Skilled managers impact more than just the organisation itself; they are critical to organisational success and even national economic well-being. For this reason, management development is at the forefront of the agenda in enhancing the skills, competencies and knowledge of UK managers. The factsheet therefore starts off by asking what management development is, the challenges of developing managers, the relationship between management and leadership, and the link between management development and business strategy.

The factsheet highlights the techniques used to identify management development needs, such as management competences, performance management and development reviews, development centres, and HR management development needs. The factsheet looks at formal learning interventions, such as the MBA, as well as work-based methods, like coaching, mentoring, shadowing and secondments and briefly touches upon ways to evaluate management development programmes.

Managers are a diverse population: some are highly qualified with MBAs, huge industry experience and proven management ability, while others operate at middle or junior levels or in operational roles encompassing line management or project management responsibilities. Yet whatever the level of managers, development is a constant need. Properly planned, structured and evaluated management development built around the needs of the organisation can make a critical difference as it builds the capability of the individual in a way that contributes to sustained organisation performance. It is also essential to enhance the people management skills of line managers, as their role is critical in supporting employee engagement and hence helping to drive high business performance levels.

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. Some critics, moreover, argue that the UK has certain deficiencies in respect of the qualities and skills of its management base when compared with managers at the global level.

This means that 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. 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 the management base means that 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 is often a need for individually tailored solutions, as the senior management cadre 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 demonstrated in large environments 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, in addition to the more obvious fundamental 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. It should also not be assumed that well-qualified professionals who attain promotion to posts involving line management responsibilities will automatically be able assimilate the people management role.

Some organisations draw up succession plans ensuring 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 is important to recognise that all managers, even those who are not identified as high-potential for taking up senior roles in the future, may benefit from access to learning and development opportunities.

For more information, see our factsheets on succession planning and talent management.

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 is commonly recognised that all managers, including first-line supervisors, need at some level to demonstrate leadership qualities. Read our factsheet on leadership and find out about our latest research 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, while 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. Find out more in our factsheet on identifying learning and development needs.

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

Regular individual review of performance allows managers to discuss work issues and achievement and identify their personal learning plans.

360 degree feedback (sometimes just 360 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.

For more on these topics, see our factsheets on performance management, on performance appraisal and on 360 degree feedback.

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 the CIPD Profession Map, can 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 is 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, ranging from in-house and external courses, workshops and seminars to coaching and mentoring, project working, networking, e-learning, blended learning and action learning, may be relevant for the development of managers, depending on the nature of the role and seniority or career stage of the individual. Read our factsheet on learning methods.

Some learning methods that are likely to be particularly relevant in respect of management development are highlighted below.

For the latest data on learning development needs of managers, the learning methods deployed by employers and the degree to which techniques are deemed effective, visit our Learning and developmentsurveys.

Formal learning interventions

A wide range of formal education and training courses and qualifications are available in respect of management development, 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 (see Useful contacts)

  • specialist courses, including those delivered by professional bodies as part of continuing professional development (CPD) programmes.

  • 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 undertake a formal course covering latest employment law developments.

Work-based methods

Coaching and mentoring

These 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. Coaching and mentoring are also skills that managers need to master themselves in order to manage others effectively. Find out more in our coaching and mentoring factsheet.


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. Read our secondment factsheet.

In order to understand whether learning interventions offer value, the costs of the provision 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 Evaluating learning and development factsheet.

Despite a massive estimated global spend on management development programmes, it remains difficult to identify specific links with organisational effectiveness and success, partly because of difficulties in identifying which changes are caused by such provision and which may be attributed to other factors.

However, a large-scale study published in 2012 puts forward evidence of the positive impact that management development has on organisational performance1.

  1. McBAIN, R. et al. (2012) The business benefits of management and leadership development. London: Chartered Management Institute.


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

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.

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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.

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

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