Middle-Level Management: Definition, Role & Skillset
In terms of organizational hierarchy, “middle management” is the tier of managers who oversee at least two lower levels of junior staff and report upwards to executive staff. Middle-level management is responsible for managing and interpreting the work done at the junior levels and providing reports and summaries to the executive team to help guide decisions. They have a unique set of responsibilities and roles they need to fill in order to be successful in this somewhat challenging position.
Their role in the business is to connect the executive management with the individual contributors at the bottom of the organizational chart. They have to filter information downwards as well as upwards. Middle managers are responsible for taking executive strategies and goals and translating them into sets of goals for their departments that will help meet those strategies. They’re also responsible for gathering data and information from the workplace and reporting results, successes and concerns to the executive team.
In addition, middle managers are expected to motivate and develop their subordinates, making sure the workplace culture is a positive environment and that employees are invested and fulfilled. They’re responsible for hiring within their department, as well as employee development, and expected to handle any performance issues that may come across their desks.
These middle-level managers end up with a unique set of burdens that are different from any other manager or supervisor. They need to be in tune with the day-to-day business well enough to guide junior or line managers, but also have to be familiar enough with the executive direction to interpret and align it down to their department(s).
Middle managers are often expected to continue to contribute at an individual level as well as a management level, which can substantially increase their workload. They need to be able to switch from being a strong leader (to their employees) to being a responsible subordinate (to the executive management team) effortlessly, sometimes repeatedly.
The skillset for these middle-level management positions includes skills required by junior managers, skills required by executives and some skills specific to the alignment of the middle manager role.
- Technical and Strategic Expertise: Line management positions often focus on the technical side, while executive positions look at a more long-term direction. Middle-level managers need to have expertise in both areas, in order to link the workplace to the strategy.
- Leadership: Middle management is more visible to the part of the organization that’s producing work, so it’s incredibly important for middle managers to be strong leaders that can motivate and guide employees in the right direction.
- Decision-Making Skills: Middle managers end up making important decisions about the day-to-day work as well as the strategy. They need to be able to empower others to make good decisions, solve problems with a sense of urgency and take responsibility for their actions.
- Performance Management: These positions are responsible for the development and performance of critical employees. Middle managers have to understand how to review, influence and correct their employees in a manner that drives continuous improvement.
Not every business hierarchy includes middle management; many organizations are flat, consisting of a number of contributors and few management roles. Middle managers can be seen as too powerful, since they have the ability to affect change from the bottom of the organization all the way to the top; they can also be seen as superfluous, in an organization with too much structure. The key to ensuring middle-level management is effective and successful is to ensure their workload is manageable, deliver backing and support from the executive team and maintain a trusting relationship with the department’s employees.