Understanding the Role and Scope of the Senior Manager

manager and employee reviewing a report
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Senior Manager Definition: 

The title of senior manager is often found in large organizations with multiple layers of management. A senior manager has responsibilities and authority broader in scope than a front-line manager and typically reports into a director or general manager level role. 

Common Responsibilities of the Senior Manager:

The senior manager, like all managers, is responsible for planning and directing the work of a group of individuals, monitoring their work, and taking corrective action when necessary.

Senior managers may guide workers directly or they may direct several supervisors who manage the workers. The senior manager often supervises the largest or most important group(s) in a company. Core responsibilities of the senior manager include:

  • Providing guidance to direct reports, typically comprised of first-line managers and supervisors. 
  • Ensuring clarity around priorities and goals for the entire functional area. 
  • Approving requests for investment to a certain level of authority.
  • Managing overall financial budgeting for his/her function.
  • Approving hiring and firing requests within his/her group.  
  • Guiding the talent identification and development processes for a group or function.
  • Working across functions with peers in other groups to ensure collaboration for shared goals. 
  • Interacting with senior management for reporting.
  • Working with senior management and other peers for strategy development and execution planning. 
  • Communicating financial and goal results and key performance indicators to direct reports.
  • Facilitating goal-level creation for the broader function and works with managers to ensure the goals cascade to all workers. 

Common Titles for Senior Managers:

The title tends to follow the function. Examples include:

  • Senior Accounting Manager
  • Senior Marketing Manager
  • Senior Engineering Manager
  • Senior Customer Support Manager

Why the Senior Manager Level?

It is common for larger firms to evaluate their positions by scope, responsibility, size, budgetary authority and to assign a level to these positions. The senior manager level or designation represents a step-up from manager and offers the opportunity for an individual to take on new responsibilities and grow their contributions in a gradual manager. This added and higher level also helps organizations recruit experienced professionals and slot them in a role that fits with their capabilities and compensation. 

Too Many Layers of Management?

As organizations grow and become increasingly stratified with additional layers of management, complexity and inefficiency increases. Consider a department that includes supervisors, managers responsible for supervisors and senior managers responsible for managers who watch supervisors. The myriad of layers in the structure slows decision-making, increases political and communication complexity and can breed dysfunction.

Many organizations cycle through a process of layering followed by flattening through restructuring, only to slowly add layers over time once again.

The flatter organization (fewer layers) in theory simplifies decision-making and empowers a broader group of workers to assume responsibility for their actions. 

The Case for the Senior Manager Role:

There are a number of circumstances when the role of senior manager makes good business sense. 

  1. When the team is growing quickly and chaotically, the senior manager can serve as the "adult" in the group, interfacing with other functions for needed resources and providing mature guidance to managers and workers during a period of change.
  2. When there is a clear distinction between the role of manager and senior manager, this position represents a tangible target or step-up as part of a manager's career development plan and activities. 
  3. When the span of control for a group's managers is too broad, the senior manager can both support managers and take on responsibility for discrete work teams. 

    Developing as a Senior Manager:

    The role is an expansion of the typical manager's role in terms of breadth of responsibilities and overall accountability. Any manager interested in advancing to this level must focus on personal professional development for:

    • leadership, including talent development and coaching.
    • strategy, including understanding how the firm makes money and developing insights into the external market forces, competitors and customers. 
    • finance, including budgeting, capital budgeting and overall expense accounting. 
    • negotiation, to be used in securing resources and gaining help from other functions or executives. 
    • communication, both written and verbal, with an emphasis on presentation skills.
    • team development

    Challenges of the Senior Manager:

    Regardless of the term, "senior" in the title, the senior manager is still in middle-level management. These important middle-level roles are responsible for the people doing the work of the business, but often lack the authority to add resources or make significant changes needed to improve efficiency as well as the quality of the work environment. In spite of the challenges, the role is an excellent training ground for advancing to general manager at some point in the future. 

    Updated by Art Petty