What Is a Manager?
Updated 26 February 2021
Managers play a hugely important role in the workplace. They oversee projects, ensure that businesses are working effectively and are responsible for ensuring that the right teams are in place.
They will likely have significant responsibility for fiscal policies and general operations; they will also need to motivate individuals to work to the best of their ability.
It comes as no surprise that managers need to have a wide range of skills to be successful.
But what are these skills and what does a manager do? This article will look at the role of the manager and help you understand why they play such an important role.
What Is a Manager?
There are many different types of managers, and each one will have distinct roles and responsibilities.
Many companies choose to operate via a vertical line management structure.
This is where you may have a CEO or management team at the top, with various board members and/or senior C-suite executives reporting directly to them.
Each board member may have their own team/division, complete with middle managers who may have line managers or team leaders underneath them.
Imagine a reversed family tree, with branches spreading out downwards indicating the different teams reporting upwards to their managers. Vertical versus horizontal management is discussed below.
Here is a short breakdown of the role of each manager:
- Top-level managers/C-suite executives. These managers take overall responsibility for the running of the company. They are responsible for the wider business strategy and ensuring that it complies with all relevant rules and legislation. They focus on business growth, acquisitions, investments, product portfolios and external partnerships. They may be seen as the face of the company – for example, Jeff Bezos from Amazon.
- Middle managers. They are responsible for specific departments. Whilst they do need to consider wider business strategy, they take direction on this from their senior teams, leaving them to focus on managing their day-to-day tasks. Middle management plays an important role – it is the link between the on-the-ground workers and the senior management teams.
- Line managers/team leaders. These are usually the first rung on the managerial ladder. These are the people who are responsible for the day-to-day running of the operation but, unlike middle managers, do not need to consider the wider perspectives. They may be responsible for recruitment within their teams and the operational tasks involved in ensuring that work is completed on-time and on-budget.
What Key Skills Should a Manager Have?
To be successful, managers need to have a wide range of skills.
They will have likely begun their career in entry-level positions and worked their way up the career ladder. This means that they will typically have frontline experience of working on the 'shop floor' but will also have gained wider experience and capabilities through additional training and academic qualifications.
Here are some of the essential skills that great managers need to have:
- Communication. What sets a great manager apart from a good manager is their ability to communicate effectively with their staff. A manager must be able to clearly explain their corporate vision whether it is an ambitious growth plan led by top-level managers or a specific job task explained to junior staff. Knowing how to talk to people can play an important role in maintaining motivation and improving a co-worker's performance.
- Critical thinking. Managers need to listen to what is being said and, more importantly, understand what is not being said. They need to have the analytical and critical thinking skills to think beyond the initial problem or situation and establish ways to overcome the issue. As managers work their way up, this becomes a more conceptual skill. They need to understand the wider implications of their decisions, which may have long-lasting consequences for the business.
- Decision making. Managers are responsible for all of the decision-making in the business, from choosing which staff member will do which task to recruitment plans and spotting expansion opportunities. Whether you are a line manager, team leader or a C-suite executive, your days will be spent making decisions that may have lasting effects on a business.
- Delegation. One of the hardest skills for any manager is learning how to delegate. It may be tempting to simply do it all yourself, but success will rely on delegating tasks or even decisions to other people, while not micromanaging.
- Financial acumen. As you progress in your managerial career, you will likely take on more fiscal responsibility. The manager's role will include responsibility for budgets, from small projects through to large departments. You must understand cash flow and provide business cases for investment in new opportunities. Much of your time will be spent evaluating return on investments and understanding how to make money.
- Leadership. Managers need to be inspiring. They need to be able to lead effectively, through calm, collected choices and encourage people to want to work for them. Great managers are those who can lead others to work to the best of their ability and work as part of a team.
- Project management. To get a higher-level managerial position, you will need to have demonstrable proof of how you can take a project to completion from start to finish. You will need to show you can put the right teams in place, trust them to do the work you delegate and that you also know when to get involved to provide help and support.
- Technical proficiency. This is an often overlooked managerial skill, but you need to have a deep knowledge of your profession. You cannot manage a team of investment bankers if you do not have the vaguest idea of what investment banking requires. If you have worked your way up from the bottom, you should understand what your business does, but if you are new to a company, you need to show your knowledge. For example, a pharmaceutical manager would need to have a scientific background to fully understand the business.
How Can You Get the Required Managerial Skills?
In many cases, these skills are built on years of experience and from working with and learning from others. However, as you progress in your career and the stakes become much higher, you may find that you benefit from additional training and academic qualifications to help you become a better manager.
What Roles and Responsibilities Do Managers Have?
Having managerial skills is good but they also need to be put into practice. Here are some of the wide variety of tasks and responsibilities a manager may be expected to perform in their job role:
- Ensuring smooth operations. As a manager, you take full responsibility for ensuring that the day-to-day operations of the business are functioning effectively within your remit. You will be responsible for budgets, financial responsibilities and ensuring that your cash flow remains positive. This may include writing a business case for any investment into new products, services or technologies that can be used to help you grow your business.
- Collaborating with HR. Working closely with your HR team to help identify recruitment needs and training opportunities is important in a managerial role. You will be involved in staffing issues, from hiring to training, and setting KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and achievable targets. You could also be heavily involved in the career development of your staff, helping them develop new skills and progress their abilities with the goal of improving your teams.
- Goal setting. To facilitate business growth, you will have to set a wide range of short-term and long-term goals that will keep you motivated and on-track. Establish what is achievable for your team’s existing capabilities and then, in conjunction with training, push beyond with realistic ambitions. You will have to write strategic reports outlining your achievements and showing an understanding of your strengths and weaknesses.
- Communicating with others. Great managers cannot work in silos, keeping their cards close to their chest and not sharing information with others working towards a common goal. The role of the manager is to be an effective team player, leading by example. They need to show that they can motivate and inspire, while also recognizing achievements from individuals and rewarding them accordingly. They need to collaborate and work closely with their specific teams as well as communicating upwards along the managerial chain. Taking responsibility for clear communication, managers ensure everyone is working towards the same goal regardless of their levels of seniority and expertise.
Vertical Versus Horizontal Line Management
As previously mentioned, many companies operate via a vertical line management structure. This is beneficial in areas where employees want to see a clear hierarchy and career progression pathway. It can be effective because it allows individuals to flourish in their roles and employees can work to their strengths.
But there is a risk that vertical structures become too hierarchal. Those at the top may be too far removed from the workforce and unaware of the practicalities and restrictions that lower-level staff may be facing.
If it has been many years since they were ‘on the shop floor’ then they may be operating from out-of-date knowledge.
In contrast, some organizations prefer a flatter, more horizontal line management structure.
This means that there are fewer managerial layers and individual employees can have greater responsibility and authority.
There is often an open-door policy in the workplace and communication flows much easier.
Junior workers are encouraged to approach senior managers, allowing them to share ideas and knowledge and remain motivated to work for company goals.
However, this approach also has its drawbacks as people may struggle to see a clear career path or feel that they are being asked to work in ways where they lack the relevant experience.
What Are the Different Management Styles?
As you begin your role as a manager, you may need to decide what your managerial style will be.
This will determine your way of working, the way that you delegate and communicate with others, and the way that you manage your staff.
There are no right or wrong managerial styles. Some styles may suit some professions more than others, and some managers will be able to adopt different approaches with different teams of individuals.
The sign of a good manager is knowing how to work with employees to get the best out of them.
Although there are many different management styles available, they broadly split up into three distinct categories – autocratic, democratic and laissez-faire.
This is an extremely bullish style of management. It focuses on the decision-making and communication coming directly from top-level managers, often with little regard for those expected to perform the tasks.
Employees are often set distinct goals and performance levels are heavily monitored, with little room for creativity or exploration of different ways of working.
Although it may sound like a negative way of working, autocratic management can be extremely effective. It can prioritize fast decision-making processes, and all employees know exactly what they need to do and when.
In some cases, a manager may choose to use persuasive discretion to explain any roles or processes to employees. They may take the time to involve teams in the decision-making criteria which can improve motivation and participation. However, the result is the same: the decision comes directly from the top-level management structure.
In contrast, a democratic management style means that there is more communication and collaboration up and down the vertical company structure.
Employees at all levels may be welcome to submit ideas and suggestions and will be heavily involved in helping to improve business success.
Although the specific manager will take full responsibility for any products/processes/projects, they will collaborate with team members to work as effectively as possible.
This style of management is often used when the manager needs to rely on the individual skill sets of team members.
For example, marketing managers may often involve entire teams to generate campaign ideas. The manager’s role will be to retain responsibility for the overall project management, but they will likely trust individuals to be involved in campaign creation and delivery.
It can be a far more effective style of management. This is because individual employees will feel respected and motivated, but it can be costly. Time efficiency could be lost due to the time it takes to involve staff in decisions, and it can also be difficult to ensure that every person feels valued and listened to.
This is a unique style of management. It requires the total trust of the manager in their team to simply get on with the job.
Laissez-faire managers tend to step back from day-to-day management and rely on individuals to work to their ability with minimal supervision.
Many smaller firms may use this style of management because it allows people to work at their own pace, yet they can ask a manager for help when needed.
The role of the manager may be to focus solely on delegation and communication. Or they may just share an outline of what they need employees to do and give them the freedom to get on with it.
For some teams, this is a highly effective way of working. It can improve creativity and collaboration and some workers may flourish with the freedom of working to the best of their ability.
However, inexperienced workers may struggle to progress, and a lack of direction can lead to internal conflicts or tension between team members.
How to Be a Great Manager
Here are a few tips on how you can ensure that you are the best manager that you can be:
1. Take Inspiration From Others
Think back to anyone you have worked with or been managed by and what their strengths and weaknesses were.
Try and consider your own individual working preferences – do you require continual monitoring and evaluation or do you crave freedom and creativity?
In your role as a manager, try to think about what you need to work as effectively as possible.
2. Have Confidence in Your Abilities
If you are listening to other colleagues, you must remember that you are in charge. You need to feel confident in your decision-making criteria and believe in yourself.
With this confidence, you can build trust with your employees and they will have greater respect for you.
3. Take Your Time to Develop Your Managerial Style
Each team will have their ways of working and if you are coming in new to a new role as a manager, you need to take time to see how things function before you implement any changes.
You need to be adaptable; what may have worked well in one managerial role may not be as efficient in a new company with new people with different skills.
You may also need to offer different approaches for individuals – some employees may be hugely competitive and responsive to reward schemes. Others may need a more nurturing manager who can give them a supportive pat when needed.
What Does a Managerial Career Path Look Like?
The role of a manager is varied, and the career path will change depending on your profession. But there are still some similarities between managers everywhere.
Here is an outline of how you could perceive your managerial career path:
Before You Apply for Your First Role as a Manager
Suggested experience: 3 to 5 years in your chosen profession before considering management.
If you feel ready to take your first step into management, it’s time to think about what technical skills you have and how you can share this knowledge and information with more junior colleagues.
If you are confident that you have the right skills for the job, try asking a respected colleague to act as a mentor. They can help you navigate the jump from being responsible for your own workload to being responsible for an entire team or large project.
Many people start their managerial careers by starting at the bottom and working their way up. They may have several years’ experience and a proven track record of being good at what they do. They understand how they can make the most of their experience on their management resume.
When it comes to applying for your first role as a manager, take a look at the job description and establish if there are any areas where you may need to gain new knowledge or specific accreditations and/or professional licenses.
Once you know what credentials you need, you can speak to your existing employer to find out if they would sponsor you to gain these accreditations/qualifications to help you achieve your ambitions.
Your First Job as a Manager
Suggested experience: Allocate 2 to 3 years for your first management job, giving you ample opportunity to learn the ropes.
At the start of your management career, it is important to be a strong team player.
If you have been promoted internally, your colleagues will know that you are new to management. You will need to consider your transition period – not just for you in your role, but also for your colleagues, who may have worked their way up the career ladder alongside you.
At this stage of your career, you may be using theoretical knowledge to inform your managerial style. This is because you will not yet have discovered a way of working that suits you.
You may want to take a democratic approach to management; this will give you time to judge your style whilst allowing others to collaborate with you effectively.
As you start to become more experienced, you will gain more confidence in recommending specific ways of working and be able to focus more on managerial tasks such as report writing and employee management.
To enhance your management style, you may wish to speak to your HR team about securing management training opportunities that will increase your core competencies.
Moving to Middle Management
Suggested experience: Allocate 5 to 10 years within middle management before taking that next step up.
Are you happy to stay as a line manager/team leader, or are you looking for new challenges?
This could be about progressing into middle management/top-level management or it could be about moving into new manager roles elsewhere. Make a career plan and decide whether you need to consider any postgraduate training.
You will be ready to move to a more senior position if you:
- Have ample experience of which management techniques do and do not work well
- Have learned how to motivate your team and get them working effectively
- Understand how to prepare budgets and work in conjunction with other teams/agencies
- Know what your strengths and your weaknesses are
- Can provide demonstrable proof of your managerial success
Stepping up to C-Suite Management
Suggested experience: You may need at least 15 to 20 years’ professional experience before you make this step.
Many middle managers are keen to progress into board-level job roles and it is easy to see why:
- This is where the real decisions are made
- You have the opportunity for significant responsibilities and high earning potential
- You’ll be able to be extremely ambitious and identify new trends and business opportunities giving you enormous scope to progress in your career
At this stage of your career, you may benefit from further postgraduate training. Many people are drawn to qualifications such as EMBAs or PhDs which can help you to improve your academic knowledge and work alongside peers from around the world.
Suggested experience: You may need at least 15 to 20 years’ professional experience and technical proficiency.
If you are not sure about stepping up to board-level management, consider a career path as a management consultant.
This is where you can use your existing knowledge to help other business leaders improve their businesses.
As an independent voice, you can assess an organization’s strengths/weaknesses and help them identify areas for improvement. You can use your knowledge of different technologies or processes and help businesses understand how they can make financial savings whilst also increasing efficiency.
This is a hugely varied job role, and many people are drawn to it as it can offer a greater variety of work along with a better work-life balance.
This article has helped you to understand the specific role of a manager and what skills are required.
A manager helps a business function as effectively as it should and, as a result, managers need to have a distinct skill set beyond the technical proficiencies of a particular profession.
Not everyone is suited to management; more of your time will be spent away from what you are trained to do and you will spend much more time focusing on administrative tasks.
However, it is a role where you can take greater responsibility and directly impact your business success as well as one with attractive pay and benefit opportunities.