Skilled managers are critical to employee engagement, organisational success and even national economic well-being. So management development is essential for enhancing the skills, competencies and knowledge of managers.

This factsheet considers what management development is, the challenges of developing managers, the relationship between management and leadership, and the link between management development and business strategy. It then explores techniques used to identify development needs, including management competences and performance management. It goes on to look at formal learning interventions, work-based methods, and briefly touches upon ways to evaluate management development programmes.

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Management development is the structured process by which managers enhance their skills, competencies and/or knowledge, via formal or informal learning methods, to the benefit of both individual and organisational performance.

The effective management of both private and public sector organisations is widely perceived to be of critical importance to organisational success and, more broadly, to national economic well-being. The development of managers to help sustain their performance at the highest levels possible is a particularly crucial element of wider organisational learning strategies.

Managing involves the planning, organisation, co-ordination and implementation of strategies, programmes, tactics and policies in respect of people, resources, information, operations and finance. Increasingly the role also takes on a people development function too, particularly via coachiing.

Management development interventions may therefore cover any or all of these areas, depending on the level and nature of the management role as well as other factors such as the stage of the individual’s career.

Why is developing managers different?

The vastly divergent nature and characteristics of ‘management’ means the task of identifying and providing effective learning opportunities for managers presents a significant challenge for HR and L&D professionals. The term ‘manager’ covers a huge range of roles, encompassing senior management teams as well as middle and specialist managers and a diverse array of line managers, together with individuals who occasionally take on project management roles, all with differing development needs.

For senior managers, there’s often a need for individually tailored solutions, as the senior management group is small even in large organisations. Some very senior people, such as managers at board level, may have the perception that others in the organisation fail to understand the pressures they face. However, they can also be sensitive to their senior status, and may reject the idea that they need to learn, although the neutrality of the term 'development' often appeals.

There are differences too in respect of company size or nature. Small firms are not simply smaller versions of big companies in terms of managerial roles but have different priorities and needs. Their senior management development needs may relate to functional skills more normally provided in large organisations by specialists.

Large global firms, meanwhile, often need to consider the issues involved in international management development when deploying managers on overseas assignments, for example, developing them to deal with potentially widely differing approaches to negotiating styles or marketing techniques, well as the more obvious needs such as training in language skills and cultural awareness. They can often have added pressures of dispersed family or challenges of relocating their home. These can impact on their ability to learn and work. Read our factsheet on international mobility.

Managers at all levels need a certain set of skills associated with their people management role, and these need to be developed in line with the organisation’s priorities. Further, it shouldn’t be assumed that well-qualified professionals who are promoted to posts involving line management responsibilities will automatically be able assimilate the people management role. This is particularly critical in the case of technical experts promoted into people management posts. This switch can require a lot of support from L&D and HR.

Some organisations draw up succession plans to ensure that high-potential individuals gain the skills, experience and knowledge required to take up senior managerial roles as they become vacant in the future. However, it’s important to recognise that all managers, even those who are not identified as ‘high-potential’, will benefit from access to learning and development opportunities.

Our report Attitudes to employability and talent explores individuals’ and employers' attitudes towards employability and responsibilities for career development in the UK. Our factsheet looks at the changing context of talent management and effective strategies.

The relationship between management and leadership

The term ‘leadership’ is often used almost interchangeably with ‘management’, but, in fact, reflects only some aspects of the managers’ role, and is not always associated with the formal role of a manager. However, in addition to general management activities, it’s commonly recognised that all managers, including first-line supervisors, need at some level to demonstrate leadership qualities. Read our factsheet on leadership.

Linking management development to business strategy

The approach taken to management development needs to originate from the highest organisational levels, reflecting the organisation’s strategy and aims. Company culture is also a key determinant of management style and attitudes to management development. Read our factsheet on L&D strategy for more on how business strategy can drive L&D planning.

Management development needs arise partly from the day-to-day activities of managers (the need to ensure there is a group of effective managers able to translate the organisation’s aims into action) and also from the need to change and shape the organisation’s direction as the business environment changes. Read our factsheets on change management and organisation development.

As with other employee groups, an initial consideration when planning management development is how to identify skills needs at organisational, group and individual level.

Several techniques, as highlighted below, may be of particular significance in respect of identifying development needs specifically for managers.

Management competences

Larger organisations often have the capacity to identify the requirements for effective management in the form of specific competence frameworks, which will include many of the specialist areas such as:

  • the skills of managing others
  • knowledge of management techniques and the development of strategy
  • interpersonal skills such as communicating, influencing and negotiating.

Find out more in our factsheet on competence and competency frameworks.

Performance management and development reviews

Our performance management factsheet explores critical aspects to get right, as well as recent changes in thinking on managing performance effectively.

Regular individual performance appraisals, or reviews, allow managers to discuss work issues and achievement and identify their personal learning plans. Traditionally carried out once a year, increasingly organisations are moving to more frequent conversations, sometimes scrapping the formal appraisal process altogether. The effect for learning and development is the need to act in an agile way to respond quickly and frequently to the changing needs of managers.

360 degree feedback, which seeks feedback on performance from a wide range of individuals, can be particularly helpful as it addresses the impact of managers’ behaviour on others, including those who report to them.

Development centres

The purpose of specialist management development or assessment centres is to focus on opportunities for personal development, as well as to gauge potential and help make selections for promotion to senior managerial posts. These centres often include work-related activities and group work, as well as coaching and psychometric assessments.

HR management development needs

Our online self-assessment tool, My CPD Map, based on our Profession Map, will help CIPD members, including those who are currently in managerial roles or aiming to progress to such roles, analyse their skills and development needs.

Given the widely divergent nature of the management base, it’s important to consider a variety of approaches that may be appropriate for differing management groups or individual managers and to tailor solutions accordingly.

A wide array of formal and informal learning methods, may be relevant depending on the nature of the role and seniority or career stage of the individual. They may include in-house and external courses, workshops and seminars to coaching and mentoring, project working, networking, online learning, blended learning and action learning.

Some learning methods that are likely to be particularly relevant for management development are highlighted below.

Formal learning

Many formal management development training courses and qualifications are available, with options including:

  • undergraduate, postgraduate (most notably the MBA) or other higher education qualifications in business/management. These tend to cover the main disciplines associated with management in general, such as finance and accounting, marketing, HRM and operations management, and may also encompass specialist options (for instance the management of innovation, risk or compliance) or occupationally-specific modules (such as retail or healthcare management).

  • vocational qualifications such as national or Scottish vocational qualifications (NVQs/SVQs) in the area of management/business studies.

  • courses and qualifications from management membership organisations including the ‘chartered manager’ programme provided by the Chartered Management Institute.

  • specialist courses, including those delivered by professional bodies as part of continuing professional development (CPD) programmes. Find out about CIPD's courses.

  • management apprenticeships in a wide range of areas such as purchasing and supply management.

Formal educational provisions may represent highly stimulating and useful ways of acquiring knowledge or learning about the techniques of management, though the costs of such provisions may be substantial.

Certain formal courses are often taken by individuals at an early stage of their management careers, for instance some companies sponsor new employees on MBA or similar programmes.

However, formal provision may be relevant at any or all stages of a manager’s career, for example, a long-standing manager in the field of employee relations might wish to take a formal course covering latest employment law developments.

Work-based methods

Coaching and mentoring

Coaching and mentoring are one-to-one methods that offer personally-tailored reflection and discussion in confidence between a manager and another individual about that manager’s development.  They are also skills that managers need to master themselves in order to manage others effectively.


This involves the pairing up of two managers who each spend a day (or other set period of time) shadowing the other, followed up with a de-brief where the shadower can feed back observations to their colleague.


Taking another role via a secondment can help managers with broadening skills, knowledge and experience. Secondment is the temporary movement or ‘loan’ of an employee to another part of the organisation, or another organisation. It’s widely recognised as valuable for both employee and organisation development. As flatter management structures become more common, traditional opportunities for promotion through a series of line management roles are limited. Secondments offer career development opportunities and are increasingly used as part of talent management programmes. They also provide organisations with the chance to develop their skills base and share knowledge within the business.

Sharing knowledge

Increasingly popular ways to expand manager’s learning is to have them teach others. Facilitated by the L&D team, perhaps as part of a ‘Lunch & Learn’ series, having an open question and answer session with a senior manager can encourage learning both ways.

Communities of practice

The concept of a community of practice as a means of development dates back to the early 1990s. Members with common interests can meet to share practice, experience, information and ideas. Whilst this can be in a physical setting, the growth of online social platforms, media and technology also provides the opportunity for managers to engage in development conversations both within their organisations and externally with peers.

To understand whether learning interventions offer value, the costs need to be compared with the value of expected and actual outcomes. If the latter are around specific task accomplishment then they may be relatively quantifiable, although effectively developing the overall capacity to manage is less tangible.

For more on our work into the value of learning and methods of assessing the effectiveness of learning generally, see our factsheet on evaluating learning and development.

Despite a massive estimated global spend on management development programmes, it can remain difficult to identify specific links with organisational effectiveness and success, partly because of difficulties in identifying which changes are caused by such activities and which may be attributed to other factors. It’s useful to establish goals and how they will be evaluated before learning takes place, to allow for effective measurement. Anecdotal evidence from employee engagement surveys can support evaluation findings. Productivity increases can also be measured. A large-scale study published in 2012 put forward evidence of the positive impact that management development has on organisational performance.


Chartered Management Institute 

Institute of Leadership and Management

Ofqual - UK Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation

Books and reports

ASHRIDGE BUSINESS SCHOOL. (2010) Development at the top: who really cares? A survey of executive teams. Berkhampsted: Ashridge.

GOLD, J. and ANDERSON, L. (2017) Developing leadership and management skills (Ebook). CIPD and Kogan Page.

GOLD, J., THORPE, R. and MUMFORD, A. (2010) Leadership and management development. 5th ed. London: Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

WOODALL, J. (2011) ‘International management development’. In: EDWARDS, T. and REES, C. International human resource management. 2nd ed. Harlow: Pearson.

Visit the CIPD and Kogan Page Bookshop to see all our priced publications currently in print.

Journal articles

CRAMM, S. (2014) Align with your stars. Strategy+Business. No 74, Spring. pp28-31.

FOX, A. (2013) Help managers shine. HR Magazine. Vol 58, No 2, February. pp43-44,46,48.

MORRIS, G.J. and ROGERS, K. (2013) High potentials are still your best bet. T+D. Vol 67, No 2. February. pp58-62.

MURPHY, W.M. (2012) Reverse mentoring at work: fostering cross-generational learning and developing millennial leaders. Human Resource Management. Vol 51, No 4, July/August. pp549-574.

CIPD members can use our online journals to find articles from over 300 journal titles relevant to HR.

Members and People Management subscribers can see articles on the People Management website.

This factsheet was last updated by David Hayden.

David Hayden

David HaydenL&D Consultant/Trainer

David is part of the CIPD’s L&D Content Team. He leads on the design and delivery of a number of L&D-focused products as well as keeping his practice up to date by facilitating events for a range of clients. David began his L&D career after taking responsibility for three Youth Trainees back in 1988 as an Operations Manager, and has since gone on to work in, and headed up, a number of corporate L&D teams and HR functions in distribution, retail, financial and public sector organisations. He completed his Masters degree specialising in CPD and was Chair of our South Yorkshire Branch for two years from 2012 before joining as an employee in 2014. David also has a background in 'lean' and has worked as a Lean Engineer in a number of manufacturing and food organisations. Passionate about learning and exploiting all aspects of CPD, David’s style is participative and inclusive.

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