This is going to sound like a naive question, mostly because it is (I'm a young guy, never held a management position).

It's just I've been listening to Manager Tools for a while now, and there's all this things M&M talk about doing, like giving feedback, holding meetings, morning greetings, and on and on. And then besides this, they talk about how to have various other good behaviours - e.g. keep your door open to directs; track your teams behaviours. And this is all super cool stuff, I love it, I love all this "how to manage your team effectively" stuff.

So maybe it's a stupid question but - is this what the life of a manager is, essentially? Managing the efforts of your team, liasing between them and clients (and upper levels of management, who'll sign off on pay and the like)... all that stuff?

I mean, I know it's weird, but I've listened to Manager Tools for the last year now, from being in college to getting my first proper (i.e. non-retail) job. It's just really fascinating stuff that I'd love to put into practice. I can't wait to be a manager one day so I can handle my team really effectively! I'm just wondering what else it is that management does?

I imagine it varies a lot, of course: in some roles, the manager will spend more of his day doing the same work his team does, others it'll be more about helping the team, others it'll be more about deciding the strategy the team is going to follow.


So yeah, boiled down really short: what's the percentage of "people work" to "technical work" which occupies a manager? Is management basically all about leading the team effectively?


And that also has me thinking... as I progress in my field, then... do I necessarily have to be an expert at the technical work of that field? I guess I've always had this thought that... the guys at the top are biggest technical experts... but that's absurd really, isn't it? There's so many different kinds of technical expertise required in a company, that no manager can ever be expected to know how to do everything, can they?


TomW's picture
Training Badge

Let's me honest, most managers do the "management" part of their job in addition to something else.

For example, in my previous job I was a department manager in IT. I managed four guys in the same office who offered training, technical support, and best practices documentation. I did all the same things as they did, just at a higher level. In additon, I was the one who ran interference for them when a product manager was trying to cicumvent the system, standing at their desk screaming "I need it now!!". I was the one who worked out conflicts when two or more offices wanted something at the same time. And, most importantly, I was the one setting the overall strategy of where it was all going (which was being coordinated with the CIO and COO).

In my current job, my work has little or no overlap with the developers in Europe who work for me. I couldn't code my way to "Hello world." Now I have a larger challenge: maintaining credibility and relationships with a team that has a totally different set of skills and who live in another time zone and speak a different native language. My job is to both deliver my own work (strategy research recommendations to management, requirements for approval, and design specs to the designers) AND to make sure that they are meeting milestones on time.

Unless it's a huge organization, a manager is probably doing the things similar to what the directs are doing, but has a higher level of knowledge or ability that makes the manager better suited to do it (and unable to delegate it as a result).

The goal of management is to get results through the actions of others. When you add up the basics, staff meetings, one-on-ones, coaching, delegations, project updates, it probably takes a couple hours per person per week on the team to manage the team.

naraa's picture
Training Badge

 To me a manager does not need to be THE expert in the field, but needs to know enough to separate the ones that do from the ones that don't and to be able to identify the priorities.  Knowhow is also the quickest way to gain trust from the team, at least i work in a technical field and you most people do tend to respect a lot more and trust is established a lot faster if the manager is good technically.

I have worked in some projects to fix some technical problems in processing plants and if the problem had been fixed 6 years ago it would have been difficult but solvable, now the problem is catastrophic, and anyone with willingness and technical knowhow could have seen the problem was going to be catastrophical down the track if nothing was done, só i ask myself why didn't previous managers do anything, why didn't they pay attention to this, why didn't they prioritize this.  And the only explanation i can come up with is that they didn't know anybetter.  They spent six years doing studies on something they could have solved in one year had they knew or hire the correct experts.

You don't have to be An. Expert but you need An. Expert you can trust working for you and you must be able to know enough to understand yours and his limitations.


enlightened_managing's picture

"1) Sets objectives. The manager sets goals for the group, and decides what work needs to be done to meet those goals.

2) Organizes. The manager divides the work into manageable activities, and selects people to accomplish the tasks that need to be done.

3) Motivates and communicates. The manager creates a team out of his people, through decisions on pay, placement, promotion, and through his communications with the team. Drucker also referred to this as the “integrating” function of the manager.

4) Measures. The manager establishes appropriate targets and yardsticks, and analyzes, appraises and interprets performance.

5) Develops people. With the rise of the knowledge worker, this task has taken on added importance. In a knowledge economy, people are the company’s most important asset, and it is up to the manager to develop that asset."

Three of these require that you know who your people are & the other two require technical expertise OR knowing who your people are. 

Nara gave the example of a manager not avoiding a catastrophe because they lacked technical expertise. And I'm willing to bet that if they had held one on ones with their folk, eventually they would have gotten the heads up from one of their directs who was the technical expert in the field.

IMO management's all about helping people do their jobs better (more efficiently, effectively, successfully...) 



Please like my Facebook Page if you like this comment.

acao162's picture

If you're a long time listener, you'll have heard the phrase 'But I'm a "working manager" used (with emphasis on the "working") several times.  I have 4 direct reports and a huge list of my own "stuff" to accomplish.

Here's how it works:  I'm the accountant & one of my directs does much of the prep work for me.  One doesn't do anything for me but works with my boss primarily.  The other two do a combination of work for me & work for another manager.  My day is comprised of setting priorities for everyone else, monitoring the work done and ensuring deadlines are met.  My staff don't need me standing over them to get the work done but occasionally need a bit of help in getting their workloads prioritized.

Each direct has an area of primary responsibility and I monitor their successes and slip-ups, provide coaching where needed and course correction when they are veering off into the great unknown.  Their work output or lack of is my responsibility & I am judged based on how they perform. 

I am the technical expert for my directs in most cases which makes managing easier because I know the hows and the whys.

My boss (CEO) also manages a large team where she is not the expert.  Boss sets the priorities and we are expected to get them done, on time, on budget and better than the standard.  I think my boss has a harder job, not knowing the details of each department's work.  However, in addition to all that monitoring and priority setting, she also has work to do that no one else can do.

In short, we're ALL working managers, the company didn't hire you to occupy a desk and watch people work.  You will have goals, tasks and responsibilites over and above managing staff.  That's essentially why managing is so tough - you can get yourself caught in an Individual Contributor role (just doing your own job, ignoring your directs) so easily because there is never enough time to do it all.  Management is tough because you have so many competing tasks - should you write the annual budget OR talk to Karen about the Accounts Payable?  Should you have a One on One or should you phone back the major supplier? 

Having said all that, I love being a manager.  I love watching my people grow, stretch and develop far beyond what they thought was possible.  And I even love watching them get promoted, even though it means I have to hire to replace them (again!).

RDHodgson's picture

This is excellent stuff guys, and exactly what I was looking for: how does management work in the real world?

It does sound bloody tough, I must say. Oddly enough, for someone totally lacking in I/S traits, the people-side actually attracts me a lot more. I mean, approaching it as a technical challenge, but I love the problem of how to organise people in seeing projects to completion, rather than any particular technical work.

I do wonder how on earth you get things done though... are there never any crisis moments though, where some of your individual work is left undone? Surely, as you progress, your Individual Contributor to Management Contributor ratio changes, right? I mean, the number of hours expected of you increases too, of course, but there must be a shift as well in how much of the individual work you're expected to do too.

I suppose the individual work you're doing at that level isn't the same as before though. If you were creating or selling widgets before, you aren't still creating widgets. Your job is now to negotiate new contracts for widget-creating material, or to figure out how to increase widget-sales in this or that market, right? 





TomW's picture
Training Badge

It depends a lot on the size of the organization. In a 10-person firm you won't be able to specialize as much as you will in a 10,000 person firm. You would probably be doing the same work as your directs in a smaller firm and less so in a larger firm (but even that can vary).

It's up to the manager to decide what work they do and what work they delegate to their directs to do. As much as possible should be delegated, but the manager is always still responsible for the end result.

In reality, there are very very very few people who "only manage."

When a crisis comes up, that's when you work late or over weekends. You're just as responsibile for your team's work as you are your own. As they say, that's why they pay you the big bucks.

naraa's picture
Training Badge

Rory, you got right to the key point that as one progresses as a manager there is a shift in the work load distribution, and less and less of the work one does is individual contribution. At least I have gone through that shift.  What I felt, progressing from an individual contributor to a manager is that the more I progressed as a manager (the more directs and skips I had), more and more the work I did was less and less tangible.  While before I would put in the hours and produce a report or a calculation sheet, something physical I could grab on and say it was my work, now the number of hours I actually spend on a report or on a software are only a fraction of the number of hours spent to get the report, the design or product produced.  Of course the complexity of the second report now is a lot greater, I am not doing a report anymore, I am now doing the whole product and it involves the coordination of a number of different tasks and activities.  But the activities I do myself are less tangible.

I delivered some work to my boss today and I got an "Excellent work!", something very rare to get.... And I thought to myself I only deserve 10% of that, 90% of the work was done by my directs and peers.  In this case I was just the initiator and the glue to conect people to get it done, as it involved the contribution of a number of different professionals.

What I found out as a manager is that the more I can only recognize 10% of my work into something, the better I am as a manager!


enlightened_managing's picture

I love being around great managers... you guys are like a breath of fresh air.

And no, you never get all your work and working harder isn't the answer; making sure you're working on your priorities is.



Please like my Facebook Page if you agree with this comment.

Singers's picture

The manager is responsible for the results delivered from the team. In some cases with a smaller team mostly, the manager might also do "more technical work" - however the better the manager the less of that they do and the more of the "more important / bigger ball's" (Juggling Koran cast) they handle.

Usually when I do "technical stuff" it's because I havent delegated as I should - I deliver more to the team by focusing on bigger things. 

Kind Regards
Mads Sorensen
Disc 4536

RDHodgson's picture

Narra employs a useful term there. Tangibility. I think that seems like the key, as far as I'm aware. It's not that you're less involved in the day-to-day technical operations of your team, but that your contribution to the work is less tangible. What you're planning and executing becomes much broader and harder to define. I mean, you have to try to define or it, or you lack focus. But what you're doing is taking responsibility for getting the job done... and what the means is gonna shift depending on the context. Sometimes it means mucking in more with what everyone else is doing, sometimes it means making a decision in a conflict, sometimes it means coaching/mentoring/O3s, sometimes it means drawing and redrawing and redrawing again your battle plans, and so on. 

Also, that's a good point you and Singer both make, about delegation and how much you're doing - you should be less and less involved in the actual technical stuff, and if you are doing it, it may be a sign that teams goals aren't wide enough. 

I do think you mean "juggling koan" though. I imagine juggling korans would be a much harder task - although, perhaps you are trying to capture just how difficult effective management is?





JulieGeek's picture

 I've been a manager for just over a year, so I've recently been reflecting on just what, exactly, it is that I do. First off, I am a "working" manager. I have a set of technical skills of my own and a broad background in my industry (deregulated electricity generation) as well as IT. I lead a small, but talented, team of data analysts. I'm not as talented as any of them in their areas of strength, but I can hold my own and backstop my team.

My team members and I each have our own "set" of customers according to our own areas of interest, but we cross-pollinate a lot as well. My team members mostly work on their own projects. I manage the workload. I also manage our outsourced IT support team. I prioritize their efforts, give them business requirements, praise them, castigate them, and perform User Acceptance Testing on their deliverables.

I develop my team members (at least I like to think I do). I have O3s (usually...), I have team meetings, I organize training opportunities (which is very fun). I run interference and make sure my management is aware of my teams achievements. I talk them up and bounce ideas off my management on how I can better serve my team members.

Because of my IT background, I involve myself in the IT efforts and issues that affect my business unit. I bitch at the IT teams in the language they understand and explain the issues to my management in the language they understand.

I keep all the balls in the air. I make sure my team members have what they need, IT has what it needs, and my customers have what they need. I make sure nothing falls through the cracks. I keep in touch with my network and fantasize about what other cool things my team and I could do.

In between all of that, I do a bit of VBA development and try to develop my SQL skills, my management skills, and my business acumen. And go to Starbucks...

Dave75's picture
Licensee Badge

What do managers do?


About 50-60+ hours of work for which your boss gets much of the credit.


This isn't a bad thing though.  Think of all the credit you're getting for your directs work!




stepheniux123's picture

This behavior could also be interpretted as an attempt to "take control" of the hiring process by moving closer to the hiring manager than the other candidates.-Mercy Ministries