How to be a manager: Roles and responsibilities of managers

When you hear the term “manager,” what comes to mind? Some people may envision an individual who endlessly seems to host or attend meetings. Others may think of an always-busy person with a desk stacked with paperwork a mile high. Perhaps you view a manager as a resource to turn to about anything company- or industry-related. Or, you might think of a manager as an overseer — the one responsible for creating work schedules, keeping track of deadlines, and making sure employees are doing their jobs.

Sound complex? That’s because what managers do can vary widely. Factors that influence their responsibilities include:

  • Their industry. Think of how managing at a big-box retailer involves different tasks than managing at an accounting firm.

  • The number of direct reports. Such as overseeing large shifts of workers at a manufacturing plant vs. managing three team members at a small advertising agency.

  • Company size. A start-up may have one leader who handles virtually all managerial tasks, whereas a corporation may employ a plethora of managers with highly specific duties and levels of power.

  • Staff composition. Consider how managing a well-oiled team of knowledgeable professionals differs from managing a group of Gen Zers holding their first job.

  • Personality. Leaders possess their own work styles and may put more emphasis on things they personally think are important, such as developing better working relationships, innovating, or motivating team members.

Still, management positions do generally share numerous similarities. Here, we look at common aspects of the job and offer tips on how to be a good manager.

Roles managers frequently assume

The following are some of the core things involved in management roles. New managers especially should note that effective leaders develop their own balance based on individual circumstances and organizational expectations.

Departmental representative

Think of managers as the lifelines of their department. They meet with other execs to discuss organizational matters. Within these gatherings, they report on activities going on under their jurisdiction. They bring up concerns from their direct charges and advocate on their behalf. When brought into decision-making situations, they consider how actions will affect those they manage and the work they perform.

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As the designated point of contact from their department, managers also hold the responsibility of informing their charges about what is going on at the company. Great leaders know that timely, thorough communication builds trust. Provide explanations about new policies and other changes. Workers are quicker to get on board when they understand the reasons. Facing questions you do not know how to answer? Be truthful, and respond that you will circle back when you find out.

Work coordinator

One of the most important management skills is organizing workflow. Sometimes, this involves ensuring sufficient staffing to get tasks completed. It often means meeting in small groups or one-on-one to go over duties, priorities, and deadlines. Effective managers give assignments, keep track of progress, and monitor time allotments. Tools such as project management software and shared calendars prove helpful.

The best managers, though, go beyond looking only at day-to-day operations. They identify what skill sets their team needs going forward. They realize professional development is a must in our ever-changing world.

Great managers also pay attention to the workload of each individual contributor. Employees suffering from burnout cannot perform their best, and they possess a higher risk of leaving the company for a less stressful new role. Adjustments such as delegating some of their tasks to less-busy colleagues or building in additional time to complete an assignment can ease burdens.


Managerial positions usually involve attending to a variety of administrative tasks. From constructing budgets and filling out compliance paperwork to signing off on departmental purchases and staff timesheets, these nitty-gritty aspects of the position are critical to smooth operations.

Source of knowledge

Good managers are experts on how the company runs. They know the ins and outs of operations and can direct others on how to get things done. They understand and promote the organization’s mission, goals, and culture.

Some managers started in other company positions and worked their way up. Their industry expertise remains an asset when team members need someone who can answer questions or provide guidance. To remain on top of their discipline, good managers see themselves as lifelong learners. They prioritize their professional development because they know others depend on them. Their commitment to staying relevant and expanding horizons contributes to others doing the same.


When workers know what they are doing well, they can confidently keep performing the same desirable actions. If they need to make improvements, telling them is in everyone’s best interests. Successful managers provide specific, regular, timely feedback. They do so in private so as not to embarrass the person.

Worried about how the listener may take constructive criticism? Work to create a culture where all give and receive feedback as the norm. Frequently ask for thoughts on your managerial style or on how you can better support the team. Encourage teammates to give each other shout-outs for accomplishments as well as polite suggestions for alternate ways of doing things. In such a work environment, you reduce the risk that individuals will feel being “picked on.”

If your organization utilizes annual performance reviews, take them seriously. Come up with criteria for rankings rather than assigning numbers willy-nilly. Back up your ratings with specific examples that support what you gave. Set up a time to talk with each recipient rather than simply throwing the document in a mailbox.


First-time managers and seasoned ones alike rarely enjoy this aspect of the job. However, good leaders realize the importance of enforcing rules and standards. Failure to do so discourages offenders from changing their ways. Plus, shirking this responsibility can lead to problems with other staff members. Why act properly if poor behavior has no consequences?

Know your company’s disciplinary policies. Following them relieves you from being seen as too hard or too lenient on anyone. Many organizations use progressive discipline. Such a system often starts with verbal warnings and progresses to more severe consequences should improvement not happen. Besides providing a plan to follow, sticking “to the book” puts you (and the company) in a better position should the employee try to take legal action for wrongful termination. Likewise, take seriously the responsibility of properly documenting each step.

Instead of thinking of the process as purely punitive, better managers work to help their charges succeed. Through emotional intelligence and active listening, they try to understand the person’s struggles. They define what improvement looks like in clear, measurable ways. They set goals and follow-up with the individual to discuss challenges and evaluate progress. And they definitely sing the person’s praises at check-ins when behavior and performance head in the right direction!


Discord among staff members can disrupt teamwork. Warring parties may experience difficulty working together. They may further damage workplace well-being by egging on colleagues to take sides.

Great managers typically encourage people to work out problems on their own through communication. Sitting down together to explain perspectives and interpretations of events helps each side understand the other. Many times, they discover miscommunication is to blame. Sometimes, they don’t even agree on why they are arguing! Getting to the root of the problem enables figuring out how to move forward in the working relationship.

When opponents cannot resolve matters on their own, managers assume a leadership role. By acting as a mediator, they get both sides to talk things out. The mere presence of “the boss” usually makes people more willing to listen and work towards a solution.

Smart managers also prioritize proactive measures to keep peace. They see conflict resolution as a valuable soft skill. They work with their staff on communication skills such as reading verbal and non-verbal cues, actively listening, and expressing empathy. Team members learn to disagree professionally rather than personally. They come to view respectful dissent as a means to growth and better problem-solving, which benefits the company.


Hiring new staff, investing resources, developing organizational objectives, handing out assignments . . . choices must be made within a company. Without a structure in place for arriving at a “final word,” things would not progress. In many cases, a manager serves as this decision-maker – either as an individual or as part of a team.

How managers go about arriving at their conclusions differs with their leadership style. Some favor quick action. Others gather a great deal of input first. Many choose to discuss matters with staff or other relevant parties to gain insight before reaching a verdict. Some work to achieve consensus and go with what the group decides.

Whatever their modus operandi, good managers know the potential harm of indecisiveness. An indecisive manager frustrates employees who simply want to know how to proceed and need an answer. Likewise, failure to act can result in missing out on hiring a great candidate or losing a promising deal. How much information to weigh before pulling the trigger challenges managers regularly as one of the hardest leadership skills.


Successful managers typically possess a growth mindset. They want to see the company fulfill current goals as well as move in exciting new directions. They seek ways to improve efficiency and maximize performance now, and they ponder possibilities for expansions and improvements in the future.

Certainly, managers often come up with great ideas on their own. But, they also realize diverse input sometimes brings to the surface things they would not have thought about. Smart leaders value open communication because they know brilliance can come from anyone at any time. They create a psychologically safe work environment where employees feel free to talk, dissent, and respectfully push one another without fear of belittlement, dismissal, or repercussion. They also dedicate time to brainstorming and collaboration. People feed off each other, and one person’s self-described “dumb idea” could evolve into something wonderful after being bounced around.


Managers want to get the most out of each employee, but they realize that this task can be difficult. Not every day is exciting, and some tasks are repetitive or boring.

The best managers figure out what makes each individual under their charge “tick.” They try to give them more of what they like to do and less of what they do not. They also come up with competitions, rewards, and other incentives to energize people. They may even come up with novel ideas when they notice low morale, such as a staff field trip, video game competition, or group volunteer project.

Praise and appreciation are great motivators. People like knowing that their hard work gets noticed. Aim to provide specifics rather than a general “good job.” Offering details sounds more genuine and personal. Connect how what the individual does to the greater good of the company and its mission. Feeling like part of something larger than oneself inspires!

Not sure where morale stands? Roam the floor. What do you see and hear? How are people interacting? What do body language and facial expressions say? Strike up casual conversations, and listen.

Finally, realize that motivating sometimes means acting as a cheerleader. When faced with difficult problems or coming to grips with change, workers need to hear that they have the talent to overcome. They will be more likely to give it their all or be open to things they fear when they know a support system exists. And that support system is you.