How to be a successfully assertive manager

How to be a successfully assertive manager


Assertiveness is essential for strong leadership. Dealing with difficult employees, clients and customers requires the ability to remain calm and authoritative, without seeming aggressive or rude.

As more people work from virtual environments during the coronavirus crisis, it is more important than ever to clearly communicate your thoughts, feelings and intentions with your employees. I’ve noticed that voice and video communications do not allow for the full range of subtle body language that comes across through face-to-face interactions. Words and tone of voice can be misconstrued as combative, threatening or insincere.

In a virtual environment, assertiveness can help managers maintain worker productivity levels and diffuse emotionally charged situations.In a virtual environment, assertiveness can help managers maintain worker productivity levels and diffuse emotionally charged situations.

Why assertiveness is an essential characteristic of effective leaders

Learning how to be respectfully assertive in person and online is key to your success as a manager.

Assertive leaders are able to:

  • Set and achieve goals.
  • Handle difficult people and situations.
  • Create positive relationships within teams.
  • Ask for the things they need to succeed in their work.

During the current crisis, assertiveness can help managers maintain worker productivity levels and diffuse emotionally charged situations. Assertiveness and compassion are not mutually exclusive. Effective leaders understand how to respectfully assert their authority while remaining sensitive to their employees’ needs and emotional states.

How to be assertive, respectful and authoritative

To be an assertive manager, your employees must understand their duties and respect your authority as a leader. Rather than dominating their employees through acts of aggression, assertive leaders support their teams and allow them to prosper.

Communicate boundaries

When boundaries between managers and employees become blurred, trouble arises. This doesn’t mean you can’t be friendly, but you must be firm in your decisions and careful not to tolerate disregard for your authority.

When you set clear boundaries and expectations, your team members will better understand the conditions for their success. When those boundaries are tested, it is important to remain firm and consistent.

Listen to employee concerns

I’ve seen managers make the mistake of conflating assertiveness with coarseness. However, assertive leaders do not need to practise authoritarian leadership styles. On the contrary, when assertive leaders show that they actively listen to employee concerns, they gain more respect from their team. When you disagree with an employee, make sure to explain the reasoning behind your decisions.

Clearly convey employee responsibilities

Assertive leaders know what they want and are not afraid to ask for it. When managing employees, you can’t expect great results if you do not clearly communicate what is expected of them. At the beginning of every project, explain the expected results and how success will be measured. Allow employees to ask clarifying questions to be sure they understand the scope of their responsibilities.

Model good behaviour

Effective managers talk the talk and walk the walk. If you demand that your employees act a certain way and then are seen to act in the opposite direction, you may lose their respect. When I ask for a behaviour change from my team, I make a point to incorporate that behaviour into my communications.

Give honest feedback

Negative feedback can de-motivate your team. When your employees aren’t performing up to your expectations, offer constructive criticism and highlight the things they did right. Then, reiterate your expectations and make sure your employees fully understand. I have found that employees respect honesty, even when receiving negative feedback.

Collaborate with your team members

An assertive leader is not an island. Rather than handing out decrees and then retreating to your private office, look for ways to cooperate with and support your team. Working alongside your employees shows you care about the project and can inspire hard work.

Assertiveness is a skill that can be learned and perfected through consistent practice. Learn more about how to confidently stand your ground through our tailored assertiveness training for groups and individuals.

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