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Manager's Roles

1.   Introduction

The increasing complexity and ever-changing environment are challenging the performance capabilities of traditional organization structure.  The scalar principle of classical management hinders the responsiveness to the environment changes because it increases inflexibility and slow decision-making for its clear and unbroken chain of command linking up to the hierarchy of the organizations.  This inefficiency and ineffectiveness may harm the organizations in their survival and competitiveness.

In order to meet the needs for productivity and competitive advantage, many organizations change from vertical command and control structures to horizontal structures that emphasize employee involvement and flexibility.  The trend of pluralistic management approach suggests autonomous and independent (inter-dependent) groups freely interact and collaborate on management issues on the basis of different views, interest and entitlements (NRM, 2002).  This has significant effect on the authority moving from centralization to decentralization with empowerment and delegation to self-managed teams.  Such changes also implicit most of the traditional management responsibilities have been moved to the hands of self-managed teams.  Is there still a role for the effective manager?  

2.   Overview of managers・ roles

Literatures about managers・ roles and jobs differ widely, such as Kotter・s managerial agendas and networks[1], Stewart・s model of demands, constraints and choices in a managerial job[2], etc.  Nevertheless, the classical management functions, Luthans・ managerial activities and Mintzberg・s model of managerial roles provide more realistic approaches to classify managers・ roles and activities. 

The classical management functions are planning, organizing, leading and controlling.  The brief activities of each function are summarized in Figure 1:

Luthans・ study extended the classical management functions and identified four managerial activities involving traditional management, communication, human resource management and networking (Robbins et al, 1997).  Figure 2 summarizes the works of each activity: 

Compared to the classical management functions and Luthans・ management activities, Mintzberg・s model provide more insight that managers are specialist who are required to perform particular set of specialized roles.  The Mintzberg・s model concluded that managers perform ten different but highly interrelated roles as a result of their formal authority and status (Robbins et al, 1997 and Mullins, 1996), which are grouped into three categories: the interpersonal roles, the informational roles and the decisional roles (Figure 3).  Schermerhorn (1996) stated that a manager・s interpersonal roles involve interactions with person inside and outside the work unit.  The informational roles involve the giving, receiving, and analyzing of information.  The decisional roles involve using information to make decisions to solve the problems or address opportunities.

Robbins et al (1997) argued that the classical management functions provide clear and discrete methods of classifying managers・ activities for the achievement of organizational goals.  While Mintzberg・s model offer a more detailed and elaborate classification of managers・ roles, which are substantially reconcilable with the four functions.  Many of Mintzberg・s roles also align with Luthans・ managerial activities.  Hence, the discussion thereafter is focused on Mintzberg・s roles. 

3.   The pluralistic management approach of modern workplace

According to UWA (2002), decision about how to distribute authority throughout the organization results in decentralization or centralization.  The classical management approach is centralization to the retention of power and responsibility at higher levels of organizations.  Its slow decision-making and constraint of innovation are lack of responsive to the rapid changing environments. 

Hence, modern trend is more or less to the decentralization approach in delegation of power and responsibility down to the hierarchy of organizations.  This helps to speed up decision-making and make the organizations more flexible and responsive.  The disadvantages of decentralization include goals displacement and resource duplication within teams, and opportunities for errors in decision-making.  These pros and cons challenge the traditional ways of management styles.  One of the structural redesign for decentralization is self-managed team.

3.1 Self-managed teams

Self-managed teams are empowered and delegated to perform many duties previously done by managers.  Schermerhorn (1996) defined delegation as .the process of distributing and entrusting work to other persons・.  He argued that effective delegation leads to empowerment and allows others to do their jobs in the best possible way.  This requires the self-managed team to develop decision-making responsibility and autonomy for effective performance of the work (Rosenfeld et al, 1999).  The expected advantages of effective self-managed team include better performance, decreased costs, and higher morale.  However, the drawback of ineffective team may focus on labor-oriented interests and ignore management cost issues.

According to Schermerhorn (1996), the self-management responsibilities include planning and scheduling work, training members in various tasks, sharing tasks, meeting performance goals, ensuring high quality, and solving day-to-day operating problems.  In some settings, the team・s authority may even extend to hiring and firing its members when necessary. 

Using Mintzberg・s model, many managers・ roles have been moved to the hands of the self-managed teams.  Firstly, the interpersonal role involves the teams to act as figurehead like greeting visitors, as leader to perform virtually all team activities such as motivation, staffing and training, and as liaison role to perform all outside activities related to the teams・ works.  Secondly, the informational role requires the team to monitor internal and external information to their jobs・ purposes, disseminate team-related information and act as spokesperson to transmit information to their counterpart outsiders.  Finally, the decisional role involves the teams to be entrepreneur in designing new projects, disturbance handler to handle minor unexpected programmed disturbances, resource allocator such as scheduling their work and budgeting, and negotiator internally or externally to the team effectiveness and efficiency.

3.2. Is there still a role for effective manager?

Based on the above analysis, the need of managers is less when employees are optimally competent, motivated, informed, committed to mission, skilled in coordination and interdependently linked (Gorden, 2001).  However, Mullins (1996) argued that successful delegation and empowerment free managers from operational work like daily routine duties and enable them to concentrate on non-programmed activities such as more complicated and strategic roles about planning, organizing, leading and controlling.  Effective managers also perform roles as formal linking pins among divisions and work groups to the optimal performance (Gorden, 2001).  The managers・ roles can be described using Mintzberg・s model.

Interpersonal role

Managers are still the figurehead for general and strategic issues within divisions and self-managed teams for routine duties of legal or social nature such as signing legal documents. 

The leader role assumes a very important responsibility for the effectiveness of self-managed teams.  Parker (Mullins, 1996) emphasized that .managing means leading and making things happen through people・.  There are many possible problems arising from self-managed teams such as poor decision-making, power struggles, conflict between inter-group and intra-group, competition and politics, goal displacement, etc.  Managers should therefore act as facilitators and mentors involving team building, participative decision-making, conflict management, motivation and staff development.   

Effective managers should involve themselves actively in liaison role with outsiders to build networking that facilitate organizational growth, for example socializing and politicking work.

Informational role

Managers are required to act as coordinator to provide stability and continuity of the four management functions.  As managers have whole view of organizations, they are vital to perform information role to monitor and identify internal strengths and weaknesses to match with possible external opportunities and threats.  The monitor role also ensure activities are accomplished as plans to organizational goals instead of self-interest goals arising from different teams.   

Managers need to measure progress by reducing information overload with critical thinking and analysis before disseminate information.  They are still the spokesperson for internal general and coordination issues, and for outsiders such as strategic plans in front of media.

Decisional role

Decisional role is the most important part for effective managers leading to success of organizations.  As entrepreneur, managers are required to act as innovator to facilitate change with creative thinking.  This include define goals, establish strategies for short and long-term, develop subplans to coordinate activities among self-managed teams.  Once defined, they need to make decisions on resource allocation such as determining what, how and who to do the activities or plans.

As disturbance handler, managers are responsible for unexpected non-programmed disturbances and crises that are detriment to the organizations.  They also need to develop contingency plans for programmed problems for operational uses.

As negotiator, they are responsible to representing the organizations at major negotiations such as building and maintaining a power base, negotiating agreement and commitment both internally and externally.   

Finally, the controlling process evaluates the performance of each team, re-directs and adjusts the direction of the teams to align with corporate objectives and goals.

4.   Conclusion

The competitive environment and the modern trend have forced managers to face daily challenges to fulfill performance accountability to their superior, while depending on the accomplishments of others to make this performance possible.  Decentralization helps to free up managers from operational activities through delegation and empowerment to self-managed teams.  This change makes the boundary of roles between managers and their subordinates blur, and hence there are always criticisms for the diminishing roles of managers.  On the surface managers and their subordinates・ roles are similar but in a closer examination they are different in a great extent.  Using Mintzberg・s model, there are still many crucial roles for managers in especially of how to delegate and empower self-managed teams that lead to the organizational effectiveness and efficiency to meet the external threats and opportunities. 


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[1] For details of Kotter・s agenda-setting and network-building, see Mullins, Laurie J (1996), Management and Organizational Behavior, 4th Edition, Pitman Publishing, London, pp 417-418; Schermerhorn Jr, John R (1996), Management, 5th Edition, John Wiley & Sons, USA, pp 12-13

[2] For details of Stewart・s models of demands, constraints and choices, see Mullins, Laurie J (1996), Management and Organizational Behavior, 4th Edition, Pitman Publishing, London, pp 418-419

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