Operational Level in Management
Managers at the operational level in a company occupy the lowest rung in the management hierarchy. These managers directly supervise employees and may be known as first-line or front-line managers, supervisors, team leaders or team facilitators. To operational managers falls the responsibility of the day-to-day operations that directly affect a company's external customers. This makes the operational management level crucial to the success of the strategic and competitive goals of an organization.
Managers at all levels of an organization must carry out certain functions, including leading, organizing, controlling and planning. The amount of time devoted to one of these functions varies according to management level. For front-line managers, the emphasis is on leadership. Operational managers must gain employees' commitments to goals and plans, the work and to company-wide values. Of all the management levels, front-line supervisors spend the most time on the leadership function. Supervisors also organize employees to cover work activities, train and evaluate staff, and ensure that work meets quality standards.
Operational managers account to middle management, which creates tactical goals and plans that must be realized in a year or less. Operational management must, in turn, translate the medium-term goals of middle management to short-term goals and plans that, when carried out, lead to the realization of middle management’s objectives. The plans of operational management cover short time periods such as a day, a week or a month. Plans involve the work of individual employees, the work of teams and departmental activities.
Management skills can be grouped into three areas: technical, human and conceptual. First-line supervisors exercise human skills through leadership and communication. Technical skills allow supervisors to understand the jobs of those supervised. This understanding helps the operational manager solve problems, as well as exert “expert power,” inspiring trust and respect among subordinates. Technical skills are most important at the operational management level. Conceptual skills use the least amount of a supervisor’s time. Having conceptual skills means a person can see the big picture and solve problems. These skills become increasingly important as a supervisor is promoted through the management hierarchy.
Managers of any level are expected to fill interpersonal, informational and decisional roles in an organization. For the operational manager, leadership primarily fulfills the interpersonal role. A supervisor fills an informational role by gathering and disseminating information and knowledge to subordinates and bosses. Additionally, this role requires the supervisor to represent subordinates to middle management and other departments. The decisional role involves making decisions and influencing the choices of others. Operational managers must be especially prepared to influence others as a disturbance handler. Other decisions include how to allocate resources, including scheduling employees.