According to the results of a new Robert Half Management Resources survey, nearly 30 percent of polled workers cited "communication/diplomacy" as the top skill they wanted their managers to improve. Better technical expertise (18%) and leadership skills (17%) followed closely behind.

Workers were asked, "Which skill do you think your manager needs to improve most?" Their responses were as follows:

"At the managerial and executive levels, possessing technical skills is frequently less important than being a good leader and communicator," stated Tim Hird, executive director of Robert Half Management Resources. "The greatest ideas go nowhere if a manager cannot express them effectively, gain consensus and build the work relationships necessary to execute them."

"Leaders must be able to tailor their communication style to the individual and recognize what motivates each team member," Hird added. "Managers who excel at this achieve higher levels of employee engagement and productivity."

Robert Half suggests five ways managers can better measure and implement their communication skills:

  1. Request 360-degree feedback: Opinions from your manager, peers and employees are invaluable. Ask them about your strengths and weaknesses, their communication preferences, and how you can make it easier for them to come to you with questions or concerns. Not everyone will feel comfortable giving candid feedback, so consider gathering input anonymously.
  2. Find a role model: Think of a manager you admire who enjoys great rapport with his or her staff. What makes this person stand out? Observe how he or she interacts with others.
  3. Define your comfort zone – and go outside of it: If you struggle handling difficult conversations, ask a mentor or trusted colleague for pointers. If giving presentations is not your strong suit, take a public speaking class or join a group like Toastmasters.
  4. Practice active listening: In conversations, focus on what others are saying instead of formulating your next thought. Pause an extra second before jumping in to make sure you don't interrupt others.
  5. Be yourself: Don't try so hard to be a manager that you stop being an individual. Be honest and relatable, and show vulnerability from time to time. To err is human – your team wants to know that you are not perfect and don't expect them to be either.

For more on Robert Half Management Resources, head to their site here.

Sean McCabe

Sean McCabe is a senior editor with Accounting Today.