Training managers are often expected to handle a wide range of responsibilities and require a diverse set of skills to tackle tasks ranging from strategic alignment to evaluating performance. Consequently, it can prove difficult for many training managers to continue their professional development to enhance these skills.

In response to this challenge, Training Industry developed the Training Manager Competency Model™, a tool for training managers to further their own professional development and support other members of the training and development function within their organization. The model identifies seven core responsibilities, each comprised of two competencies, as well as a grouping of foundational competencies that apply across the board:

Training manager competency areas

Although research has validated all of these competencies and core responsibilities as critical skills for a successful training manager, we recently took a deeper dive to identify the competencies that are most related to high performance, and therefore are the most critical, across all seven core responsibilities. Given the current challenges organizations are facing through the COVID-19 pandemic, training managers may not have the resources available to improve in all areas, which is why we collected data from training managers across a diverse group of industries regarding their performance in all training manager competencies. By doing so, we were able to identify four of the most essential competencies for enabling performance in each of the seven core responsibilities of a training manager.

1. Change Management

Change will come whether you like it or not. COVID-19, for example, is a change that has flipped the world upside-down and provided an immense number of challenges for organizations to manage. The successful training managers in this environment are the ones who were prepared for change and able to thrive when others fell behind.

Managing change isn’t just about dealing with crises; it’s about constantly keeping an organization moving. People are naturally resistant to change, because it triggers negative emotions and discomfort. Training managers who have mastered the change management competency keep their employees on track, communicating a way forward for the entire organization.

Consider the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic: A training manager who has mastered change management would have been able to use specific solutions to quickly ameliorate the uneasiness felt by employees. For example, after the transition to remote learning, skilled training managers communicated the importance of this new style of learning to employees. To go a step further, they spent time ensuring that dashboards were intuitive and user-friendly, making learners feel more comfortable with the changes. These two actions are not difficult to implement but can go a long way to ensuring that employees buy into an organizational change.

2. Human Factors

Put simply, human factors deal with the ability to intentionally apply knowledge or information about people’s behavior to the design of materials, systems or jobs required in an organization. Whether it’s personalizing a training program for a specific employee group or crafting safety procedures for better clarity, training managers can always use human factors to improve a project. Due to its versatility, it’s no surprise that this competency is critical across all seven core training manager responsibilities.

A simple example of applying human factors to training is including clear color schemes in training materials. During the pandemic, for instance, some retail stores have used green dots to indicate where it is safe to stand, and others have used red lines for the same purpose. In American society’s common use of these two colors, green means “yes” or “good,” and red means “no” or “bad.” Similarly, well-crafted training materials are consistent, intentionally using colors to improve clarity and illustrate messages. For example, when describing a positive behavior, you might outline a text in green.

Training managers with a deep understanding of human factors can apply this knowledge in a variety of ways, improving materials and learner comprehension in many contexts.

3. Planning and Attention to Detail

These two skills, summarized in one competency, are easy to overlook or downplay. However, training managers who have mastered the ability to develop detailed plans and materials always have an advantage. They reduce mistakes, produce more concise materials and identify potential issues before they become problems.

It’s inevitable that some learners won’t complete training on time, and a significant element of planning and attention to detail is clearly communicating expectations or providing timely updates to employees. Let them know that they should have modules 1 through 10 completed by Thursday, for example. Then, have a reminder email ready to go on Tuesday to remind them of the expectations. Constantly paying attention to smaller details and planning for issues ahead of time requires little bits of extra work in the short term but enables training managers to keep ahead of the curve in the long run.

4. Information Management and Organization

Keeping information organized makes it easier to maintain and helps training managers identify important patterns. It’s a competency that seems easy to gain proficiency in but, in reality, is one that many people struggle with on a daily basis. Managing and organizing information effectively enables training managers to find the information they need in a faster, simpler way, which is why the competency is so highly tied to performance in all seven core training manager responsibilities.

Training managers are often tasked with compiling and making sense of data from a variety of sources. For example, a training manager may need to sort through subject matter experts’ (SMEs’) feedback, learner data and enterprise systems information to identify the most effective training method to address a problem. However, keeping all of this information organized and easy to interpret can be a challenge. Savvy training managers can manage data and combine information from various sources effectively, helping them develop a better understanding of a situation and, as a result, offer better solutions.

Collectively, improvement in each of these four competencies is an effective way for training managers to improve their performance. However, as the competency model indicates, it’s important to realize the breadth of skills that are required of an excellent training manager. It’s a good idea to start with these four competencies for better performance, but always continue in your professional development across the other essential training manger competencies.

If you’re looking for focused professional development in other competencies, an excellent place to start is Dr. Amy DuVernet’s article “Training Manager Competencies: Assess and Develop Your Skills,” in which she explains five steps to building your professional development plan.