these tasks, they guide people to achieve the outcomes expected by leadership.

The Importance of Good People Managers

Diverse group of people managers meeting
Credit: Cottonbro Studio/Pexels

Good people management skills play a central role in organizational success. Here are several major ways in which they do that:

  • Boosting engagement and productivity by motivating people
  • Keeping people focused on common goals
  • Building trust and rapport to earn employees’ loyalty
  • Nurturing each employee’s growth through mentoring and training
  • Solving interpersonal issues that arise to maintain harmonious team dynamics
  • Minimizing stress by making employees feel fully supported

In all of these ways, people managers build strong and cohesive teams. They keep people focused and moving steadily toward shared goals. By doing so, they help their organization achieve its broader goals.

To excel, great people managers must have a strong understanding of business. They should also have a strong awareness of the technical skills used by individual contributors. Through this understanding, they can translate the company’s needs into team and individual objectives. 

Next, let’s discuss several types of people manager positions.

Types of People Managers

Depending on your organization’s structure, you may have people managers at multiple levels. Smaller companies may have just one or two levels of management. 

Team Managers

Team managers are often in their first management position. Prior to their promotion, they typically worked as an individual contributor. 

A project manager is one type of team manager role. In this position, a people manager focuses on carrying out specific types of projects. They might manage an ad hoc team assembled for a specific purpose. Such roles often leverage their high level of technical expertise.

Departmental Managers

A departmental manager or director may oversee a large staff. Team or project leaders who manage their own people may report to them. This role involves setting departmental priorities and strategies. It also entails supervising different managers to ensure they achieve these aims.

HR Managers

Rather than managing one specific department, HR managers promote all employees’ success. They create strategies for keeping employees happy and satisfied. Further, HR provides training, recruits and onboards employees, and ensures compliance, among other priorities.

Top Leaders

Senior leaders need to be excellent people managers, too. All the advice we’ve shared on people management applies to them. While they focus strongly on designing strategic aims, strong communication and relationships are vital to their success.

How to Be a Good People Manager

Diverse group of women people managers meeting
Credit: Cottonbro Studio/Pexels

Let’s review some key tips for people managers. Following this advice will help you become a great coach and mentor. And in the process, you’ll build strong relationships with each person on your team.

  • Model how to respectfully disagree. To improve projects and processes, people should speak up when they disagree. Good people managers demonstrate and teach the skills to do this effectively. They strive to understand perspectives that differ from their own, for the good of the company.
  • Help people learn to correct their own mistakes. Instead of sweeping in with the solution, first make sure team members understand the problem. Then act as their sounding board as they talk through what happened and how to fix it.
  • Listen to employees. Show you value their suggestions. Often frontline workers have the best ideas for how to improve customer support or workflow. So, ask for their opinions. 
  • Get to know people well. By spending time with them, you’ll come to understand their personality, preferences, and working style. Ask plenty of questions about their interests and career goals. Then, you’ll learn which types of tasks and roles fit them best.

More Tips

  • Share excitement for a common vision. Speak often of the company vision and how team members fit into it. Craft a vision for your team, centered on how you’ll fulfill that broader vision. Make each person feel like a crucial part of the plan. This will inspire and energize them.
  • Provide clear direction. Make sure each person understands the core priorities of their role. Discuss the types of tasks and responsibilities that fall into these priority areas. Talk about specific expectations for each project they work on, too. If it seems like they’re drifting away from these core priorities, prompt them to refocus.
  • Have your people’s back. When talking to your peers, voice what makes you proud of your team. It will reflect positively on you as well as them. If your team made a mistake, take personal responsibility rather than choosing a scapegoat.
  • Practice patience. Managing people requires a great deal of this quality. For instance, if an employee asks about something they’ve already explained, the manager should re-explain it in different words or using a different technique. If the manager instead loses patience (and her temper), she’ll discourage questions that can lead to real understanding.
  • Encourage learning from experience. Prompt people to reflect on what went well or poorly in a given situation. Share bite-size feedback as well. Talk over these events in more depth during check-ins, drawing out their perspectives. 

If you’re an HR leader, share these best practices with all people managers. In the following section, we’ll share some additional ways to promote their growth.

How to Best Support a People Manager

If you’re an HR director or company leader, how can you support your people managers?

Providing Guidance for People Managers

Provide people managers with continuous coaching and training. This demanding job requires managers to always keep learning. 

Coach managers on how to create a sense of psychological safety among their team members, for instance. As the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) says, this will empower people to think creatively and fully use their talents. Being supportive and empathetic, listening to people, and encouraging feedback will all help create this culture. 

It can take time to grow these types of skills. So, provide people managers with mentors who will model these skills. Great mentors will share feedback on their progress in a supportive way.

Tools for People Managers

Use software to help people managers excel. With performance management software, they can do all of the following:

  • Engage in more effective goal tracking
  • Determine when people are experiencing problems
  • Notice new skills developed and practiced within their team
  • Observe small and large milestones achieved

Good software will help them take note of employees’ strengths and challenges. Then, they can quickly address them with the proper support. 

Constructive Feedback for People Managers

A people manager’s direct reports will have valuable feedback on his performance. Urge all people managers to seek out such feedback from each employee. 

Not everyone will want to share feedback in front of the whole team. Instead, prompt them to ask for feedback during one-on-one meetings. A couple of days before the meeting, the manager might ask direct reports to bring this feedback. That way, they can prepare their thoughts.

Gathering 360 feedback for each people manager will also reveal key areas for growth. The people manager’s supervisor can work with him to interpret and utilize the feedback.

Trainings for People Managers

Providing access to outside training will give people managers a fresh perspective. They’ll gain access to new insights in the field, keeping knowledge up to date. Look for trainings conducted by leading organizations in HR or your specific industry.

For example, SHRM offers a People Manager Qualification (PMQ) for managers. They can pursue this credential through virtual learning opportunities, making the program accessible to all.

People Manager FAQs

Here are several common questions about this key role.

How can you evaluate a people manager’s success?

Look at measurable team outcomes. Also listen to team members’ feedback. Surveys and 360 reviews can help collect this input. Ultimately, success for a people manager means not just achieving goals but enhancing employee loyalty while doing so.

What if a people manager isn’t succeeding in the role?

Not everyone is cut out to be a people manager. Make sure to offer clear pathways to success for those who don’t aspire to manage others. Talk with the person about whether they genuinely want to succeed in the role. If so, you might use 360 feedback from team members, coupled with mentoring, to shape their growth.

What qualifications prepare someone to be a people manager?

Studying people management in business school can provide a solid foundation. However, there are many pathways to this career. Many people learn on the job. First, they practice managing an individual project or two, with supervision. Gradually, they take on greater responsibility until they can lead their own team.

With the right support and tools, your people managers will reach new levels of success. And as they excel, so will their teams. You’ll then have more loyal, driven, and skilled employees, because they’ll be getting the guidance they need from their managers.

Ready to see firsthand how software tools can boost people management? Demo our performance management software below!

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