Managers are individuals who are responsible for completing tasks that require the supervision of other members or organizational resources. In many large organizations, managers can be sorted into levels of a hierarchy. This hierarchy, consisting of first-line managers at the lowest level, middle managers, and then top managers at the highest level, is a useful classification. It not only identifies a career path for many members of the organization but also provides a way to identify the types and varieties of skills and tasks that must be performed.
First-line managers are situated at the lowest level in the managerial hierarchy. They may be titled "foreman" or "supervisor" within a department or unit of the organization. As managers, their primary activity is to lead employees in the day-to-day tasks which contribute to the organization's goals. However, first-line managers must also be concerned with the control function in order to correct errors or solve problems directly related to the production of products or services. For many employees in the organization, first-line management offers the initial entrance into a management position.
Middle managers are more diverse in terms of titles and task responsibilities. However, a characteristic distinguishing them from other types of managers is that middle managers have supervisory responsibility for first-line managers and at times non-management personnel in the organization. More important, middle managers are responsible for implementing the plans and policies of the organization by focusing on the coordination of tasks performed to achieve organizational goals. Middle managers may be divisional heads, plant managers, or departmental directors.
The smallest grouping of managers in most organizations, top or upper managers is responsible for the overall performance of the organization. Top managers engage extensively in the formulation of strategies. They must also provide leadership, evaluate and shape the method of organizing, and control the direction the organization is moving in an effort to accomplish goals. Top managers usually have such titles as "chief executive officer" (CEO), "chairperson," "senior vice-president," and "president".
It is not necessary that organizations conform to any one specific configuration along the management hierarchy. Depending on the activities of the organization, top management may be quite large relative to middle and first-line management, or first-line management may be extremely small. For instance, many social service agencies have large numbers of top managers to maintain ongoing contact with the community. On the other hand, many high-technology firms have few first-line managers, relying instead on employees to fulfill the function of supervision by determining and evaluating their own individual activities.