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Developing the Leadership Skills Needed for Management

Developing the Leadership Skills Needed for Management

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By Dr. Bjorn Mercer
Program Director, Communication, Philosophy, Religion, World Languages and the Arts, American Public University

Becoming a leader is one of the most challenging transitions people can go through at work. For instance, an employee might go from doing a job under the direction of a boss to becoming the person who is in charge of performance management and has to report to senior leadership.

Start a management degree at American Public University.

Over time, that employee eventually rises even further to a position where he or she leads people and inspires others to do their absolute best for the benefit of themselves and the organization. However, the transition to leadership takes years of experience, years of study and a great deal of self-reflection.

For those workers who are in the early stage of their careers, the difference between leadership and management is perplexing. In a Harvard Business Review article, business executive Vineet Nayar states, “Management consists of controlling a group or a set of entities to accomplish a goal. Leadership refers to an individual’s ability to influence, motivate and enable others to contribute toward organizational success. Influence and inspiration separate leaders from managers, not power and control.”

Typically, a young manager will slowly mature in his or her job. Over time, that manager starts acquiring greater management and leadership skills.

But how can a young manager acquire the skills and competencies required to make the transition from low-level management to leadership?

Office of Personnel Management’s Guide to Assessing Work Competencies

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has excellent resources to help government departments and agencies succeed. This organization “serves as the chief human resources agency and personnel policy manager for the Federal Government” and has a well-developed webpage on the assessment and selection of competencies. According to the OPM, “A competency is a measurable pattern of knowledge, skills, abilities, behaviors, and other characteristics that an individual needs to perform work roles or occupational functions successfully.”

So what is a competency and what is a skill? An easy to way to understand a skill versus a competency is by using the metaphor of playing a guitar.

For example, playing various scales on the guitar is a skill. But playing an actual song in a certain musical style – such as classical, rock, blues, folk or jazz – is a competency. When you play in a specific musical style, you move from scale type to scale type, depending on the need of the song and the situation. More skill is required.

The OPM also has an excellent resource document called the Proficiency Levels for Leadership Competencies. It is intended to help people develop the competencies to become leaders in their organization. In addition, it helps users to specifically develop executive core qualifications that “define the competencies needed to build a federal corporate culture that drives for results, serves customers, and builds successful teams and coalitions within and outside the organization.”

There are 28 competencies overall. Each competency has a short definition that provides a good explanation of its scope, is easy to understand and limits itself to one behavioral characteristic.

Levels and Competencies in the OPM Proficiency Levels for Leadership Competencies Document

In the Proficiency Levels for Leadership Competencies, there are five levels for each competency. Each competency has a Proficiency Level Defined and a Proficiency Level Illustrated. The levels are:

  • Level 1 – Awareness
  • Level 2 – Basic
  • Level 3 – Intermediate
  • Level 4 – Advanced
  • Level 5 – Expert

The Proficiency Level Defined are always the same for each competency to provide consistency in the OPM’s document. These levels are then coupled with the Proficiency Level Illustrated, which shows how the reader can master that competency.

Mastering the Competency of Interpersonal Skills

Interpersonal skills is one of the most important competencies a young leader needs to work on and improve. Please review the OPM’s explanation of mastering interpersonal skills according to the Proficiency Levels for Leadership Competencies before continuing this article.

Working through the Interpersonal Skills Competency Levels for Leadership

If you were to work on gaining this competency, it would be important to write down observations, do readings and reflect. Ideally, keep a journal as you work through the competency and do the following:

Level 1 – Awareness

  • Review the Proficiency Level Defined and Proficiency Level Illustrated.
  • Reflect on if you are demonstrating Level 1 behaviors at work. Are you being tactful and responding to employee inquiries? Are you being extensively guided by a mentor (not your boss)?
  • Start reading articles about interpersonal skills and leadership.
  • Move to Level 2 when ready.
  • Note: Level 1 would be a typical lower-level manager.

Level 2 – Basic

  • Review the Proficiency Level Defined and Proficiency Level Illustrated.
  • Reflect on if you are demonstrating Level 2 behaviors at work. Are you showing empathy, respect, and welcoming new employees? Are you able to exhibit behaviors in difficult situations? Are you still being guided by a mentor?
  • Continue to read articles about interpersonal skills and leadership.
  • Move to Level 3 when ready.
  • Note: Level 2 would be the typical manager.

Level 3 – Intermediate

  • Review the Proficiency Level Defined and Proficiency Level Illustrated.
  • Reflect on if you are demonstrating Level 3 behaviors at work. Are you able to make yourself accessible to employees? Do you correct employee mistakes in a courteous manner? Do you require only occasional guidance?
  • Continue to read articles about interpersonal skills and leadership.
  • Move to Level 4 when ready.
  • Note: Level 3 would be the typical manager who leads a team of high-performing employees.

Level 4 – Advanced

  • Review the Proficiency Level Defined and Proficiency Level Illustrated.
  • Reflect on if you are demonstrating Level 4 behaviors at work. Are you able to meet with staff and listen to their perspectives on policies and procedures? Do you treat everyone with courtesy and sensitivity? Do you require little to no guidance?
  • Continue to read articles about interpersonal skills and leadership.
  • Move to Level 5 when ready.
  • Note: Level 4 is a typical director or senior manager who has oversight over a department and multiple teams.

Level 5 – Expert

  • Review the Proficiency Level Defined and Proficiency Level Illustrated.
  • Reflect on if you are demonstrating Level 5 behaviors at work. Are you able to interact with public interest groups that have opposing viewpoints while achieving the mission of your organization? Are you open and approachable when dealing with sensitive and complex issues? Have you become a mentor to young leaders?
  • Continue to read articles about interpersonal skills and leadership.
  • Note: Level 5 is almost exclusively senior leadership such as Vice Presidents, Provosts and other high-ranking leaders.

Working through this competency takes a lot of time and effort. But by working through the interpersonal skills competency, you will have exhaustively studied the latest interpersonal writings and scholarship, and done a great deal of self-reflection on how you interact with others. You’ll also gain invaluable practical and first-hand experience.

If you desire to become a good leader, consider working your way through the OPM’s document for the next two years. Later, you will be transformed into a person who is ready to honestly and respectfully be a leader in your organization.

About the Author

Dr. Bjorn Mercer is a Program Director at American Public University. He holds a bachelor’s degree in music from Missouri State University, a master’s and doctorate in music from the University of Arizona, and an M.B.A. from the University of Phoenix. He writes about leadership, management and why the humanities and liberal arts are critical to career success. Dr. Mercer also writes children’s music.

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