In order for managers to be effective, they must have a clear understanding of whether different skills are important in their managerial role. In addition, managers must have a mutual understanding of the skills and responsibilities necessary for other managers across similar and different organizational levels and functions ( Kraut et al. , 1989). If these skills and responsibilities are not clearly understood, managers will neither be able to coordinate work effectively, communicate expectations, deliver feedback, nor be prepared for job transitions or other training and career development activities ( Kraut et al. , 1989). In short, understanding whether certain managerial skills are important to a manager’s job is essential. A number of researchers have investigated the roles, tasks, or activities of managers (e.g.  Mintzberg, 1973;  Luthans, 1988;  Kraut et al. , 1989).
However, these studies are over a decade old, some more than two or three decades, and have not specifically examined skills. The world of work has changed since these studies, most notably due to organizational downsizing, technology, and the globalization of the workplace. Skills important to managers in the late 1980s and early 1990s may not be as important today. As times change, researchers should update important findings to determine if those findings are still applicable ( Cronbach, 1975), especially when considering that the skills and roles of managers need to be clearly defined and understood to effectively teach, select, develop, and promote these individuals in the workplace.
Based on results of a study of more than 14,000 managers over two distinct time periods, this paper will highlight whether the importance of certain managerial skills changed over a 15-year time period, and determine which skills are needed at different organizational levels and across organizational functions from the opinions of managers themselves. Our main research question is, to what extent has the importance of certain managerial skills changed, or remained constant, over time, and whether certain skills are important based on organizational level and function.
Studies of managers
 Mintzberg (1973) provided one of the most influential works on managerial roles. Prior to his research, the roles of managers were understood to be embedded in a rigid functional approach of planning jobs, organizing staff, and leading personnel ( Pearson and Chatterjee, 2003). However, Mintzberg observed that managers worked at a much faster pace during which they were required to address a range of issues. The job of the manager required an ability to handle more complex roles than those described by classical management theory. Using a descriptive diary method to observe managers at work, Mintzberg identified ten roles of managerial work, which were divided into three categories: interpersonal roles, informational roles, and decisional roles.
Expanding on  Mintzberg’s (1973) work,  Kraut et al. (1989) investigated the differences between managerial levels in the perception of role importance. They identified seven major factors of management tasks including: managing individual performance; instructing subordinates; planning and allocating resources; coordinating interdependent groups; managing group performance; monitoring the business environment; and representing one’s staff. Their findings also revealed distinct differences in role importance based on the level of the manager. For instance, first-level managers reported that managing individual performance and instructing subordinates were the most important set of activities in their job.
However, as managers moved up the management hierarchy to the level of middle manager, the importance of these activities dropped and more focus was placed on tasks related to linking groups. The act of linking groups included planning and resource allocation, managing group performance, and coordinating interdependent groups. Executive managers took an even broader view of their job as evidenced by their high importance ratings related to monitoring the environment including business, economic, and social trends. The only commonality among the different managerial levels was the importance they placed on representing their staff; over 50 per cent of managers at each level rated representing staff of “utmost” or “considerable importance.”  Luthans’ (1988) research also examined differences between top and middle managers.
However the focus was more on the distinction between the activities of an effective manager versus a successful manager. Effective managers were identified by a high level of performance in the unit they are responsible for, whereas successful managers were recognized by their rapid promotions within an organization. The activities that characterize effective managers included spending time on communication and human resource management, which can lead to long-term results. In contrast, successful managers spent more time on networking and aimed for short-term results. In addition to differences between levels,  Kraut et al. (1989) also compared managerial activities across the different organizational functions of marketing, manufacturing, and administration.
For example, a greater percentage of marketing managers rated monitoring the outside environment more important when compared to other managers. Alternately, fewer marketing managers rated instructing subordinates as important when compared to managers in manufacturing and administration. Managers from all three organizational functions indicated that activities involving coordinating interdependent groups were important. The present study will attempt to expand on similar research such as those previously mentioned. First, this research examines managerial skills, which are much different than managerial roles, activities, or tasks.
While past research has determined what roles or activities are important for managers and what tasks managers tend to spend much of their time on, this research attempts to determine what skills are important for managerial jobs. Second, this research will use opinions from practicing managers totaling more than 14,000 from two distinct time periods (1988-1992, and 2004-2006) to capture what skills have been important in the past, and determine whether those skills have changed in importance over time. In addition, this research will examine whether managerial skills are important across different organizational levels and organizational functions in the context of today’s work environment.
The changing world of work
The aforementioned research regarding the importance of managerial tasks, roles, and activities was conducted in the 1970s and 1980s. There is reason to believe that skills once deemed important for managers may have adjusted in relative importance since much has changed in the world of work since these studies. One can assume that the changes in the world of work may coincide with possible changes in the importance of different managerial skills. Organizations have become flatter and less hierarchical with fewer levels and more responsibilities ( Allen et al. , 2001;  McKinley et al. , 2000;  Miller, 1990).
Also, organizational downsizing is commonplace due to the increasing need to reduce costs, to eliminate unnecessary levels of management, and to streamline operations ( DeMeuse et al. , 2004). As organizations become less hierarchical, there is reason to believe that the skills managers thought were important in the past may have changed in scope. Organizations also exist in a different environmental context than 15 years ago. Due to improved technology such as e-mail and the internet, changes have occurred in the way managers and co-workers interact. We have seen the emergence of the Internet as a major form of communication and e-commerce as a new source of business. Flexible work patterns and the ability to work in geographically dispersed teams is now a common reality in the workplace ( Wallace, 2004).
These changes have cultivated the need for better communication, coordination, improved performance, team monitoring, and more interdependence and trust (,  Salas et al. , 2004, 2005;  Zaccaro et al. , 2004). Teams and organizations are increasingly becoming more global or virtual in nature. As a result, an awareness of different cultures and attention to multiculturalism and globalization is vital for the success of many managers. As organizations become more fast-paced and global, there is also speculation that the importance of different skills managers need may have shifted in scope.  Kanter (1989) argued that these rapid changes, spurred by technology and competitive pressures, have made traditional forms of organizing work obsolete.
Managers may believe certain skills are important in order to be a partner with and empower employees to address business problems on their own and to work in cross-functional teams, which could be different than the skills believed to be important 15 years ago. Managers must fully understand their roles and responsibilities and become adept at a variety of skills to perform their job effectively ( Ahearn et al. , 2004;  Halbesleben et al. , 2003;  Stockdale and Crosby, 2004;  Wallace, 2004;  Zaccaro et al. , 2004). As previously mentioned, understanding the skills of managers is essential to coordinate work effectively, communicate expectations, deliver feedback, and for training and career development ( Kraut et al. , 1989).
It is unknown whether the changes over the past 15 years that have occurred in an organizational and global context have also coincided with possible changes in importance of managerial skills over time. A recent case study reexamined  Mintzberg’s (1973) work 30 years after the original research by studying the pattern of behavior among four executives in Sweden ( Tengblad, 2006). The findings revealed that modern executives are more oriented towards working with subordinates in group-settings and focus more time on giving information rather than performing administrative duties.
However, Tengblad noted significant similarities with Mintzberg’s original study, indicating that claims of the emergence of radically different managerial work may be exaggerated. However, due to the small sample size and lack of empirical data in that study, it is important that further work specifically examine the modern skills of managers with a wide range of managers and ample sample size.
In other words, are the skills thought to be important to managers 15 years ago still important to managers in today’s work context? The present research will attempt to answer this question and provide relevant present-day information for managers and those who work with, train and develop them, by re-examining the importance of managerial skills across two distinct time periods and across both organizational level and function in the context of today’s work environment.
This research used data from two waves of managers engaged in a leadership development program from a leadership development provider in order to compare differences in managerial skills over time. The first wave consisted of 7,389 managers from the USA involved in a leadership development process between 1988 and 1992. The second wave consisted of 7,410 managers from the USA who were involved in a leadership development process between 2004 and 2006. Because of data housing and management issues, demographic data could not be given for the first wave of participants. However, aggregate biographical data from the leadership development provider from the time period of 1988 to 1992 revealed that leadership development participants in general were similar in terms of age, gender, race, education, and job status to those of 2004 to 2006.
Demographic data in aggregate could be given for the 7,410 participants of the second wave. The average age of the managers in the second wave was 41.73 years old, 59 per cent were male, 86 per cent were white, 69 per cent worked in the private sector and 77 per cent had a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. Managers came from over 60 organizational types (e.g. aerospace and defense, finance, communications, government, education) and over 1,300 companies.
In addition, 999 managers (13.5 per cent) were first-level managers (forepersons, crew chiefs, section supervisors), 3,136 (42.3 per cent) were middle-level managers (office managers, professional staff, mid-level administrators), 2,197 (29.6 per cent) were upper-middle managers (department executives, plant managers, senior professional staff), and 1,078 (14.6 per cent) were top or executive level managers (chief executives or operating officers, presidents, vice presidents, directors).
Managerial skills . Data determining the importance of managerial skills was collected from SKILLSCOPE® a 360-degree instrument that assesses job related strengths and weaknesses. The instrument has 98 items that are organized into 15 skill clusters. These clusters represent 15 skills and roles managers need in order to be effective in their job which are part of Mintzberg’s three categories (interpersonal, informational, and decisional) and two other categories (personal resources and effective use of self).
The conceptual basis for SKILLSCOPE® is research which focused on managerial skills, roles and tasks (e.g.  Beggs and Doolittle, 1988;  Kaplan, 1987;  Kotter, 1982;  McCall and Kaplan, 1984;  McCall et al. , 1979; ,  Mintzberg, 1973, 1990;  Sayles, 1979;  Stewart, 1976). As part of their leadership development process, managers chose which five of the 15 skill clusters were the most important for their current job. Table I [Figure omitted. See Article Image.] describes each skill cluster.
A frequency count of the data revealed the skills that are most important for managers in their current job. Result show that both “Communicating information, ideas” (60.1 per cent of the managers in 1988-1992 and 63 per cent of the managers in 2004-2006) and “Taking actions, making decisions, following through” (59.7 per cent of the managers in 1988-1992 and 62.9 per cent of the managers in 2004-2006) were the most important skills across all managers. On the other hand, “Self-management, self-insight, self-development” and “Openness to influence; flexibility” were the least important for managers in 1988 through 1992 (8.6 per cent and 8.8 per cent respectively as one of the most important skills needed) and managers in 2004 through 2006 (10.9 per cent and 7.2 per cent selected respectively as one of the most important skills needed).
Table II [Figure omitted. See Article Image.] shows a comparison between managers from 1988-1992 and managers from 2004-2006. Many of the skills were similar in importance for both waves of managers. However, there were three skill clusters with differences of more than 10 percentage points that should be noted. First, 39.9 per cent of 2004-2006 managers rated “Relationships” as one of five important skill clusters which was an increase from 29.4 per cent of managers in 1988-1992. Second, 33 per cent of 2004-2006 managers rated “Administrative/organizational ability” as one of five important skill clusters, a decrease from the 45 per cent of managers was from 1988-1992.
Finally, 31.7 per cent of managers from 2004-2006 rated “Time management” as one of five important skill clusters which was an increase from the 19.7 per cent of managers in 1988-1992. The next set of analyses focused only on the 2004-2006 managers. Examining the results as a whole may mask important findings based on managerial levels. Consequently, we analyzed the importance of managerial skills across the four managerial levels for the present study, similar to  Kraut et al. (1989). Figure 1 [Figure omitted. See Article Image.] displays the importance rankings for each skill sorted by managerial level.
“Communicating information, ideas” and “Taking action, making decisions, following through” were the two most important skills for all managerial levels with the exception of first-level managers. While “Taking action, making decisions, following through” ranked as the most important for first-level managers, “Knowledge of job, business” ranked as second-most important, followed by “Communicating information, ideas”. On the other hand, “Openness to influence, flexibility” was the least important to managers at each level, again with the exception of first-level managers who believed “Risk-taking, innovation” was the least important, followed by “Openness to influence, flexibility”.
In general, the importance rankings were similar across managerial levels, though there are some notable exceptions. First, “Getting information, making sense of it; problem identification” was less important for top/executive-level managers (48 per cent) than for other managerial levels (each over 55 per cent). Second, as managerial level increased, so did the importance of “Influencing, leadership, and power”, (from 21 per cent of first-level managers to 45 per cent of top/executive level managers), and of “Risk-taking, innovation” (from 7 per cent of first-level managers to 22 per cent of top/executive level managers).
Last, as managerial level increased, the importance of two managerial skills decreased, namely “Knowledge of job, business” (from 63 per cent of first-level managers to 45 per cent of top/executive-level managers) and “Time management” (from 42 per cent of first-level managers to 19 per cent of top/executive-level managers). In addition, viewing the results from all managers in aggregate may also conceal important findings based specifically on job function, as managers in different functions may have different managerial challenges ( Kraut et al. , 1989).
In order to account for this, the present study mirrored the data analysis of the  Kraut et al. (1989) study in that the levels of management were equally weighted in each function so that no one managerial level would have statistical influence over the other managerial levels, and managers from marketing (n =282), manufacturing (n =253), and administration (n =489) would be selected. Due to the functional diversity of the sample of the second wave, managers from engineering (n =413), human resources/training (n =345), operations (n =916) and sales (n =518) were also examined. Figure 2 [Figure omitted. See Article Image.] provides the rankings for the skills of managers across job function. It is interesting to note that the pattern of skill importance is similar across functions.
For instance, “Communicating information, ideas” was most important for marketing, human resource, and sales managers, while “Taking action, making decisions, following through” was the most important managerial skill for manufacturing, administration, engineering, and operations. In fact, across the seven managerial functions studied, these two managerial skills were among the top three in importance for each managerial function. On the other hand, “Openness to influence; flexibility” was the least important to managers across all functions except for managers in human resources, who believed “Energy, drive, and ambition” was the least important. Some managerial skills were rated similarly in importance across managerial functions.
For instance, between 22 per cent and 27 per cent of managers across different functions believed “Coping with pressure, adversity; integrity” was important. Also, between 8 per cent and 13 per cent of managers thought “Self-management, self-insight, self-development” was an important skill to have. There was variability among the importance of some skills across managerial function. For example, “Administrative/organizational ability” was important for less than 25 per cent of managers in marketing, manufacturing, and sales, but was important for 58 per cent of managers in administration. “Getting information, making sense of it; problem identification” was less important for sales managers (39 per cent) than it was for engineering managers (65 per cent).
Regarding “Managing conflict; negotiation” it is interesting to note that most managers rated it the same in importance (between 27 per cent and 31 per cent) except managers from marketing, where only 17 per cent of managers thought it was important. Managers in manufacturing (25 per cent) and engineering (26 per cent) ranked “Relationships” less important than human resources (51 per cent) and sales (52 per cent) managers. “Selecting, developing, accepting people” was important to some managers in manufacturing and sales (both 35 per cent), but was not as important to marketing managers (12 per cent).
In total, 30 years after  Mintzberg’s (1973) original study,  Tengblad (2006) found that while some things have changed, managerial work has remained the same, despite changes in the world of work. In a similar fashion, the present research attempted to determine whether the importance of skills managers need in their job have shifted over a 15-year time period. Though many have commented on how the world of work has changed over the past 15 years (e.g.  Allen et al. , 2001;  DeMeuse et al. , 2004;  Kanter, 1989;  McKinley et al. , 2000;  Miller, 1990; ,  Salas et al. , 2004, 2005;  Wallace, 2004;  Zaccaro et al. , 2004), the data of the present research suggests that despite the changes in the work environment, the importance of certain managerial skills is somewhat similar.
For instance, what was believed to be important in 1988-1992 (i.e. “Communicating information, ideas” and “Taking action, making decisions, following through”) is still considered important for managers today. In addition, skills that were not thought of as important in 1988-1992 (i.e. “Self-management, self-insight, self-development” and “Openness to influence; flexibility”) are still not thought of as important for managers in today’s work context. Despite these apparent similarities, there are some noteworthy differences between what managers thought was important 15 years ago and what managers think is important today. First, “Relationships” seem to be more important now than for managers 15 years ago.  Tengblad (2006) hinted at this with the finding that executives are concentrating more today (than 30 years ago) on working with others in a group setting. The increased importance of this skill cluster coincided with the changes in the organizational context that managers today must face.
The use of communication technology, such as e-mail, and the existence of geographically dispersed teams require managers to be more deliberate in the effort they devote towards forming and maintaining relationships. The nonverbal cues that aid in face-to-face communication cannot be relied on in virtual relationships. By acknowledging and facing the challenges presented by these new forms of communication, managers can successfully execute their job requirements. In addition, the flattening of organizational hierarchies has forced a higher level of coordination and collaboration between peers. As more and more people work in an environment structured around the work team, the more likely a focus on building relationships will be encouraged.
For instance, more time is devoted to interdependence and trust in a team setting (,  Salas et al. , 2004, 2005;  Zaccaro et al. , 2004), where ultimately, building relationships is necessary.  Tengblad (2006) found that executives are indeed focusing less time on administrative duties, and  Kanter (1989) also revealed that organizing work was becoming obsolete with changes in the environment. In a similar fashion, the present study found that “Administrative/organizational ability” seems to be less important today than it was 15 years ago. One of the reasons could correspond with the recent trend of the flattening of organizations. Organizations have become more streamlined, and responsibility has become more spread out in the organization. In effect, managers do not have a hierarchical structure to manage.
The administrative tasks that were needed in more hierarchical structures 15 years ago are not needed as much in the present work context. The advent of technology has also facilitated many organizational processes that were once paper-based. More and more companies have converted to computer-based processes (i.e. online recruiting and staffing) that have minimized the necessity to focus one’s skill on administrative or organizational duties. “Time management” appears more important now than it was 15 years ago. The reasons why could coincide with changes in the work context.
Technology now enables people from around the world to work in real-time, to contact people instantly, and work more quickly. E-mail has replaced mail and fax. The use of cell phones and electronic devices such as “blackberries” has also increased. At the same time, employees are focusing on creating balance between their professional lives and their personal lives, attempting to get work out of the way faster. Employees and their managers therefore must focus on time management now more than ever. The differences in importance rankings of managerial skills we observed between managers at different organizational levels confirm previous findings in the literature.
 Kraut et al. (1989) found that some managerial roles are considered important at each level, but the degree of importance may be contingent on a particular level. In the present study, “Influencing, leadership, and power” and “Risk-taking and innovation” showed an increase in importance ranking as managerial level increased. Both of these skills are indicative of senior levels of leadership. As a manager takes on more responsibility, it is critical to the manager’s success that the manager’s focus shifts to meet the new demands of the job. Also important to note, some managerial skills differ in importance depending on managerial function and relevance.
For instance, “Administrative/organizational ability” is more important to managers in administration than it is for any of the other functions because administrative ability is inherent in the administrative function. “Getting information, making sense of it; problem identification” is more important for engineering managers than it is for any of the other functions because working with information and problem identification is particularly relevant for engineers.
“Communicating information and ideas” and “Risk-taking, innovation” are more important for managers in marketing than any of the other functions because those with a marketing background must be able to communicate and be innovative. Finally, “Relationships” is more important for managers in sales and HR than any of the other functions because sales and HR functions are dependent on forming and building good relationships. In effect, some skills are important to different managerial functions because of relevance of the specific organizational function.
Determining what is important for managers at each level and each function is crucial to coordinating work effectively, communicating expectations, and facilitating training and career development activities ( Kraut et al. , 1989). Relying on past (or outdated) information about the importance of certain managerial skills, roles, tasks, or activities could hinder effective work coordination, communication, and effective training and career development. Hence, “updating” this type of information may help managers in their work and development, even if it is to simply validate or reinforce previous findings. Imagine the challenges managers face if relevant information about the importance of certain skills in their jobs were not correct or outdated.
If information from previous research from the 1970s or 1980s is still used for coordinating work activities and it has not been updated, managers may be concentrating on different or unnecessary skills that are no longer relevant. This could greatly impede their work, their advancement, and ultimately, their success. Moreover, managers may not be taught the appropriate skills for the present-day work environment that is needed to succeed if training and development relies on outdated information. For instance,  Lipshitz and Nevo (1992) detailed research of the competencies of effective and ineffective managers whose activities and practices aided the design of training and development programs.
Knowing which managerial skills are important for different managerial levels and functions would definitely bring knowledge to improve training and development programs. Because of their rated importance, the data suggests that managerial training and development in today’s world of work may need to keep focus on communication and decision-making, decrease focus on administration and organization ability, and increase focus on enhancing relationships and the concept of time management.
In addition, these findings may help those in selection and in succession planning; knowing that certain skills are important at different levels and functions can help determine what type of manager is needed at each level or each function. For instance, time management may be a skill set that is necessary particularly for first-level managers and not top-level executives, and hence, first level managers should have that appropriate skill for the job. Administrative/organizational ability may be important for managers in the administration function, and those in succession planning or selection for managers in that particular function should keep in mind that information, along with relevant information from any job analysis or competency model.
Limitations and future directions
There are some limitations to this study. First, asking managers to choose five of 15 skill clusters that are important to their current job does not provide the level of detail that could be obtained by evaluating the importance of each cluster using other methodologies. In the present study, a skill cluster is either among a manager’s top five most important or it is not. Therefore, the data does not permit an assessment of how much more important the top five skill clusters were than the ten skill clusters not selected. In addition, the data did not allow us to assess any relative ranking among the top five skills. As a result, it would be useful to assess the importance of clusters, competencies, roles, skills, or abilities using a Likert-type scale in the future. In this manner, researchers could examine to what extent each cluster is important to managers.
Also, examining what managers believe are the most important skills for their job may not yield the same findings as asking what their direct reports or supervisors consider important. Future research should investigate what direct reports and supervisors of managers think are important skills for managers to acquire a more global perspective of managerial competencies, similar to those acquired through competency modeling (e.g.  Lucia and Lepsinger, 1999). Also, asking similar questions to managers outside the United States would bring more information about the importance of managerial skills across cultures. Combining the quantitative approach of evaluating to what extent a variety of skills are important for managers along with more qualitative methodologies of on-the-job observation and interviewing to assess competencies should create a more comprehensive picture of “today’s manager”.
Finally, any future research should capture the demographic data for the sample across successive waves. Without knowing more about the sample composition for the first wave of data, it is not possible to ascertain whether changes over time are due to differences in organizational structure or function, differences in individual jobs represented by the sample, or differences in workforce composition. Therefore, explanations of changes cited in our findings may be due to structure changes and changes in technology or they may be due to changes in workforce demographics (i.e. aging baby-boomers). The best this research can conclude is that shifts in the importance of certain managerial skills have coincided with changes in the context of the world of work.
However, with the present research data set, having a large sample of more than 7,000 managers with similar aggregate demographic data for each time period may tend to lead to more generalizable results than would a sample of a lesser number of participants. The world of work has changed over the past 15 years. Results of this study revealed that managers today feel the need to concentrate more on building relationships and time management skills and focus less on administrative and organizational ability. However, many of the skills managers thought were important to their job in the late 1980s and early 1990s are somewhat similar in importance from the opinions of managers in the first decade of the 2000s, particularly skills concerning communication and decision making.
To answer the original research question, much like  Tengblad (2006) found, despite noticeable changes in the world of work, while some managerial skills shifted in importance, some managerial skills remain as important today as 15 years ago. The importance of these managerial skills not only coincided with the changes in the work environment, but also are context dependent based on managerial level and function. For instance, though time management has increased in importance over the years, managers at lower levels (i.e. first-level managers) seem to believe time management is more important to their job than those at higher levels (i.e. top- or executive-level managers).
In essence, one should take note not only of how the importance of certain skills change over time, but also, that certain skills believed to be important for managers at one particular level or function may be more or less important for managers at other levels or other functions. In the end, knowing this information is essential to effectively teach, select, develop, train, and promote managers in the workplace.
Portions of this paper are based on a poster that was presented at the 2007 Society of Industrial Organizational Psychology Conference, New York City, New York. Footnote
1. SKILLSCOPE is a registered trademark of the Center for Creative Leadership.
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William A. Gentry can be contacted at: [email protected]
William A. Gentry, Center for Creative Leadership, Greensboro, North Carolina, USA
Lauren S. Harris, University of Georgia, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Becca A. Baker, JCPenney Co., Plano, Texas, USA
Jean Brittain Leslie, Center for Creative Leadership, Greensboro, North Carolina, USA Illustration
Figure 1: Importance rankings for managerial skills (2004-2006) by managerial level
Figure 2: Importance rankings for managerial skills (2004-2006) by organizational function
Table I: Descriptions of managerial skill clusters
Table II: Overall importance rankings for managerial skills (1998-1992 and 2004-2006)
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