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Discovering management
Discovering management

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2.2.2 Balancing management roles

If the fate of the manager (and perhaps the very essence of modern management) is to have too many job aspects, tasks and roles to attend to, how can he or she make effective choices in order to carve out a role that works?

A useful way of beginning to handle some of the complexities of role is based on the distinction between the role you are given and the role you take. We can think about occupying a management role as a balancing act, as a continuous process of negotiation between your own expectations and the expectations of others. In Figure 12, Krantz and Maltz (1997) offer a simple but effective way of thinking about this kind of negotiation. They distinguish between the ‘role as given’ and the ‘role as taken’.

Described image
Figure 12 The role as given and the role as taken

‘Role as given’ refers to the role as defined by the ‘role influencers’–the set of people in the organisation who see it as their responsibility to define the expectations for what someone in a particular job does, including what is to be done and how. The ‘role as taken’ refers to the view of the job holder as to what is to be done and how. In general, there is a considerable overlap between the two versions of the role, but there are also areas of mismatch. This mismatch is the source of tension between the job holder and the role influencers, and it is generally around these tensions that some form of negotiation takes place to achieve a balance that is acceptable and workable for everyone.

This reading has covered the nature of managers’ work from the perspective of the roles they have to perform. The reading started with Mintzberg’s empirically informed description of the nature of management activity and then moved on to his identification of ten specific roles which managers perform. These are particularly helpful in understanding the skill which managers need in being able to perform a wide variety of roles and the ability they need to develop to balance and adjust the roles they play according the specific nature of the situation. Discussion then focused on the potential tensions between role and task and how individual managers learn to shape their roles within the parameters of the job (the role given and the role taken).

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Discussion

It takes a bit of effort to become familiar with Mintzberg’s classification of roles and to sort out your own working relationships using this sort of framework. Many managers do find, however, that the effort is worth it in terms of gaining a sense of their own management roles and their implications for management practice. Bear in mind that roles emerge not because managers want to ‘play act’, but because they find it essential to respond appropriately to the requirements of the situation.

In many ways, being able to trace the ways in which organisation, task and person shape what you have to do is more important than actually mapping your work onto Mintzberg’s role classification. A role is always context specific.

As ever, the really crucial issues arise once you explore the messy complexities of the experience that lie behind the neat classification. Negotiating different roles and avoiding the confusions associated with them is a major element of working effectively within your roles.

In completing the work on stakeholders (Activity 3), activities (Activity 4) and roles (Activity 5), you have been building up a powerful framework for making sense of what you do as a manager, not in terms of your official job description and formal responsibilities, but what you actually do on a regular and routine basis within your organisation.

Managing is not a matter of simply imposing yourself and your wishes on your context; it is a much more fluid process of discovering and furthering what can be done within a network of people and situations. These issues inevitably both constrain and enable you to achieve what you wish to achieve as a manager. The realities of your working life within a specific context are at the heart of your professional practice as a manager.