Managers, upon joining the managerial ranks of an organization, must possess certain skills that will enable them to perform their tasks successfully. In many ways, the skills that managers possess in the organization are the most valued resources of the organization. Poor managerial skills can defeat the most successful activities and in many cases can lead to the demise of the organization.
Robert L. Katz suggests that three important managerial skills that must be cultivated and enhanced by the organization are technical, human, and conceptual.' The degree of development a manager has in each of these three skills will have a strong impact not only upon the success of the organization but also upon the career success of the manager.
Technical skills are those abilities that are necessary to carry out a specific task. Examples of technical skills are writing computer programs, completing accounting statements, analyzing marketing statistics, writing legal documents, or drafting a design for a new airfoil on an airplane. Technical skills are usually obtained through training programs that an organization may offer its managers or employees or may be obtained by way of a college degree. Indeed, many business schools throughout the country see their role as providing graduates with the technical skills necessary for them to be successful on the job.
Human skills involve the ability to work with, motivate, and direct individuals or groups in the organization whether they are subordinates, peers, or superiors. Human skills, therefore, relate to the individual's expertise in interacting with others in a way that will enhance the successful completion of the task at hand. Some human skills that are often necessary for managers to display are effective communication (writing and speaking), creation of a positive attitude toward others and the work setting, development of cooperation among group members, and motivation of subordinates.
Conceptual skills require an ability to understand the degree of complexity in a given situation and to reduce that complexity to a level at which specific courses of action can be derived. Examples of situations that require conceptual skills include the passage of laws that affect hiring patterns in an organization, a competitor's change in marketing strategy, or the reorganization of one department which ultimately affects the activities of other departments in the organization.
While successful managers must possess a high level of expertise in technical, human, and conceptual skills, it is also true that each skill will vary in importance according to the level at which the manager is located in the organization. Generally, technical skills become least important at the top level of the management hierarchy, replaced with a greater emphasis on conceptual skills. Technical skills are most pronounced at lower levels of management because first-line managers are closer to the production process, where technical expertise is in greatest demand. Human skills are equally necessary at each level of the management hierarchy. Conceptual skills are critical for top managers because the plans, policies, and decisions developed at this level require the ability to understand how a change in one activity will affect changes in other activities.
Development of human and conceptual skills will be the main thrust of the material in this book. This emphasis does not imply that technical skills are believed to be less worthy, but simply that they are more easily developed than human and conceptual skills. In many organizations, newly recruited managers have obtained a foundation in technical skills through schooling. In addition, many organizations provide in-house training programs to develop the technical skills that are specific to the operations of the organization. These training programs can last from one day to several years depending on the complexity of the tasks.
Human skills can be developed through an understanding of human and group behavior. Conceptual skills can be developed through knowledge of the various factors that influence organizational activities. Both human and conceptual skills rest on information gathering, reflection, and critical analysis. Such skills are not developed through intuition. Rather, development of human and conceptual skills is enhanced by establishing a framework that will enable enable a manager to identify and respond to various factors that affect a given situation.