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What is a Manager?

By R. Kayne
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A manager is a person whose job it is to oversee one or more employees, divisions, or volunteers to ensure that they carry out certain duties or meet specific group goals. Managers can be formal or informal. They are most common within corporations, but are can be found in most any situation where there is a need for a leader to head up individual projects.

Overarching Duties and Roles

Nailing down a manager’s specific job duties or performance requirements can be somewhat tricky since the job title involves so many different kinds of work. Every manager is at his or her core a leader, though, which is where most responsibilities originate. Planning and group-based organization are key parts of the job; supervising, mentoring, and motivating lower-level workers is important, too.

A manager is often called upon to act as the outward “face” of the people he or she supervises. It is often the case that leaders need to drum up support for their team’s work, often by building connections with outsiders. This sometimes comes in the form of fundraising but can also concern publicity or political support.

Tiers of Responsibility

In large companies management is usually divided into three tiers, namely, upper or senior level leadership, middle management, and lower-level supervision. The “lower” tier includes managers who operate at basic levels of commerce or function. Mid-level leaders typically oversee those in more junior positions, and also usually generate reports for senior leaders. People in the top tiers are usually the overarching bosses. Most are also members of the corporate board of directors and as such are responsible for making key decisions on matters of funding, accountability, and profit distribution.

When most people think of managers in the corporate sense, they are thinking about the middle tier. Middle-management can include supervisors that field large territories and solve problems within the lower-management tier. These people are essentially the bosses of the leaders in the lower tier. A leader at this level might make tactical decisions about how to best handle challenging situations that arise within departments, divisions, or even between individual employees. Leaders are also responsible for reporting to upper-management, though in some industries this function has largely been replaced by automation technology. In these cases, the job of the middle leader is to properly input data and reporting claims, but he or she may not actually have to meet with higher-ups very often.

The upper tiers, while more prestigious, are often a lot smaller and tend to involve less hands-on work. These executives are usually tasked with overseeing and guiding the business to success by making strategic long-term decisions based on analyzing data and extrapolating plans of action that address relevant issues while improving the bottom line.

Commercial Stores and Franchises

In commercial franchises like fast food restaurants, a retail manager ensures that daily business functions smoothly. If an employee calls in sick, if there is a problem with stock or deliveries, or if a customer has an issue, a good manager will take care of the problem quickly by assigning someone to it or by addressing it personally. Decisions made at this level are normally short-term and geared towards basic operational needs.

Office Management

In the case of a small, family-owned business there may be a “low-level” office manager that reports directly to the owner of the company. This person might be responsible for a variety of duties commonly divided into individual departments in larger companies. These duties might include accounting, shipping, and customer service, where more junior employees carry out most of these tasks. This person might also double as accountant, head sales representative or buyer, for example.

It is also common to find office managers in large companies, though in this context the job is mostly secretarial. Large-scale office managers are usually in charge of secretarial pools, and oversee assignments and productivity concerns of administrative staff. These jobs are often quite competitive, and typically pay well when compared to other administrative positions.

Selection and Hiring Criteria

There is not usually any sort of formula for what it takes to become a manager. It is often the cases that managers are promoted from within — that is, they are selected based on their proven aptitude as a member of a certain team — but not always. Particularly in larger corporations, managers may be selected based on their leadership potential or proven ability. A number of business schools offer management tracks to educate people to fill upper-level positions even in industries that they otherwise have no experience with. Much depends on the needs of the company, the potential of the candidate, and the specifics of the position.

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Discussion Comments
By anon351814 — On Oct 17, 2013

I think to justify their positions, managers need the necessary skills to cope properly with these high ranking positions. Therefore, the skills must be leadership, conceptual, motivational skills and literally, their personal character.

By anon299441 — On Oct 25, 2012

@kat919: I think you may be overlooking one fundamental bit of criteria about being a manager. There is not always a requirement to manage personnel just because you are manger, as you could just as easily be a accounts manager, for example.

I disagree when you say "I think a manager needs to be pretty expert in the field, etc."

You don't get respect for just being promoted to manager. You will need to earn your respect from the team in your new role. When it comes down to being an expert in the field of work, it helps but it's not essential because a good manager only needs to know the goal and knowledge of his/her team's abilities to achieve it. --Rik D.

By Kat919 — On May 16, 2012

@jennythelib - I'm with you that recruitment of managers could be done better, but hiring from outside the field brings its whole own set of problems. I think a manager needs to be pretty expert in the field in order to make good decisions and, equally importantly, to have the respect of their employees.

But the best engineer might not be the best manager. I think the most fruitful course of action in technical fields is to identify people with management potential and make sure that they get formal management training.

Of course, this can be overdone. I worked in an office once where there were three managers - of a staff of fifteen full-time people! - plus an office manager (me) to manage the student assistants. And then I had my own special manager! It was just one the employees that wanted management experience.

By jennythelib — On May 16, 2012

I think a fundamental problem with managers as a career is that too often, managers are just chosen from the ranks of the people doing the job. So a manager of engineers used to be an engineer, and so on.

The thing is that the skills needed to succeed as, say, a career counselor or a graphic designer, are totally different from those needed to succeed as a manager. So a person might get promoted to a management position because they were the best at their job and be a disaster.

I think there needs to be more awareness of how to identify people with management skills, and maybe managers don't always need to come from the fields where they are managing.

By anon144679 — On Jan 20, 2011

really good and useful explanations.

By anon135386 — On Dec 18, 2010

Thanks! Really good article.

By anon128787 — On Nov 20, 2010

Actually this is a very useful article. Thanks.

By anon111291 — On Sep 15, 2010

What skill is required to become a good manager?

By anon37149 — On Jul 17, 2009

What is a Dealer Principal

By anon36773 — On Jul 14, 2009

Thanks. very useful article

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