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Discovering management
Discovering management

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2.2 Recognising your roles as a manager

Organisational life can be extremely messy. Management courses –this one included –preach the virtues of clear objectives, clearly defined tasks, clear roles, and clear lines of authority and responsibility. But it is often very hard to be clear about these things, let alone to agree them with others. For much of the time we face a degree of looseness, tension, uncertainty and even inconsistency. Sometimes we are not clear until after the event what we were trying to do or our reasons for doing it. And sometimes, if we are clear, agreement is impossible.

This reading is about one approach to understanding and coping with some of that inherent uncertainty of management activity. It looks at the issues of the roles which managers undertake. Seeing managerial work in terms of roles provides a way of making sense of many tensions and uncertainties – even if you still cannot do anything much about them.

The idea of ‘role’ is probably already familiar to you –we often refer, for example, to ‘wearing several hats’. In this reading we will be looking at notion of ‘role’ from two related perspectives. It may refer to the particular organisational position you hold. It also refers to the part we play in different situations. In practice these two uses of the term ‘role’–one structural and one from a theatrical metaphor –tend to run together, simply because most positions are improvised. So, very generally, the term ‘role’ can be defined as:

The set of expectations held by the person concerned and by those he or she interacts with about the appropriate contribution he or she will make in a given situation.

In this way we link the formal role of a manager –the overall role that links your disparate responsibilities –and the varying roles that managers have to play at particular moments in response to particular demands and expectations.

Activity 5 Management roles

There is a very real sense in which management is a public business in which you are always ‘on the stage’. To be effective (and successful for that matter) you have to be able to respond appropriately to the very different demands of both people and situations. Much premium is given to personal integrity and authenticity, but just ‘being yourself’ may not suffice on all occasions; there is a wider repertoire of roles, skills and competences on which you need to be able to draw.

The issue of roles opens up many of the unavoidably emotional and relational dimensions of being a manager, and this activity invites you to begin to explore them. This is not about formal responsibilities and job descriptions; it is about the network of relationships within which most of your managerial activity has to be enacted.

Task: Your management roles

This section focuses on Mintzberg’s discussion of management roles. Write brief notes on the following:

  1. Which roles do you think are most and least important in your job? Why do you think this is the case? You can use the management roles template linked below to record your thoughts.
  2. With which roles are you most and least comfortable?
  3. Does the range of your roles throw any light on the problems of managing your time and activities, such as the difficulty of delegating or of saying ‘no’ to particular tasks? Would it be helpful to think in terms of avoiding or passing on certain roles (rather than activities)?
  4. As well as identifying roles, how does this analysis help you to probe the balance between organisation, task and person in shaping the roles you have to play as a manager?

    Extend the analysis to consider the ways in which you experience what is referred to in the reading as role ambiguity.

  5. To bring this initial work on roles to a conclusion, you should also make use of the ‘role as given’ and ‘role as taken’ framework to examine the ways in which you balance what you want to do, and what you are expected and required to do.

Management roles template [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]