Developing communication skills
ATD Blog

The Case for Developing Communication Skills in Managers: More Engagement, More Profits

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

In a recent poll conducted by ATD, learning executives pinpointed one of the most important talents for managers to possess: communication skills. In fact, 83 percent of respondents indicated that communication is THE most important skill area related to managerial success. Other top-rated skills included engagement, listening and assessing, collaboration, and accountability.

In the context of ATD’s poll, communication is defined as the exchange of information and feedback between managers and their direct reports. Communication also involves a willingness to engage in three types of essential conversations with employees: disciplinary, coaching, and praise. What’s more, managers who are adept at communication foster a transparent, open, and honest team atmosphere. In terms of managers as talent developers, effective communication—including targeted, actionable feedback—can build awareness and action toward better employee performance. 

ATD’s findings come as no surprise. Gallup’s recently published report, State of the American Manager: Analytics and Advice for Leaders, found that employee engagement increased when communication from managers was more consistent. For example, Gallup research found that when managers held regular meetings with their direct reports, employees were three times more likely to be engaged than those whose managers did not hold regular meetings. 

Similarly, research by the Project Management Institute found that poor communication leads to project failure a third of the time. Poor communication, consequently, has a direct effect on economic loss. For example, the Project Management Institute reported that for every $1 billion spent on projects, $75 million is put at risk by ineffective communication. Clearly, communication skills are necessary for managers to have, because no organization wants to lose money. 


The message is clear: Communication is critical for managerial—and organizational—success. So, how can organizations ensure that their managers are communicating effectively? 


The ATD Research report, The Coaching Approach: A Key Tool for Successful Managers, found that 69 percent of respondents use coaching to improve communication between managers and employees. Coaching requires the manager to practice providing continuous feedback using coaching conversations. It is important that managers practice soft skills, including communication, because these tend to be lacking in managers. 

For instance, Colin Pitcairn, learning and development manager at Keller North America, explained that in construction, managers have extensive training in (and are rewarded for) technical or hard skills. Soft skills, however, may be part of an uncomfortable set of behaviors for some managers. Even though communication and other soft skills are rated as being extremely important skills for managers to have, it is clear that these skills are often lacking. 

For more of ATD’s research on coaching, purchase the full report.

About the Author

Megan Cole is a former ATD research analyst. Her primary responsibilities included creating and programming surveys, cleaning and analyzing data, and writing research reports for publication.

She received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Central Florida and earned a doctorate in communication from Arizona State University. 

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