Managerial Roles - Principles of Management

Managerial Roles in Management

Managerial roles are specific behaviors associated with the task of management. Managers adopt these roles to accomplish the basic functions of management just discussed—planning and strategizing, organizing, controlling, and leading and developing employees. One of the earliest and most enduring descriptions of managerial roles comes from Henry Mintzberg,who (as we have already noted) shadowed managers observing what they did during the day.

Mintzberg developed a list of roles that he grouped into three categories: interpersonal roles, informational roles, and decisional roles. Mintzberg emphasized that managing is an integrated activity, so these roles are rarely distinct. Visiting clients, for instance, usually relates to two or more roles simultaneously.

Managerial roles

Mintzberg’s work has been replicated many times. Most researchers have found similar sets of roles (although there are some variations in labels and categories). The roles that Mintzberg identified flesh out the richness of managerial work and tell us how managers behave and what they do when trying to perform the main functions of management.


Interpersonal roles are roles that involve interacting with other people inside and outside the organization. Management jobs are people-intensive: Research suggests that managers spend somewhere between 66 and 80 percent of their time in the company of others. 20 Seldom do managers work alone for long periods without outside communication. As Linda Hill noted, managers get things done through their network of interpersonal relationships. Mintzberg identified three types of interpersonal roles: a figurehead role, a leader role, and a liaison role.

Managers at all levels are figureheads . They greet visitors, represent the company at community events, serve as spokespeople, and function as emissaries for the organization. For example, when Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A opens a new restaurant, it gives a year’s worth of free meal coupons to the first 100 customers. This incentive draws big crowds, who camp outside the restaurant before opening day in the hope of being among the first 100 customers.

The chain’s president, Dan Cathy, joins them, camping outside the night before the opening, chatting with them, and then signaling the grand opening by playing his trumpet. By doing this, Cathy is acting as a figurehead for Chick-fil-A. At lower levels in a company, functional and frontline managers perform a variety of figurehead roles. They welcome new staff, help their teams celebrate performance milestones, give performance awards to employees, accompany senior executives or outside visitors on tours through the work area, and so on.

Earlier we noted that leadership is one function of management, and it is perhaps the most pivotal. However, leadership is more than a function that managers must fulfill.Managers also take on a leadership role to get things done within organizations. Managers behave as leaders to influence, motivate, and direct others within organizations and to strategize, plan, organize, control, and develop. A central task of leaders is to give their organizations a sense of direction and purpose.

They do this by identifyand articulating strategic visions for the organizations (by strategizing) and then by motivating others to work toward this vision. This is exactly what Rose Marie Bravo did at Burberry: She gave the organization a strategic vision, repositioning it as a hip, high-end brand, and she engaged Burberry’s employees in that vision.

In their liaison role managers connect with people outside their immediate units.These may be the managers of other units within the organization or people outside the organization,such as suppliers, buyers, and strategic partners. An important purpose of suchliaisons is to build a network of relationships.

Managers can use their networks to help coordinatethe work of their units with others, to gain access to valuable information, andmore generally to get things done and further their own agendas within the organization. AsLinda Hill observed in her research, building a network is one of the most important tasksthat new managers face.


Informational roles are concerned with collecting, processing, and disseminating information. Managers collect information from various sources both inside and outside the organization, process that information, and distribute it to others who need it. Mintzberg found that managers 40 percent of their time in these tasks. Mintzberg divided the information roles of management into three types: monitor, disseminator, and spokesperson.

As monitors managers scan the environment both inside and outside the organization. At Microsoft, for example, CEO Steve Ballmer is constantly reviewing competitive, technological, and regulatory trends in the markets in which Microsoft competes. He also monitors the performance of the different units within Microsoft, assessing, for example, how well theWindows, Office, and Xbox businesses are performing against targets.

Managers rely on both formal and informal channels to collect the information required for effective monitoring. Formal channels include the organization’s own internal accounting information systems and data provided by important external agencies.

Managers at Microsoft, for example, can access through the company’s intranet a vast electronic library of research reports produced by external consulting companies and stock analysts that profilecompetitive trends and competitors in all the relevant markets. Informal channels include the manager’s own personal network, which can be a great source of qualitative information and useful gossip.

By monitoring the external competitive and internal organizational environment for information, managers try to gain knowledge about how well the organization is performing and whether any changes in strategy or operational processes are required. At Seattle-based retailer Nordstrom, for example, the first thing President Blake Nordstrom does when he gets to his desk every day is review sales figures from all company stores for the previous day.

He compares these figures against targets; looks for trends; and if there is variance considers whether the company should take corrective action. In this respect the monitoring role of management is part of the controlling function. In addition, the information collected from monitoring can help managers think more clearly about the company’s strategy.

One thing managers do with this information is disseminate it to direct reports and others inside the organization. In their dissemination role managers regularly inform staff about thecompany’s direction and sometimes about specific technical issues. At the supervisory level, the disseminator role often takes the form of one-to-one informal conversations with specificemployees about particular matters.

In their spokesperson role, managers deliver specific information to individuals and groups located outside their department or organization. Sales managers communicate with business partners regarding new sales strategies. Division heads give presentations to their colleagues in other divisions about strategies and resource requirements.

CEOs meet with investors, government officials, community leaders, and others to convey information about company developments of interest to those stakeholders. These are more than figurehead activities: They communicate valuable information to important constituencies, and in doing so they can help to shape their perception of the organization and the way they interact with it.

For example, if by sharing information the CEO of a company can successfully persuade investment analysts that his company is pursuing a good strategy, they may write a favorable investment report. In turn, this might lead to an increase in the company’s stock price, making it easier for the company to raise additional capital from investors in the future by issuing new stock.


Management guru Peter Drucker once wrote that whatever managers do, they do through making decisions. The information collected through monitoring is directed toward discovering problems or opportunities, weighing options, making decisions, and ensuring that those decisions are put into action. Whereas interpersonal roles deal with people and informational roles deal with knowledge, decisional roles deal with action.

They translate the people and information into processes with the purpose of moving the organization toward its strategic goals. Mintzberg identified four decision roles: entrepreneur, disturbance handler, resource allocator, and negotiator.

To survive in competitive markets, firms must be entrepreneurial. They must pioneer new products and processes and quickly adopt those pioneered by others. In their role as entrepreneurs, managers must make sure that their organizations innovate and change when necessary,developing or adopting new ideas and technologies and improving their own products and processes. They must make decisions that are consistent with such entrepreneurial behavior.

If they do not, their organizations will be quickly outflanked by more nimble competitors. Rose Marie Bravo is a good example of what happens when a manager successfully adopts the entrepreneur role. She made decisions that encouraged creativity within Burberry, leading directly to the development of new product offerings that appealed to a wider customer base.

Managing is full of paradoxes, and this is partly apparent when we contrast the proactive entrepreneurial role with the reactive disturbance handler role. Disturbance handling includes addressing unanticipated problems as they arise and resolving them expeditiously. In managerial work unanticipated problems arise often. Sales may grow more slowly than anticipated; excess inventory may accumulate; production processes may break down; valuable employees might leave for jobs elsewhere; and so on. Managers must decide what to do about these unanticipated problems—often quickly.

An important class of management decisions involves resource allocation . Organizations never have enough money, time, facilities, or people to satisfy all their needs. Resources are scarce and can be used in many different ways. A crucial decision responsibility of managers is to decide how best to allocate the scarce resources under their control between competing claims in order to meet the organization’s goals.

As a resource allocator, a manager in charge of product development, for example, may have to assign people, money, and equipment to three different product development teams. A marketing manager may apportion money between media advertising and point-of-sale promotions. A production manager may havelimited funds for new equipment. In general, resource allocation decisions should be guided by the strategy of the organization.

Negotiating is continual for managers. They negotiate with suppliers for better delivery, lower prices, and higher-quality inputs. They negotiate with customers over the pricing, delivery, and design of products and services. They negotiate with peers in their own organization over shared resources and cooperative efforts. They negotiate with their superiors for access to scarce resources, including capital, personnel, and facilities.

They even negotiate with subordinates in their own work unit, trying to allocate employees between tasks to meet the goals of both the organization and individual employees. Managers who are successful when making negotiation decisions can lower input costs, strike better deals with customers, gain access to more high-quality resources within the organization, and better organize their own subordinates. Skilled negotiators are more likely to successfully implement strategy and raise the performance of their organizations.


Mintzberg’s work is useful for what it tells us about the nature of managerial work and the behaviors managers must adopt to execute successfully the functions of management. Nevertheless, his model of managerial roles has limitations. First, the model tells us what managers do, but it does not tell us what they should do. Remember, the model was derived by watching managers at work. Simply because managers routinely engage in an activity does not mean that they should pursue that activity.

As a practical matter, all of the roles described in Mintzberg’s model seem important, and most successful practicing managers probably engage in all of them at least occasionally. However, some roles may be more important than others and more deserving of management time and effort. The leader role, for example, is probably far more important than the figurehead role for managerial success.

Second, Mintzberg does not mention some important roles of managers. For example, evidence shows that managers can improve strategic thinking and decisions within their organization by taking on the role of devil’s advocate , questioning the logic underlying proposed decisions to expose flawed thinking. Similarly, many successful managers adopt a mentoring role with their subordinates. As mentors, managers draw on their own experiences to offer important insights to their subordinates, coaching them on how to become better managers.

A further limitation of Mintzberg’s managerial roles model is that it is context dependent. The managerial roles model tries to describe what all managers do in all situations. The reality, of course, is that what managers do depends partly on the situation. For instance, one study noted that chief executives in local government agencies do not perform the public figurehead role because it is assigned to politicians. Similarly, some decision-making roles are limited for managers in government agencies because key decisions are made by politicians. Other studies have reported that the size of an organization has an impact on management roles.

One study reported that managers of small growth-oriented businesses experience more brevity and fragmentation in their work than do managers in large companies. The absence of formal structure in these companies also changes the amount of time spent on some roles versus others.Studies also report that the importance of specific managerial roles varies across cultures.

A final limitation of the model is that it does not reveal much about how to perform these different roles. To be sure, it is interesting to know that managers engage in negotiations all the time, that they have an important monitoring role, and that they allocate resources between competing claims. But what a practicing manager really wants to know is how to improve the performance of these tasks. This is precisely the focus here.

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