For leadership and management roles, conceptual skills are often overlooked in favor of more tangible hard skills, such as financial management or project management. However, conceptual skills in management are just as important, if not more so.
Conceptual skills allow you to connect the dots, navigate complicated situations and solve significant challenges. These skills are helpful for quickly resolving problems, staying focused on big-picture items and understanding the complexities that come with leadership. By improving your conceptual skills in management, you can become a more effective leader.
What Are Conceptual Skills?
What exactly are conceptual skills in management, and why can they make such a big difference in the way managers work? Conceptual skills allow you to see the bigger picture and the complex ways that issues are interrelated. These skills can enable you to develop innovative solutions to problems, work efficiently and make sure you stay on track in focusing your energy and time.
Conceptual skills in management fall under the category of soft skills, which include competencies related to behavior, personality and interpersonal skills, and which can often be difficult to quantify on their own accord. While these skills can sometimes seem elusive, they’re absolutely critical in the workplace. Research tells us that 85% of overall career success “comes from having well-developed soft skills.”
When it comes to conceptual skills, think about it like this: as a manager, you have an incredibly long to-do list. At first glance, this list might look like many isolated tasks and issues. But by tapping into your conceptual skills, you can choose to first address the tasks that have the most significant organizational implications, ensuring you make the best use of your time.
You can also look for underlying issues that might connect some of these tasks and get to the root of the problem. Then, you can create a solution that addresses multiple needs at once.
Instead of simply reacting to issues and needs, conceptual skills in management allow you to take a proactive and intentional approach to management and problem-solving. At the end of the day, conceptual skills are a central component to effective team performance management.
Examples of Conceptual Skills
Conceptual skills in management are a collection of thinking-related soft skills which manifest in different ways. These include social skills, technical skills, and leadership skills. The underlying factor is that these skills allow you to see the “big picture,” connect ideas, and solve complex organizational problems.
Here are some common examples of conceptual skills in management:
Creative Thinking Skills
Creative thinking skills involve looking at problems from different angles and generating outside-the-box solutions. These skills are helpful for quickly resolving challenges, developing new strategies, and improving efficiency. For example, instead of just following an ineffective blueprint already in place, creative thinking skills would allow you to come up with a new and improved plan.
Interpersonal Communication Skills
The way you communicate as a manager can make a big difference in how things get done. Have you ever wondered what makes a good communicator? Managers with excellent interpersonal communication skills are effective speakers and listeners. They leave their judgments at the door, make an effort to communicate face-to-face, and practice empathy. Ultimately, interpersonal communication skills can help you make effective and intentional communication choices.
Management skills involve setting goals, delegating tasks, and ensuring things get done efficiently and timely. These skills help keep you and your team organized, on course and focused on what’s most important. For example, if you’re trying to manage a complex project with many moving parts, management skills can help you complete tasks without forgetting those crucial details. Conceptual management skills are important because they allow you to see the big picture, connect ideas, and solve complex problems. You can become a more innovative and effective manager, and positively influence team performance, by developing these skills.
Here are some key skills that fall under this category:
Every decision we make has consequences, both good and bad. Sometimes, the effects of our choices are immediate and obvious, but other times they may not be apparent for months or even years. That’s why it’s crucial to think about the big picture when making any decision. By looking at the potential long-term effects of our choices, we can make better-informed decisions that are more likely to lead to positive outcomes.
Ability to Motivate
Motivation can be a powerful tool for managers. It’s most helpful with getting employees to buy into new ideas, or just making sure everyone on the team is working together as one. The ability to motivate helps build strong teams with committed members excited about achieving goals.
Analytical and Critical Thinking Skills
Breaking down complex, multi-tiered issues and coming up with real-world solutions isn’t always easy. It requires excellent analytical and logical thinking skills. Here are two examples of analytical thinking skills that managers can deploy:
Workplace innovation is directly tied to success. Companies that rank as the most innovative globally are household names (such as Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Tesla). Innovation leads to progress, which helps companies succeed, eventually leading them to become those household names. Leaders should use innovative skills to develop new solutions, redesign processes, and create a more productive environment.
Every industry has its own necessary technical skills. Every manager knows just how much a lack of those technical skills can slow down a workflow. Managers need to be fluent in the technical languages necessary for their industry to get work done and solve issues.
If there’s any conceptual skill in management that is integral for excellent leadership, it’s emotional intelligence. Research tells us emotional intelligence accounts for nearly 90% of what sets high performers apart from the rest. What exactly is emotional intelligence? Sometimes called emotional quotient, or EQ, emotional intelligence refers to your ability to monitor and control your own emotions and understand and influence the emotions of those around you.
Emotional intelligence is a critical conceptual skill in management because it can inform decision-making, influence communications, and allow managers to redirect the course of conversations. For example, a manager with high emotional intelligence will be deeply aware of their own emotions and their employees’ emotions. They’ll be able to easily navigate difficult conversations, handle times of stress, mitigate conflicts, and demonstrate sensitivity.
Ultimately, emotional intelligence is crucial for fostering a positive and productive work environment.
Developing a Strategic Mindset
When it comes to conceptual skills in management, leaders need to not only be able to apply those skills today, but they also need to work with a long-term, big-picture view in mind. Developing a strategic mindset is highly sought-after by leaders: one survey found that out of “10,000 senior leaders, 97% of them said that being strategic was the leadership behavior most important to their organization’s success.” But the unfortunate reality is that many organizations struggle with their strategic planning, with research finding that up to 67% of strategic planning results in failure.
While challenging, managers can actively work to develop a strategic mindset, in order to help their teams and organizations achieve their long-term goals. At the end of the day, having a finely-tuned strategic mindset deeply impacts decision-making. If a manager is proficient in strategic thinking, they’ll make decisions in the present day based on their future goals.
Developing a strategic mindset involves identifying larger goals, and teasing out the steps and milestones required to get there. When leaders have developed a strategic mindset, they’ll also be able to develop and deploy team building strategies.
How to Improve Conceptual Skills in Management
Many management skills are largely conceptual. However, managers can take many different steps to improve their conceptual skills in management.
First, managers should practice taking a “big picture” view of issues. When multiple problems or action items are on the agenda, step back and take a critical look instead of racing to solve them.
Ask questions like:
- Are these issues connected?
- Is there an underlying issue that needs to be addressed?
- What is a bigger solution that can prevent these issues from happening again?
Next, managers should focus on their communication skills. Effective communication is key to many conceptual skills, such as decision-making, motivating, and sharing innovative ideas. Ensure you’re speaking and sharing ideas thoughtfully, tactfully, and in a way that resonates with your audience. Also, make sure that you’re practicing active listening. Another way to improve your conceptual skills in management is to learn from others, such as your management peers or senior leaders.
Lastly, managers can look for professional resources which help them develop their conceptual skills in management using industry-leading approaches, research, and practices. For example, here at RallyBright, we have RallyBright Academy, which provides you with proven, interactive leadership development training and simulations to help you lead high-performing teams and build inclusive teams.
Learn From Others
Learning from others is an effective way to expand your conceptual skills. Why is this the case? Learning from others means that you don’t have to “reinvent the wheel.” If another manager has figured out a great way to motivate their team, you can draw inspiration from them to effectively motivate your own team.
There are plenty of ways managers can boost their conceptual skills by learning from others in their organization or industry. It’s possible that someone else has experienced an issue you’re currently facing or that they’ve gone through something similar. You can learn from the experiences, mistakes and successes of others to grow your conceptual skills.
Developing conceptual skills like decision-making, creative thinking, and technical skills also comes from leaning on others for their expertise:
- Know when to ask for help: Have you ever tried to solve a technical issue for hours, only to call the IT department and solve it in minutes? Leaning on other experts is an excellent way to learn in general, and managers should incorporate this into their strategy for building conceptual skills.
- Observe leaders and mentors: Managers can also learn how to navigate professionalism in their role from other leaders. Managers, especially new managers, often face complex issues and conversations that they’ve never encountered before. They need to be able to skillfully navigate these waters, while also maintaining professionalism.
- Ask for feedback: Managers can learn how to ask for feedback from colleagues. It’s not often that we get unsolicited feedback, for good or bad. But input from leadership colleagues can be immensely helpful in understanding our performance and how we can make improvements.
Why Conceptual Skills Are Necessary for Management
Conceptual skills in management include vital soft skills which allow managers to make effective decisions, inspire their teams, and work through problems and conflicts with ease. These skills are often cited as some of the most critical for positive leadership outcomes and the biggest predictors of individual success in the workplace.
Conceptual skills cover a swath of key soft skills, such as creative thinking skills, interpersonal skills, managerial skills, decision-making skills, and the ability to motivate. By honing and refining these skills, managers can better lead their teams and are best-poised to arrive at their desired outcomes.
In short: conceptual skills are necessary for management, and leaders need to take steps to sharpen these valuable skills. Conceptual skills are vital in management because they give managers the underlying skills to address complex and dynamic organizational problems. They also allow leaders to develop innovative solutions and work with the bigger picture in mind. By building your conceptual skills, you’re setting yourself up for success as a manager and helping the entire organization.
To learn more about improving your management processes and pinpointing skill gaps, schedule a demo of the RallyBright platform for teams.