Self-Management Skills - What Is Self-Managing?

May 25, 2022

by Pam Boney


Whereas sheep always need a shepherd, humans are capable of independently determining what they need to do in a huge variety of situations (including the work setting).  Management would be superfluous if all employees knew exactly what they needed to do each day at work, and how to do it, and never had lapses in motivation during execution. 

While a scenario such as this would certainly be fantastic, it perhaps never occurs in the real world.  However, like many things in life, we can strategically take steps to draw ever nearer to an ideal status quo.  In this case, the concept being cultivated would be “Self Management.”  

Higher levels of self-management represent one important indicator for high-potential employees. What it does not address is self-leadership, which we will address in a separate post.  In this post, self-management techniques and self-management skills examples will be explored, all complemented by eight tips you can use to cultivate self-management skills in your work team.   

A.)  What is the Best Definition of Self Management Skills?

Time spent on an assignment does not inherently speak to the quality of the final deliverable.  Someone who has developed flawless motivation and exceptional time management skills over years and years of professional work is probably going to significantly outperform someone without these qualities (e.g., a recent graduate of a university).  

A construct that acts as a conceptual umbrella for these attributes (and for other attributes that we will discuss later) is the notion of self-management.  What is self-managing?

One source asserts that a list of self-management skills includes:

  1. Positivity, 
  2. Stress Management, 
  3. Time Management, 
  4. Decision Making and, 
  5. Problem-Solving

A self-management definition in the business context asserts that employees who possess self-management skills are those workers whose actions are self-regulated and who think deeply to make the best decisions.  Furthermore, self-managing employees are those who think strategically enough to act in ways that might at first appear suboptimal. 

An example of this point might be someone working for a hospital who decides to purchase a machine a little outside the budget that ends up functioning years longer than the cheaper model would have lasted.  The foresight to financially stretch for a better machine ultimately reaps big dividends.      

Tip #1:  Inspire your team to take calculated risks.

What is another name for self-management skills?  Synonyms for self-management include self-aid and self-help.

B.) Self-Management Skills List

There are multiple self-management strategies:  

  1. Self-observation, 
  2. Self-goal setting, 
  3. Self-cueing, 
  4. Self-reward, and 
  5. Self-punishment  

The more of these strategies that an individual team member can successfully leverage, the better.  We will briefly summarize each.

If someone is skilled at self-observation, it entails an understanding of the situations that elicit certain aspects of their personalities.  When someone is cognizant of the fact that they get very nervous immediately preceding a big presentation, they can determine ways to mitigate the apprehension. For example, adopting deep breathing practices while rehearsing a presentation repeatedly, can associate calmness with the specific topic one plans to present. Yet, sometimes we don’t realize certain things about our personalities, so management or coaching can potentially help in this respect. 

Tip #2: Provide constructive feedback that enables your team to identify blind spots they may have about the way they carry themselves at work.

When self-goal setting is an attribute of an individual, that person has higher performance if they determine:

  1. Details for goals, 
  2. If they elect goals that stretch their abilities, and 
  3. If the goals they set are realistic for their situation.  

Some goals are not reasonable for a majority of the population, thus self-managing employees pick goals that can actually be achieved.  

Next, a self-cueing employee stays attentive to meeting expectations and takes steps to ensure that they don’t overlook steps along the way, thus making it possible to alter their course if the need arises (agility).       

Finally, individuals who practice self-reward and self-punishment use incentives and punishments to enhance motivation.  The end goal for people using these strategies is to be more productive.  A self-reward might be a meal at a high-end restaurant following a demanding (but fruitful) workweek.

C.)  Why Is Self-Management Important?

Employees who can successfully utilize self-management strategies can achieve higher motivation and struggle less to make high-quality work.  Also, the ability to maintain motivation is a key differentiator between people with a wealth of success and those with the opposite.  

An engaged worker is someone who experiences flow while working on the tasks assigned to them, which is desirable just about all the time.  Higher engagement can be expected from workers practicing self-management due to the fact that they have greater resources at their disposal.

Specifically, greater resources here mean that self-managing workers ensure that they have the autonomy to employ varying skills depending on the situation, that they elicit evaluations of their performance, and that they take the time to cultivate their skillset.  Furthermore, the greater degree of resources itself has a beneficial impact on motivation.

Tip # 3:  Reinforce employees when they ask you to evaluate their performance or behavior.  

Another attribute of self-managing workers is the capability to balance independent efforts and seeking help.  An example of this point could be an employee that firsts conduct research in an attempt to answer a question they have rather than impulsively burdening their manager with the inquiry.  

Multiple studies have demonstrated that self-management can help occupational satisfaction, career satisfaction, greater performance, and confidence in one’s abilities (see Footnote following conclusion for a list of some relevant studies).  Also, with the rise of virtual working environments that feature interactions between workers and supervisors less and less, self-management is becoming ever more important.

Individuals strong in self-management skills are productive and independent of overseers.  Even if self-managing individuals need some degree of direction from supervisors, the fewer managers that need to be hired, the better.  Ideally, each supervisor is responsible for eight or ten employees.  

It is also important for employees to have enough initiative to speak up if managers are too involved.  When someone feels micromanaged, it is possible that they are not taking the initiative to alert managers that they should instead be supporting self-management.  

Conversely, micromanagement can also indicate a problem with the individual employee (as opposed to the supervisor).  A worker that is not being productive enough (or that doesn’t keep their manager apprised of their efforts) needs to receive guidance from their manager and to keep the overseer informed of the progress they are making.  

If poor productivity is rooted in a lack of resources, a diligent team member communicates that to the supervisor.  

D.)  How To Develop Self-Management

Training Sessions

Self-management is a skill that people can develop over time.  

One specific intervention that succeeded in cultivating self-management entailed cohorts participating in training sessions lasting 120 minutes once per week for a month.  Structurally, the sessions featured lectures, case studies, and discussions that were intended to enlighten participants about a variety of self-management strategies.  

Outcomes included higher self-efficacy and better performance at work.  More remarkable was the fact that participants continued to have better and better job performance over the course of the twelve months following the final aspects of the intervention.

Self-management can be cultivated in learners who simply watch videos or read accounts of people who successfully enacted self-management.  More generally, gains were achieved by featuring peers as instructors in self-management interventions.

Tip #4:  If you want to help your team members improve their self-management skills, invest in training programs that expose them to the idea of self-management and to various self-management strategies.  Even better, choose members of the employee cohort to lead the programs (as opposed to managers of the cohort or opposed to hiring external instructors).

Focus on Improving Self-Efficacy

Research highlights the importance of self-management in the healing process for medical patients.  A precursor to self-management is self-efficacy, and self-efficacy itself has several antecedents.  Conceptually, it has been theorized that first, one has self-management knowledge, then they have self-efficacy, thus allowing them to develop self-management skills.    

Tip #5:  Help your team members understand and identify what is keeping them from feeling confident in their abilities.

One of the antecedents of self-efficacy is mastery experiences, meaning that patients who successfully take action to secure health outcomes are going to be inspired to keep working to that end. Additional variables in these situations are the degree to which the individual worked independently and how individuals think about their performance.  

Tip #6:  Give people the space to work toward goals that are important to them. Offering creative Fridays as a benefit is one example of this. 

Other strategies include allocating time for practice, setting short-term goals, and requesting that trainees assess how realistic they feel their goals are.  

Tip #7:  Be explicit in your organization about having employees set goals that they can accomplish in relatively short periods of time. In agile, this is called a sprint, which is a time-bound (two-week) period for goal achievement. 

Conduct Evaluations

Finally, if individuals hoping to develop their self-managing skills can have their progress and effort evaluated, improvements can be expected.

Tip #8:  Periodically assess performance and effort and report findings back to the individual employees being evaluated.


The preceding content highlights the immense power and utility of self-management, and more specifically, it emphasizes the immense value of team members who can effectively enact the construct.  If companies can hire candidates that are skilled in self-management, there may be less need to hire additional managers.  Eight tips were provided to help you develop the self-management abilities of your team.

The framework of Tilt 365 (e.g., the Tilt365 Model) includes character strengths such as self-trust, perspective, diligence, focus, integrity, and boldness, which have a lot of overlap with the self-management concept.  For those interested in assessing these (and other) character strengths present in the teams they lead, the True Tilt Personality Profile™, the Positive Influence Predictor™, and the Team Agility Predictor™ are all powerful options.

Footnote:  Murphy & Ensher, 2001; Raabe et al., 2007; Uhl-Bien & Graen, 1998