What Does A Manager Do?

In my career over the last 25 years, I have realized that there is no single answer to what a good manager does. The job of a manager depends on many factors, including placement in the organization’s hierarchy, the type of organization, the stage of the organization, the cultural context, and the competitive landscape.

Not all managers manage people. Many managers manage resources such as schedules, budgets, risks, and communication. Traditionally, managers gauge their success by the number of people they supervise. Mangers, however, should instead focus on their contributions to the organization, the broader community, and its impact if they want to make a difference. Most of us fail to recognize how our position fits into the broader context.

While many of us aspire to be promoted to managers, we must realize that managers are responsible for the output (production) of an entire team. New managers must manage the flow of work. Many new managers are happy to accept the title and the rewards, but they struggle to produce the output expected from them and their teams. They also often struggle to understand their roles and responsibilities in the new position.

It is possible, however, to generalize management roles. The duties of a manager consist of (1) managing people, (2) managing information, and (3) decision-making. In terms of managing people, a manger must act as a figurehead, a production leader, and a coordinator. Regarding information management, a manger must monitor information, share information, and act as a spokesperson for the information. Finally, regarding decision-making roles, a manager must address crises and allot resources to fit company objectives.

In my experience, how much time each managerial role takes depends on the industry and the company. Not all roles require an equal amount of time. For senior positions, ceremonial roles become prominent and have a larger impact. In a technology company, a manager spends a lot of time inventing new products and services. People responsibilities have a smaller scope for such a manager. In contrast, a manager in a sales and distribution company spends more time on interpersonal roles and customer support activities.

When I was a first-level manager with a small team, I had to perform all of these roles, sometimes at the same time. I had no choice. As teams have grown, I still play all of these roles, but I have some discretion on how much time I spend on each.

Ultimately, managers contribute to their organizations by simplifying tasks and reducing specialization. Effective managers create the proper environment for subordinates’ success, then switch from a supervisory role to a support role.

The above post is an excerpt from my book, What I Did Not Learn in B-school: Insights for New Managers. The book examines key common issues faced by new and aspiring managers.

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