By Mary Clarke, CEO, Cognisco (www.cognisco.com)

Earlier this year The UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UCES) published a report that stated that 1.7 million workers did not have the skills to do their jobs and that the skills gap was ‘pervasive’ across all sectors of the economy and all types of occupation, particularly leadership, management and technical skills.

Strong leadership is vital to the success of all businesses, particularly during the current economic downturn. Indeed it can make the difference between failure and success for companies, particularly during testing economic times. UK business leaders are currently facing uncertainty and must drive up performance in order to counteract the financial downturn by drawing on their strengths and placing the focus of management on trust and respect.

Good managers guide staff, and help them to feel positive about the environment they work in. When employees fully understand and appreciate their allocated duties, it encourages them to engage with the business and its practices. Motivated staff increase productivity levels; which — in the current climate — is vital for survival.

Savvy line managers will effectively communicate business practices. Those who don’t are likely to see an increased incidence of workplace stress, conflicts, and large numbers of staff resignations.

One way of guaranteeing strong line management is to ensure that managers are given the right type of training to suit their own developmental needs. Line managers need to understand and appreciate how they manage and work with their team — both on a one-to-one level, but also as one unit working together.

According to a report by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI), 63% of managers have not received any formal management training and many claimed to be 'accidental' managers who had not set out to manage a team.

Clearly, the recession has impacted training budgets, and large numbers of companies have been unable to fully explore the developmental needs of their workforce. But, as always, there are exceptions to the rule; there are still businesses committed to providing core training, which includes management training and developing leadership skills is recognised as a key priority.

Cognisco works with international businesses to identify and tackle skills gaps across all types of occupation, particularly leadership, management and technical skills. With ‘accidental’ managers, those employees promoted to management because they have worked their way up through the ranks, and performed well in their previous role, the company has often failed to provide them with adequate management training and their skills and knowledge remains untested. As a result their own line managers are unaware of the skills gaps, and business weaknesses, and what training may be needed to improve performance.

Regular assessments will allow business leaders the opportunity to assess the skills, competence and confidence of their managers, and gauge how they are performing in their roles. The details gleaned from these assessments will highlight how well or poorly a manager is fulfilling their duties, and what weaknesses exist. Identifying these skills gaps will help to drive a business forward, as targeted interventions such as training, coaching and mentoring will have been carried out on an individual basis.

Management Insight assessments based on the National Occupational Standards (NOS) for Management and Leadership cover a complete range of core competencies. They are run as every day scenarios which provide an accurate picture of how a manager is likely to perform under those conditions. They highlight the judgments that a manager may make, and where the possible shortfalls may exist, and, therefore, highlight where interventions are required if the individual is to reach their full potential.

In terms of benefits to the employee, the assessments enable them to develop a greater self-awareness, and how they engage and interact with other staff.

Employee assessments also reveal top performers - people who can be used in key areas of the business. We call these people 'knowledge custodians,' as they are generally the most knowledgeable people within a company with the potential to mentor or coach their peers.

Businesses need first class managers, who have the confidence and ability to lead and inspire their staff. But to improve the standard of management skills, companies first need to assess their managers and identify strengths and weaknesses. Poor management skills will prevail where these issues go unnoticed. Senior management and leaders often repeat past performance rather than face the need to change. The best leaders are consolidating and drawing on their collective management strengths so that they're in a better position to emerge from the financial downturn. All businesses will need to face up to the constant realignment of operations to cope with the pace of change, and that will continue throughout 2010/11.