Managerial Work: the Influence of Hierarchical Level and Functional Specialty

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Academy of Management Journal


^Academy of Management Journal 1983, Vol. 26, No. 1, 170-177.

MANAGERIAL WORK: THE INFLUENCE OF HIERARCHICAL LEVEL AND FUNCTIONAL SPECIALTY' CYNTHIA M. PAVETT University of San Diego ALAN W. LAU Navy Personnel Research and Development Center The picture of the manager as a refiective planner, organizer, leader, and controller (Fayol, 1916) recently has come under strong attack (Lau « & Pavett, 1980; McCall & Segrist, 1980; Mintzberg, 1980). In his description of managerial work, Mintzberg (1980) concluded that the manager's job can be described in terms of 10 roles within 3 areas—interpersonal, informational, and decisional—that are common to the work of all managers. Subsequent research has supported the generalizability of these role descriptions in public and private sector organizations and in lower and middle level managerial positions (Alexander, 1979; Kurke & Aldrich, 1979; Whitely, 1978). The purpose of the present paper is to examine the influence of hierarchical level and functional specialty on managerial roles and required skills, knowledge, and abilities. Mintzberg (1980) proposed that differences in managerial work involve the relative importance of the roles across hierarchical level and functional specialty. Chief executive officers (CEOs) focus considerable attention on external roles (e.g., liaison, spokesperson, figurehead) that link the environment with the organization. At lower levels of the organization, however, work is more focused, more short term in outlook, and the characteristics of brevity and fragmentation are more pronounced. As a result, the external managerial roles are relatively less important and real-time internal roles (e.g., disturbance handler, negotiator), concerned with daily operating problems and maintaining the workfiow, become relatively more important. When examining the effect of hierarchical level on the importance of Mintzberg's roles, Alexander (1979), Paolillo (1981), and McCall and Segrist (1980) found that the perceived absolute importance of both internal and external roles increased with management level. Although the rank ordering of role importance remained similar across hierarchical levels, in no case were any of the roles rated more important by lower level managers. Mintzberg does not specify whether other internal roles, such as leader or resource allocator, are more or less important at lower levels. Given the nature of the roles, it is hypothesized here that lower level managers would perceive The views expressed in this paper represent the opinions of the authors, not necessarily those of the Navy Department. The authors wish to thank Donald Helmich and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.




the internal roles of disturbance handler, negotiator, and leader as more important than would upper level managers. The remaining roles should be viewed as more important by upper level than by lower level managers. With respect to the infiuence of functional specialty on the nature of managerial roles, Mintzberg (1980) suggests that production, sales, and staff managers tend to focus their time on different sets of roles. He hypothesizes that interpersonal roles are more important to sales managers; staff managers give more attention to informational roles; and production managers attend to decisional roles. Both Alexander (1979) and McCall and Segrist (1980) have found empirical support for this hypothesis. The present research extends the work of Alexander (1979), Paolillo (1981), and Mintzberg (1980) by looking at the perceived importance of Mintzberg's roles across several different functional areas, including a relatively ignored segment of the managerial population—namely, the general manager. It is hypothesized that there will be significant differences among functional specialties on perceptions of role requirements. Although there is some empirical support for...
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