Organisations of all types need middle managers to spur innovation and facilitate growth. Supervisors, administrators, and department heads connect executives to rank-and-file workers. Companies need managers who know what it takes to be a leader if they hope to stay competitive.
Middle management positions are often seen as launchpads to promotions. Business professionals can spend their careers perfecting leadership skills in managerial positions. Prospective supervisors and department heads should know how middle managers impact their employers before building the necessary skills.
Scope of Middle Management Responsibilities
The middle-management designation applies to leaders who oversee staff members and report to executives. Managers demonstrate their leadership skills in various corporate settings, including departments, branches, and teams. They are often responsible for the success of specific geographical areas or units within their businesses.
The responsibilities of middle managers are similar across industries, even if the products and services are different. Managers are responsible for guiding their teams toward goals that contribute to the successes of their organisations. Glassdoor identified the primary duties of middle managers, including:
- Monitoring and optimising daily workflows;
- Hiring, training, and coaching staff members;
- Evaluating and reporting staff performance;
- Setting goals for comparison against performance metrics;
- Managing billing, budgeting, and other financial considerations.
Managers are also tasked with converting corporate policy into actionable messages to their teams. Executives communicate new policies, procedures, and directives to managers for dissemination to junior staff members. This process requires consideration of how team members can best synthesize new information for quick adoption.
How to Be a Good Leader in a Middle Management Position
Success in any management role combines industry knowledge, interpersonal skills, and a servant leadership mindset. Professionals promoted or hired to middle management are best served with proficiency in each area. Aspiring managers build these leadership skills through experience and education.
Non-management personnel need managers who know more than they do about the ins and outs of their work. Executives and business owners expect supervisors to keep their teams ahead of the competition. Being a leader requires knowledge of their industry’s current state of affairs and insights into future growth opportunities.
Modern leaders need to communicate and relate with others in their daily work effectively. Interpersonal - or soft - skills at the supervisory level create efficient communication from executives to employees and back. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) identified leadership skills essential for middle managers:
- Effective delegation based on skills and needs;
- Management of staff performance through accountability and encouragement;
- Leverage internal and external relationships for collaborations.
Organisational behaviour experts Eric Anicich and Jacob Hirsh created the term vertical code-switching after studying managers. Vertical code-switching refers to the difference in communication styles when working with executives and direct reports. Successful managers can quickly switch styles without sacrificing the quality of their work.
Servant Leadership Mindset
The business world has moved toward the servant leadership mindset since the late 20th century. Servant leaders are not solely focused on profit or growth; they use their leadership skills to improve others. Robert K. Greenleaf - the author of The Servant as Leader - describes the difference as:
“While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid”...servant leadership shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.”
This explanation of servant leadership applies to the expectations of business leaders. Managers are expected to motivate employees and advance corporate initiatives within their spheres of influence. The best method for fulfilling these goals is to centre on the success of others.
Challenges and Opportunities for Middle Management Innovation
The global COVID-19 pandemic accelerated changes in the corporate world already underway in previous years. Advancements in productivity technology and modern views of workforce management contributed to organisational evolutions before March 2020. Lockdowns and public health protocols quickly moved businesses from traditional settings to remote workplaces.
Future Forum created a Remote Employee Experience Index to understand perceptions of this evolution by workers in five countries. The Q4 2020 results of this survey found:
- 83% of respondents preferred remote or hybrid work environments over traditional offices;
- 58% of fully remote employees felt they belonged at their companies;
- Respondents with flexible work hours were 53% more productive than employees with 9-to-5 hours.
Middle managers face challenges in this new environment, including flattened structures and frequent meetings. These obstacles are opportunities for innovation not available in the pre-pandemic world. Supervisors can use their leadership skills to take advantage of these opportunities.
Demonstrating the Value of Flexibility
A single department or team can act as a test case for flexibility across an entire organisation. Remote and hybrid work environments provide flexibility in terms of location and time. Effective managers know how to inspire and measure productivity in dynamic settings.
Pilot programs of Results Only Work Environments (ROWE) and core hours can challenge the dominance of traditional office hours. Managers at national and international companies can deploy employees by time zone instead of requiring unified schedules. A more satisfied and productive team can prove the need for flexibility within other groups.
Freeing Time for Coaching and Learning
It is easier to measure key performance indicators than in the past thanks to advanced productivity tools. These time-saving tools take work off manager checklists and open space on their calendars for other challenges. An important leadership skill for modern managers is a desire for continued learning for themselves and others.
Managers build camaraderie with staff members when sharing these learning experiences. Training sessions for improved technical skills, collaboration, and communication can break down barriers created by remote environments. Work environments focused on creativity and learning result in new ideas that keep businesses competitive in a global economy.
Build Leadership Skills at Aston University
Aston University’s MSc Business and Management is designed for working professionals interested in leadership positions. This innovative online degree is completely online and can be completed in two years of part-time study. Degree candidates also build relationships with fellow students and faculty around the world.
The Business and Management programmes build practical business skills in core areas, including organisational behaviour and strategic management. Students complete two of the following modules before pursuing their dissertations:
- Effective Management Consultancy
- Entrepreneurial Strategies
- International Business
- International Marketing Management
Aston University knows what it takes to be a leader because it is a leader among global universities. The school won Outstanding Entrepreneurial University at the 2020 Times Higher Education (THE) Awards and was shortlisted for the 2021 THE Awards. Aston University was also named University of the Year 2020 by The Guardian.
The university’s reputation for academic excellence creates a great return on investment for business students. Every online business degree at Aston University is competitively priced to attract the next generation of leaders. Graduates of the MSc Business and Management programme learn what it takes to be a leader without going deep into debt.
Find out how Aston University equips graduates with in-demand leadership skills.