Skilled managers are critical to employee engagement, organisational success and even national economic wellbeing. This means that enhancing managers' skills, competencies and knowledge by providing development opportunities is essential.

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 on evaluating 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. 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.

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. 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. 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 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.

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 is commonly recognised that all managers, including first-line supervisors, need at some level to demonstrate leadership qualities. Read our factsheet on leadership to find out about our 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, planning management development means first understanding the performance required and then identifying skills needs at organisational, group and individual level.

Management competences

Larger organisations may use a competence framework to identify the requirements for effective management. These include:

  • Managing and developing others.
  • Applying management techniques and developing strategy.
  • Interpersonal skills such as communicating effectively, emotional intelligence, influencing and negotiating.
  • Supporting health and wellbeing.
  • Boosting inclusion and diversity in the team and workplace.

However, there’s some criticism of competence frameworks in that they can sometimes stifle creativity and diversity of thought.

Whether or not formalised in a competence framework, managerial skills need to be complemented by behavioural traits. CIPD research has identified five behaviours that managers need to be effective and support their teams:

  • open, fair and consistent.
  • handling conflicts and problems.
  • knowledge, clarity and guidance.
  • building and sustaining relationships.
  • supporting development.

You can read more about supporting management development and its importance in the report ‘Soft skills in hard times: why good people management matters more than ever’.

Performance management and development reviews

Regular performance reviews allow managers to discuss work achievements and issues, along with identifying development opportunities. Traditionally carried out annually, organisations are moving to more frequent performance conversations, sometimes scrapping the formal review process altogether. To be successful, L&D professionals need to respond quickly and frequently to the changing needs of managers and their teams. Our performance management factsheet explores this further as well as recent changes in thinking on managing performance effectively.

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. However, when using any form of assessment process, L&D professional need to be clear about its credibility, purpose and outcomes.

L&D management development needs

Our Profession Map is the framework to explore the knowledge and behaviours required for people practitioners. Nine areas from the Map showed development opportunities for L&D practitioners according to our our Professionalising Learning and Development report. The range of development areas required for L&D practitioners are highlighted in our Learning and skills at work research.

Given the widely divergent nature of managerial roles, it’s important to consider a variety of approaches for different management groups or individual managers, and to tailor solutions accordingly.

An array of formal and informal learning methods may be useful 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, coaching and mentoring, project working, networking, online learning, blended learning and action learning. Some methods likely to be particularly relevant for management development are highlighted below.

Work-based methods

As well as the methods outlined below, our Learning in the flow of work factsheet has other examples of informal approaches to learning.

Coaching and mentoring

Coaching and mentoring by other managers, peers, or professional coaches. These are also skills that managers need to master themselves to be effective in leading their teams.


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.

Formal learning

Many formal management development 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 employee development, finance and accounting, marketing, and operations management, and may also cover specialist options (for instance the management of innovation, risk or compliance) or industry-specific modules (such as retail or healthcare management).

  • Courses and qualifications from management membership organisations

  • 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.

  • In-house management or leadership development programmes delivered by internal L&D teams covering a range of models and principles.

Formal educational options may represent useful ways of acquiring knowledge or learning about the techniques of management, though the costs can be high.

Management and leadership programmes have been criticised for containing too many models and theories (that may or may not be relevant), with little time to explore the challenges that managers face or offer practical ways of engaging and developing teams.

Before assessing the impact of any development programme on performance, L&D professionals need to be clear about the performance need the programme is serving and then compare the costs with the value of expected and actual outcomes. If the latter are specific tasks, then they may be relatively quantifiable, although effectively developing the overall capacity to manage is less tangible.

For more on our work on 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. This is partly because of difficulties in identifying which changes are caused by such activities and which may be attributed to other factors. It’s therefore essential 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.

Books and reports

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

BEEVERS, K. REA, A and HAYDEN, D. (2019) Learning and development practice in the workplace. 4th ed. London: CIPD and Kogan Page.

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.

LANCASTER, A (2019) Driving performance through learning: develop employees through effective workplace learning. London: Kogan Page.

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

Journal articles

DEAN, M. and PERRETT, R. (2020) Overcoming barriers to women’s workplace leadership: insights from the interaction of formal and informal support mechanisms in trade unions. Industrial Relations Journal. Vol 51, No 3, May. pp169-184.

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

GRANT, R (2018) Five steps to delivering effective management apprenticeships. People Management (online).15 March.

HAMORI, M., KOYUNCU, B. and CAO, J. (2015) What high-potential young managers want. MIT Sloan Management Review. Vol 57, No 1, Fall. pp61-68.

HOWLETT, E. (2020) The new face of leadership development. People Management (online). 20 August.

MOLDOVEANU, M and NARAYANDAS, D. (2019) The future of leadership development. Harvard Business Review. Vol 97, No 2, March-April. pp.40-48.

MUKHERJEE, A. (2020) 5 musts for next-gen leaders. MIT Sloan Management Review, Vol 61, No 4, Summer. pp62-65.

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.

ROSS, S. (2019) Why some talented leaders succeed while others derail. Human Resources (online). 2 April.

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 Giorgia Gamba Quilliam.

David Hayden

David Hayden: Digital Learning Portfolio Manager, L and D

David is part of the CIPD’s Learning Development team responsible for the digital learning portfolio - he leads the design and delivery of a number of L&D-focused products and keeps his practice up to date by facilitating online events for a range of clients. David began his L&D career after taking responsibility for three Youth Trainees 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 first Masters degree specialising in CPD and has just completed his second in Online and Distance Education. 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. As well as authoring the CIPD L&D factsheet series, he co-authored the 4th edition of 'Learning and Development Practice in the Workplace' with Kathy Beevers and Andrew Rea.