In carrying out the responsibilities of planning, organizing, leading, and controlling, managers take on many different roles. A role is a set of behavioural expectations or a set of activities that a person is expected to perform. Managers’ roles fall into three basic categories: informational roles, interpersonal roles, and decisional roles. In an informational role, the manager may act as an information gatherer, an information distributor, or a spokesperson for the company. A manager’s interpersonal roles are based on various interactions with other people. Depending on the situation, a manager may need to act as a figurehead, a company leader, or a liaison. When acting in a decisional role, a manager may have to think like an entrepreneur, make decisions about resource allocation, help resolve conflicts, or negotiate compromises.
To be a successful manager, you’ll have to master a number of skills. To get an entry-level position, you’ll have to be technically competent at the tasks you’re asked to perform. To advance, you’ll need to develop strong interpersonal and conceptual skills. The relative importance of different skills varies from job to job and organization to organization, but to some extent, you’ll need them all to forge a managerial career.
Throughout your career, you’ll also be expected to communicate ideas clearly, use your time efficiently, and reach sound decisions.
You’ll probably be hired for your first job based on your technical skills—the ones you need to perform specific tasks—and you’ll use them extensively during your early career. If your college major is accounting, you’ll use what you’ve learned to prepare financial statements. If you have a marketing degree and you join an ad agency, you’ll use what you know about promotion to prepare ad campaigns. Technical skills will come in handy when you move up to a first-line managerial job and oversee the task performance of subordinates. Technical skills, though developed through job training and work experience, are generally acquired during the course of your formal education.
As you move up the corporate ladder, you’ll find that you can’t do everything yourself: you’ll have to rely on other people to help you achieve the goals for which you’re responsible. That’s why interpersonal skills, also known as relational skills—the ability to get along with and motivate other people—are critical for managers in mid-level positions. These managers play a pivotal role because they report to top-level managers while overseeing the activities of first-line managers. Thus, they need strong working relationships with individuals at all levels and in all areas. More than most other managers, they must use “people skills” to foster teamwork, build trust, manage conflict, and encourage improvement.
Managers at the top, who are responsible for deciding what’s good for the organization from the broadest perspective, rely on conceptual skills—the ability to reason abstractly and analyze complex situations. Senior executives are often called on to “think outside the box”—to arrive at creative solutions to complex, sometimes ambiguous problems. They need both strong analytical abilities and strong creative talents.
Effective communication skills are crucial to just about everyone. At all levels of an organization, you’ll often be judged on your ability to communicate, both orally and in writing. Whether you’re talking informally or making a formal presentation, you must express yourself clearly and concisely. Talking too loudly, rambling, and using poor grammar reduces your ability to influence others, as does poorly written communication. Confusing and error-riddled documents (including emails) don’t do your message any good, and they will reflect poorly on you.
Managers face multiple demands on their time, and their days are usually filled with interruptions. Ironically, some technologies that were supposed to save time, such as voicemail and email, have actually increased workloads. Unless you develop certain time-management skills, you risk reaching the end of the day feeling that you’ve worked a lot but accomplished little. What can managers do to ease the burden? Here are a few common-sense suggestions:
- Prioritize tasks, focusing on the most important things first.
- Set aside a certain time each day to return phone calls and answer emails.
- Delegate routine tasks.
- Don’t procrastinate.
- Insist that meetings start and end on time, and stick to an agenda.
- Eliminate unnecessary paperwork.
Every manager is expected to make decisions, whether alone or as part of a team. Drawing on your decision-making skills is often a process in which you must define a problem, analyze possible solutions, and select the best outcome. As luck would have it, because the same process is good for making personal decisions, we’ll use a personal example to demonstrate the process approach to decision making. Consider the following scenario: you’re upset because your midterm grades are much lower than you’d hoped. To make matters worse, not only are you in trouble academically but also the other members of your business-project team are annoyed because you’re not pulling your weight. Your lacrosse coach is very upset because you’ve missed too many practices, and members of the mountain-biking club of which you’re supposed to be president are talking about impeaching you if you don’t show up at the next meeting. And your significant other is feeling ignored.