Middle managers lack leadership skills, lowering workplace productivity


Australian middle managers are under-skilled, and for the most part companies know it. New research from the Australian Institute of Management and Monash University has found 83% of employees rated their middle manager’s leadership skills as average or below average.

Middle managers were also ranked poorly in terms of communication skills, strategic influence and their ability to oversee staff performance.

The survey of almost 2000 people including chief executives, senior executives, middle managers and aspiring managers revealed the scale of underinvestment in middle management skills.

But while their leadership qualities were poor, many middle managers were at least self-aware of this shortcoming, with 63% also saying their own leadership skills were average or below.

However, when it came to communication skills, middle managers thought they had it down pat, when in reality their colleagues disagreed.

More than 50% of their colleagues believed the communication skills of middle managers were subpar.

AIM executive general manager Tony Gleeson told SmartCompany middle managers are lowering the productivity of Australian workplaces.

“There’s been a real lack of investment in management to give these people the necessary leadership skills,” he says.

“They need people to mentor them and be given the time to observe and learn from others in leadership roles to help them grow and understand.”

Gleeson says middle managers are frequently people who have been noticed for having a high level of technical capability, but this doesn’t always amount to having strong management skills.

For the current situation to improve, businesses need to develop a clear understanding of the skills and roles needing to be filled by middle managers in the organisation and generate frameworks to allow people to progress and enhance their skillset.

“Businesses need their own frameworks for the development of people, especially at the lower levels of management, and then a mentoring scheme and a targeted education program,” he says.

“The investment needs to be continual.”

People management was ranked as the most important skill required by middle managers, but 52% of middle managers were thought to have average or below average people management skills.

They’re also considered poor at exerting ‘strategic influence’, with 70% of non-middle managers saying they lacked proficiency in this skill.

Large businesses are now starting to cut back on the number of middle managers in their organisation, with 39% of companies with more than 5001 employees saying they’d made cuts.

Gleeson says under-skilled middle managers become “blockers” to organisations executing their strategy.

“It’s like there is a road block between middle management, senior management and the implementation of their strategy,” he says.

“Middle managers were seen as having no understanding of what the companies’ strategies were all about and this is because they haven’t been given the skills to adequately implement them.”


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