Managers shape the culture of their teams and workplaces in countless ways. They have to play both an administrative and leadership role. And they require a diverse set of skills to be successful. But what exactly does a manager do? These are the fundamental requirements of the manager's job and why these skills are critical for success in today’s organizations. Management continues to be a viable career option.
The Manager’s Role Inside the Organization
Organizations are hierarchies of titles. The organizational chart or the structure of the company and the relationships of the jobs and responsibilities, from the top down, may include CEO, vice president, director, then manager. Each of these people performs separate and critical functions, enabling the organization to function, meet its obligations, and turn a profit.
The higher you climb in the organization’s ranks, the further away you move from the day-to-day operations and work of the firm’s employees. While the CEO and vice presidents focus more of their efforts on issues of strategy, investment, and overall coordination, managers are directly involved with the individuals serving customers, producing and selling the firm’s goods or services, and providing internal support to other groups.
Additionally, the manager acts as a bridge from senior management for translating higher-level strategies and goals into operating plans that drive the business. In that position, the manager is accountable to senior executives for performance and to front-line employees for guidance, motivation, and support. It is common for managers to feel as if they are pulled between the demands of top leaders and the needs of the individuals performing the work of the firm.
The Work of the Manager
Have you ever witnessed the "plate spinner" at the circus? This performer places a breakable dinner plate on a stick and starts it spinning. The entertainer repeats this task a dozen or more times, then runs around striving to keep all of the plates spinning without letting any crash to the floor.
On many occasions, the role of a manager feels a great deal like this plate spinner. The manager’s functions are many and varied, including:
- Hiring and staffing
- Training new employees
- Coaching and developing existing employees
- Dealing with performance problems and terminations
- Supporting problem resolution and decision-making
- Conducting timely performance evaluations
- Translating corporate goals into functional and individual goals
- Monitoring performance and initiating action to strengthen results
- Monitoring and controlling expenses and budgets
- Tracking and reporting scorecard results to senior management
- Planning and goal-setting for future periods
The daily work of the manager is filled with one-on-one or group interactions focused on operations. Many managers use early mornings or later evenings to complete their reports, catch up on email, and update their task lists. There is never a dull moment, much less time for quiet contemplation, in the lives of most managers.
Types of Managers
Managers are most often responsible for a particular function or department within the organization. From accounting to marketing, to sales, customer support, engineering, quality, and all other groups, a manager either directly leads his or her team or leads a group of supervisors who oversee the teams of employees.
In addition to the traditional role of departmental or functional manager, or what is generally known as a line manager, there are also product and project managers who are responsible for a set of activities or initiatives, often without any people reporting to them. These informal managers work across functions and recruit team members from the various groups for temporary and unique initiatives.
Span of Control
The phrase “span of control” relates to the number of individuals who report directly to any particular manager. Various trends have existed over the years, but the current approach to creating a proper span of control in an organization involves an analysis of what the organization and its employees need.
When you think about the span of control, a small number of direct reports creates a narrow span of control and a hierarchical structure in which decision making frequently resides at the top of the organization. Narrow spans of control are more expensive, but they allow managers to have more time to interact with direct reports. They also tend to encourage professional growth and employee advancement because the manager knows the employees well and has time to spend with them individually.
According to the Society for Human Resource Management: "In contrast, a wide span of control refers to a larger number of direct reports supervised by one manager, creating a "flat" organization. This approach increases the number of interactions between the manager and his or her direct reports, which could cause managers to become overwhelmed but can also provide more autonomy."
In summary, a manager optimally has no more than six to eight direct reports, although many have ten or even twenty individuals they are responsible for on a daily basis. A smaller span of control enables increased support for training, coaching, and development. The larger span reduces the manager’s ability to support their direct reports but also allows for greater employee autonomy.
Authority of the Manager
A manager may have the power to hire, fire, discipline, or promote employees especially in smaller organizations with the assistance of the Human Resources staff. In larger companies, a manager may only recommend such action to the next level of management. The manager has the authority to change the work assignments of team members in both large and small organizations.
Essential Skills of the Manager
Managers need to develop and hone the following skills:
A manager has to be able to set priorities and motivate your team members. This involves self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. The manager needs to radiate energy, empathy, and trust. And, remember that effective leaders work daily to develop team members through positive, constructive feedback and coaching.
The manager must become a student of effective communication in all of its applications, including one-on-one, small groups, large groups, email, remote working, and social media. Good managers realize that the most important aspect of communicating is listening.
The manager serves as a role model for working together. You support cross-functional efforts and model collaborative behaviors to set the example for your team members.
The manager strives to understand where and how your projects fit into the bigger picture to enhance your effectiveness. The manager reviews priorities in light of larger organizational goals. He or she translates this understanding into meaningful goals and objectives for their team members who need to understand where their work fits in the big picture.
A manager needs to learn the language of numbers. Managers must strive to understand how company funds are invested and to ensure that these investments earn a good return for the firm. While you don't need to be an accountant to be a manager, it is imperative that you learn and apply the basics of solid financial understanding. For example, how many employees can produce the most quality product for the least cost?
Nearly every initiative in an organization turns into a project. And, projects can become complex and unwieldy. Today’s managers understand and leverage formal project management practices to ensure timely completion and proper control of initiatives.
A Career in Management
The work of management is divided into the activities around planning, leading, organizing, and controlling, and the job of a manager encompasses all of these areas. Anyone aspiring to move into management as a career should develop and display strong technical and functional skills. Become an expert in your discipline, and have a strong affinity for interacting with, supporting, and guiding others.
The Bottom Line
The best managers understand that their role is about their team and its performance and not about themselves. They work hard to develop the skills identified above and take great satisfaction in the successes of their team members. Do this effectively at a lower level and others will recognize your value and strive to increase your responsibilities over time. Management as a career is simultaneously challenging and exciting.