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How to become a trusted manager

Chris Evans

Man with an apple on his head

As a manager, cultivating trust in your team should be a top priority. Chris Evans talks to experts to gauge the building blocks for achieving a wall of trust

“Learning to trust is one of life’s most difficult tasks,” Isaac Watts, the famous logician once said. But trust is worth pursuing, because once established between employers and employees in the workplace then the cogs of business run a lot smoother. According to new research conducted by the Institute of Leadership & Management, The truth about trust: Honesty and intergrity in UK managers, the three main drivers of trust at work are openness, clear communication and decision-making. Without these important attributes, managers would undoubtedly find it hard to get staff members to work productively and believe in what they’re being told and doing.

To help achieve a high level of trust, though, there are a great many more weighty issues and attributes within and stemming off from these three behavioural traits. These include consistency of behaviour, appropriate feedback, communicating the right message, and providing context to your decision making process.

Trust comes from consistency

“Trust is probably the single biggest component in a psychological contract between employer and employee, and to make it work several different factors have to be in alignment,” explains Steve Thompson Martyn from Career Directed Solutions. “Where there is inconsistency in behaviour, even if it’s just slight, this can lead to mistrust. Equally communicating an important message, such as a change in the business or a person’s job circumstances, needs to be handled at the right time and in the right way depending on the employee. Get it wrong and it could spell disaster.”

The overall state of the employment market has also had an incredibly profound effect on trust in the workplace. Staff turnover has increased considerably in recent times, which means managers and colleagues are required to trust new people into the organisation much quicker. This situation is further compounded by the poor socio-economic conditions, which breed mistrust and cynicism.

“The sad fact is that a large number of employers don’t tend to trust their employees. Things like KPIs are so important because they’re constantly measuring people, and appraisals are often about what a staff member hasn’t done, rather than what he’s achieved,” adds Thompson-Martyn.

Build relationships, build trust

One of the important ways to get around this is for employers and employees to build relationships. Instead of managing by perception or constant supervision, managers need to have better two way communication with staff, listen properly to their needs and problems, and allow employees space to work on their own ideas, where appropriate.

“The role of the manager or senior leader is absolutely vital. They must not only demonstrate ability to produce work, but also show benevolence, an interest in other people, be approachable, have integrity, and an alignment with the business values,” insists Vanessa Robinson, head of research delivery at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

Robinson also believes a manager can show vulnerability and admit if they’ve got something wrong, as long as they seek to rectify it, because they would be considered more human and trustworthy by employees.

“[Likewise] employees would feel more comfortable to be open, take appropriate risks and in certain circumstances expose vulnerabilities, such as needing assistance or training, if an agreement of trust is built with the manager,” adds Tinu Saide, a conciliation officer at the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas).

Trust over long distances

But building these trust relationships can be a lot harder in the remote, digital world we live in. A huge amount of work is done through emails, file sharing in the cloud, checking mobiles and tablets on the go or through skype and conference calls. But despite this, Robinson says managers must find ways to have personal, face-to-face time with employees so that they don’t feel isolated or underappreciated.

Where the break is often more evident is between senior managers and employees. “In some organisations we spoke to, as part of recent research, they got around this by telling stories about the boss to make them seem more real, so if an employee was required to see them they’d have a bit of background. It is important to find as many touching points as possible,” says Robinson.

Trust has to filter down throughout the entire organisation. This is why senior figures must set out clearly what they want to achieve and be transparent about it. “At every stage, managers, line managers, supervisors and staff must be fully aware of what their goals are and how/why they should go about achieving them, while maintaining open lines of communication,” says Carole Sayer, a guidance advisor at Acas. “Involving staff in important decisions can also be beneficial because it is very rewarding for them to know they’ve been a part of them.”

If a senior manager or line manager is seen to be talking the talk and walking the walk, as well as giving and receiving feedback and ensuring an employee’s job is productive, rewarding and fulfilling then they’re on the right path to trust.

For more on trust visit our most recent research, The truth about trust: Honesty and integrity at work


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