Essential Manager Roles in the Workplace

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What exactly does a manager do? Perhaps a better question would be, what should a manager do? What are the uniquely essential roles of a manager?

Peter Drucker’s 1954 The Practice of Management was the first book written about management as a profession and it as a unique role in organizations. Drucker’s book remains a must-read book for students, aspiring managers, new managers, and experienced executives.

Drucker's 5 Functions

In his book, Drucker described the primary goal of a manager as “make people productive”.

In order to do that, according to Drucker, they need to perform five functions:

  1. Set objectives and establish the goals that employees need to reach.
  2. Organize tasks, coordinate his/her allocation, and arrange the right roles for the right people.
  3. Motivate and communicate in order to mold staffers into cooperative teams and to convey information continually up, down, and around the organization.
  4. Establish targets and yardsticks that measure results and clarify outcomes to ensure that the firm is moving in the right direction.
  5. Develop people through finding, training and nurturing employees, a firm’s primary resource.

Since Drucker’s classic book on management, there have been hundreds, if not thousands, of books written about management and leadership, yet somehow, 50 years later, new and experienced managers still often lack a clear understanding of their roles and essential functions.

All too often, they act like their jobs are just a glorified super individual contributor (“I was just promoted because I’m the best at what we do”), or even worse, someone who micromanages and does work one to two levels below what he/she is supposed to be doing.

The 10 Roles

With all due respect to Mr. Drucker, here is an updated and expanded list of what I see are the ten essential roles of a manager:

1. Hire Great People

It all starts here — with great talent, the rest is easy. For some reason, managers often take short-cuts when it comes to sourcing, screening, and selection, or they overly rely on HR or recruiters, instead of seeing selection as a critical part of his/her job.

2. Performance Management 

“Performance management” is a broad category, and covers the people-management aspect of a manager’s job. It includes clarifying and setting expectations and goals, coaching, measuring, and monitoring employees’ work, addressing performance problems, providing feedback and recognition, coaching, developing, training, and doing performance reviews. Depending on the number of direct reports a manager has, this can take up the majority of a manager’s week.

3. Team Development 

In addition to individual employee management and development, a manager is responsible for the development of a high performing team. An interdependent team is usually more productive than a group of individuals working independently.

4. Setting Overall Direction 

A manager sets the long and short term direction of the team or organization. This includes the vision, mission, goals, and objectives — in other words, strategy.

Strategic managers spend a lot of time thinking about mission and direction; always on the look-out for the need to change priorities or reinvent. Of course, they involve others, including their team members, but they take ultimate responsibilities for final decisions.

5. Being an Important and Supportive Team Member

Patrick Lencioini, author of the bestselling book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, says that “team number one” should be your manager’s team, not your own. He says, “We all know that if there is any daylight between executive team members, it ultimately results in unwinnable battles that those lower in the organization are left to fight.”

6. Doing Unique Work That No One Else Could or Should Do

Just about every manager, no matter what level, has their own set of individual contributor responsibilities.

The higher the level, the fewer there are, but even CEOs have to do things that just cannot be delegated. However, managers should be very careful to make sure that they are really doing work that only they can do, not work that they like to do, are good at, or don’t trust their team to do.

7. Manage Resources 

Managers have to make sure the team has the resources they need to do they work, while at the same time making sure that a team does not overspend or waste resources.

8. Improve Processes and Quality 

While individual should take responsibility for the quality of their own work, managers are usually in the best position to see the overall workflow (the sum of the parts) and make adjustments and improvements.

9. Self-Development 

Managers are not just responsible for the development of their employees and teams — they are responsible for their own development as a manager as well. That includes taking on stretch, developmental assignments, participating in management training, seeking mentors, asking for feedback, and reading about management and leadership. By doing so, they are role modeling continuous improvement.

10. Communicate Information

They make sure information is flowing from above, sideways, and upwards. They are never the bottleneck in the information highway.

Finally, in case you are wondering where “leadership” fits into the role of a manager, it’s woven throughout these ten essentials roles, each requires leadership in order to be truly effective. Leadership is not a separate “do” — it is a way of being!