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Managerial Roles

management, managers, managerial roles, managerial work, business, administration, organization

Managers must wear many different hats in formulating and implementing task activities related to their positions. In an attempt to understand the diversity of hats managers must wear, Henry Mintzberg examined managerial activities on a daily basis. His study enabled him to identify ten different but, coordinated sets of behavior, or roles, that managers assume. These ten roles can be separated into three general groupings: interpersonal roles, informational roles, and decisional roles.

INTERPERSONAL ROLES

Three of the manager's roles come into play when the manager must engage in interpersonal relationships. The three roles of figurehead, leader, and liaison are each necessary under differing circumstances. Adopting one or another of the three interpersonal roles is made easier by the formal authority the manager obtains from the organization.

The figurehead role is enacted when activity of a ceremonial nature is required within the organization. A baseball manager attending a minor league all-star game, the head chef of a prominent restaurant greeting customers at the door, and the president of a bank congratulating a new group of trainees are all examples of the figurehead role. While the figurehead role is routine, with little serious communication and no important decision making, its importance should not be overlooked. At the interpersonal level, it provides members and non-members alike with a sense of what the organization is about and the type of people the organization recruits.

The second interpersonal role, the leader role, involves the coordination and control of the work of the manager's subordinates. The leader role may be exercised in a direct or an indirect manner. Hiring, training, and motivating may all require direct contact with subordinates. However, establishing expectations regarding work quality, decision-making responsibility, or time commitments to the job are all outcomes of the leader role that are indirectly related to subordinates.

Quite often, managers are required to obtain information or resources outside their authority. The liaison role is enacted when managers make contact with other individuals, who may or may not reside in the organization, in order to complete the work performed by their departments or work units. An auto assembly plant supervisor may telephone a tire supplier to determine the amount of inventory available for next week; a prosecuting attorney may meet with the presiding judge and defense attorney to discuss the use of motions and evidence in a libel trial; or a college professor may meet with professors in a separate department on campus to obtain information on a prospective doctoral student. Ultimately, the liaison role enables a manager to develop a network for obtaining external information which can be useful for completing current and future work activities.

INFORMATIONAL ROLES

Monitor, disseminator, and spokesperson are the three informational roles that a manager may assume. These informational roles are created as a result of enacting the set of interpersonal roles already described. A network of interpersonal contacts with both subordinates and individuals outside the work unit serves to establish the manager as an informational nerve center of the unit, responsible for gathering, receiving, and transmitting information that concerns members of the work unit.

A manager assumes the monitor role by continually scanning the environment for information or activities and events that may identify opportunities or threats to the functioning of the work unit. Much of the manager's gathering of information is achieved through the network of contacts that has been established through the interpersonal roles. Hearing small talk at a banquet about a competitor's planned marketing program, learning through casual conversation at a ball game about the negative medical evaluation of an unsigned ball player, or daily reading of a business periodical are all examples of the kinds of information gathering involved in the monitor role.

The information a manager gathers as a monitor must be evaluated and transmitted as appropriate to members of the organization. The transmittal of information by a manager activates the disseminator role. Privileged information may be disseminated to subordinates, peers, or superiors in the organization. The manager may inform the marketing vice-president about the specific marketing strategy a competitor is planning to implement. A baseball manager may inform the team owner that an impending trade should be canceled because of the unfavorable medical report on one of the players. Or reading The Wall Street Journal may inform the manager that a shipping strike is looming and thus enable her to inform subordinates that temporary layoffs may occur next month.

Occasionally, a manager must assume the spokesperson role by speaking on behalf of the work unit to people inside or outside the organization. This might involve lobbying for critical resources or appealing to individuals who have influence on activities that affect the work unit. A top manager asking the board of directors to keep the work unit together during a reorganization period or a corporate president speaking to a college audience on the role the company plays in education would both constitute engaging in the spokesperson role.

DECISIONAL ROLES

Both interpersonal and informational roles are really preludes to what are often considered to be a manager's most important set of roles: the decisional roles of entrepreneur, disturbance handler, resource allocator, and negotiator.

The entrepreneur role comes into action when the manager seeks to improve the work unit. This can be accomplished by adapting new techniques to fit a particular situation or modifying old techniques to improve individual or group activity. Managers usually learn of new or innovative methods through information gathered in the monitor role. As a result, a supervisor purchases a new kiln which will shorten the drying process for ceramic tiles; a director of a youth club trains staff in the use of personal computers to increase file access; or a president establishes a new pension plan to improve employee morale.

Whereas the entrepreneur role establishes the manager as the initiator of change, the disturbance handler role establishes the manager as a responder to change. Organizations, unfortunately, do not run so smoothly that managers are never called upon to respond to unwelcome pressures. In these cases, the manager is required to act quickly to bring stability back to the organization. A law partner must settle a disagreement among associates in the firm on who will present a case before a judge; a personnel director must negotiate with striking employees dissatisfied with the procedures for laying off employees; or a cannery first-line manager must respond to a sudden shortage of cans used to package perishable fruit because the supplier has reneged on a contract.

When a manager is placed in the position of having to decide to whom and in what quantity resources will be dispensed, the resource allocator role is assumed. Resources may include money, time, power, equipment, or people. During periods of resource abundance, this role can be easily performed by a manager. In most cases, however, organizations operate under conditions of resource scarcity; thus, decisions on the allocation of resources can be critical for the success of the work unit, division, or organization. As a decision maker, the manager must strive not only to appropriately match resources with subordinates but also to ensure that the distribution of resources is coordinated to effectively complete the task to be performed. An office manager must provide secretaries with appropriate equipment to generate and duplicate documents. A manager of a fast-food restaurant must coordinate work shifts to have the maximum number of employees working during the lunch hour. Corporate presidents may provide their administrative assistants with decision-making responsibility for day-to-day matters.

In addition to decisions concerning organizational changes, disturbances, and resources, the manager must enact a negotiator role. The process of negotiation is possible only when an individual has the authority to commit organizational resources. Hence, as managers move up the managerial hierarchy and obtain control over more resources, they become more involved in the negotiator role. For example, the president of a record company may be called in to discuss terms of a possible contract with a major rock group; a production manager must negotiate with the personnel department to obtain employees with specialized skills; or a college dean must negotiate with department heads over course offerings and the number of faculty to be hired.

The relative emphasis a manager places on these ten roles is highly dependent on the manager's authority and status in the organization. Length of time on the job, position in the management hierarchy, goals of the subunit to be achieved, and skills the manager possesses all play a part in determining which roles are more prominent than others at any given time. For instance, a marketing manager is more likely to emphasize the interpersonal roles because of the importance of personal contact in the marketing process. A financial manager, charged with responsibility for the economic efficiency of the organization, will probably focus on the decisional roles. A staff manager, or a manager who performs in an advisory capacity, is likely to be more heavily involved in the informational roles. Regardless of the differences that may occur, however, all managers enact interpersonal, informational, and decisional roles while performing their tasks.

Effectively managing an organization is a demanding task. Managers not only must develop skills related to the functional areas of management but also must learn how to integrate these activities. What makes this process demanding is that events and activities external and internal to an organization can radically change the techniques and methods managers must use in order to arrive at successful outcomes. Managers cannot afford to be limited in their view of management, nor can they simply rely on how things were done in the past.

Even the most seasoned and successful managers are prone to mistakes. However, a more complete knowledge of the managerial process can reduce the chances of mistakes that will have dire consequences for an organization. Such knowledge may help managers to better plan, organize and staff, direct, and control organization activities within the context of their organization.
Published: 2007-05-06
Author: Martin Hahn

About the author or the publisher
Martin Hahn PhD has received his education and degrees in Europe in organizational/industrial sociology. He grew up in South-East Asia and moved to Europe to get his tertiary education and gain experience in the fields of scientific research, radio journalism, and management consulting.

After living in Europe for 12 years, he moved to South-East again and has worked for the last 12 years as a management consultant, university lecturer, corporate trainer, and international school administrator

www.martin-hahn.net

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