Robert Katz: Skills of an Effective Administrator

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Katz, Robert L. “Skills of an Effective Administrator,” Harvard Business Review: 1955. Retrieved from: McMahon, Timothy, J. Leaderships Classics. pp. 22-35.

Robert Katz identifies the selection and training of good administration as one of American industry’s most pressing problems. Katz tells us that at the root of the problem is the industry’s search for the traits and qualities that will identify the “ideal executive.” In spending so much time looking at personality and one’s value set, companies are in danger of losing sight of what should be their main concern - what a man can accomplish. We believe that this is definitely still a relevant concern today as well. We see business executives with loads of personality and great people skills, but little to offer the companies in terms of quantifiable work. Even on the basic managerial level, each of us has worked for someone who was very polite and honest and trustworthy, but they were useless when it came to doing their job. We all agree that there must be a better way to select leadership and administration than simply picking out their most attractive qualities. What makes up a great executive has long been speculated and disputed, but here we see a more practical and useful approach to the selection and development of administrators. What is described for us here is the Three-Skill Approach. This approach is based on the idea that what someone is innately born with is not nearly as important as what they can do, or what skills they possess. Each of the three skills (technical, human, and conceptual) can be developed in any person and are all directly related to improving the workplace environment. Katz tells us that this approach grew out of firsthand observation of executives in the workplace as well as the study of current field research in administration. An administrator, as defined here, is someone who directs the activities of other persons and undertakes the responsibility for achieving certain objectives through these efforts. By honing the three skills that this approach advocates (technical, human, and conceptual), Katz assures us that anyone can be successful in an administrative position. Of the three skills described in this article, technical skill is probably the most familiar to the average reader. It is the skill required by the largest number of people and most on-the-job training programs are concerned with developing their employees’ technical skills. Katz tells us that the need for technical skill is the greatest at the lower levels of administration. As a person moves closer to the top and further from the actual physical operation, the need for this skill decreases provided that there are subordinates who are qualified to carry out the technical aspect of the job. In our modern world, we see executives who flit around from company to company and have no idea what the technical aspect of their new job is, but their human and conceptual skills seem to make up for their lack of technical knowledge. While we do agree that technical skills aren’t nearly as important to a CEO as they would be to a line manager, we feel that not having any technical skill at all in an executive position is akin to flying blind. If I were someone overseeing a large company or corporation I would want to be able to understand the technical aspects of the product(s) we were producing and be able to have input if the need arose concerning production or design. We find it very limiting to an executive when they are at the mercy of their lower level management to make every decision concerning technical processes. The CEO may have some very useful insight, but without knowledge of how the technical process works, that idea is useless and a breakthrough may never be realized. Human skill is the executive’s ability to work effectively as a group member and to build cooperative effort within the team he/she leads. While having a technical skill means working with “things,”...
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