Last week we saw that management can be classified into four basic aspects i.e. planning, organizing, leading and controlling, while effective managers create opportunities for workers and teams to perform well and feel good about it at the same time. We further noticed that managers work long hours, are usually very busy, are often interrupted, attend to many tasks at the same time, mostly work with other people and get their work done through communication with others. We referred to Mintzberg, who identified three major categories of activities or roles that managers must be prepared to perform on a daily basis, which are:
Interpersonal roles – working directly with other people.
Informational roles – exchanging information with other people.
Decisional roles – making decisions that affect other people.
With the above in mind, we are now in a position to try and find the answer to an important question: What does it take to be a successful or effective manager? In other words: What skills are required to achieve management success in the particular environment we are in?
A skill is an ability to translate knowledge into action, which in its turn results in desired performance. It is a competency that allows a person to achieve superior performance in one or more aspects of his or her work. Robert Katz offers a useful way to view the skills development challenge. He divides the essential managerial skills into three categories:
Technical skill – the ability to perform specialized tasks.
Human skill – the ability to work well with other people.
Conceptual skill – the ability to analyze and solve complex problems.
Technical skill involves being highly proficient at using select methods, processes and procedures to accomplish tasks. Take for instance an accountant, whose technical skills are required through formal education. Most jobs have some technical skill components. Some require preparatory education, where others allow skills to be learned through appropriate work training and on the job experience.
Human skill is the ability to work well in cooperation with others. It emerges as a spirit of trust, enthusiasm and genuine involvement in interpersonal relationships. A person with good human skills will have a high degree of self awareness and a capacity of understanding or empathizing with the feelings of others. This skill is clearly essential to the managers networking responsibilities.
All good managers ultimately have the ability to view the organization or situation as a whole and to solve problems to the benefit of everyone concerned. This ability to analyze and diagnose complex situations is a conceptual skill. It draws heavily on one’s mental capacities to identify problems and opportunities, to gather and interpret relevant information, and to make good problem solving decisions that serve the organization’s purpose.
The relative importance of these essential skills varies across levels of management. Technical skills are more important at lower management levels, where supervisors must deal with concrete problems. Broader, more ambiguous and longer-term decisions dominate the manager’s concern at higher levels, where conceptual skills are more important. Human skills are consistently important across all managerial levels. And it is here, where in Ethiopia we face some of the most important challenges in my opinion. In a culture where interpersonal relationships are considered important or a precondition before entering into a business contract or getting down to the tasks at hand, I don’t often see this ability to work well in cooperation with others being practised by managers. Instead I observe the practice of a more autocratic style of management, whereby the concerns or suggestions of workers are not very well listened to or heard. Instead we allow ourselves to get caught in our “busyness” and practise crisis management. As a result, workers may feel neglected, not valued, discouraged or frustrated, which will be reflected in their job performance. Somehow, we seem to take on a way of behaving, which doesn’t blend with the culture and ability to genuinely enter into interpersonal relationships. Yes, we attend the weddings and funerals of workers and their relatives, but how involved are we really? Or is this rather a more superficial level of relating, not really intended to relate but to appear and avoid speculations as to why we didn’t turn up? I would say that there really is room for us to learn and develop the human management skill more. Where this skill is developed and practiced, there is a bigger chance that workers will feel respected, involved and encouraged. As a result, the workers will be motivated to perform better and the manager is applying skills that serve the company’s purpose, which is to produce results over a sustained period of time. Consistency is key here. Consistency in the effort of the manager to apply his or her skills, more especially the human skills is essential as the technical and conceptual skills alone will not take the manager very far.