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Managerial Skills

(A summary of Katz's HBR article)@
M.J. Arul

What makes a good manager? Innate traits or acquired skills? Assuming that a manager is one who directs the activities of other persons and undertakes the responsibility for achievement of objectives through such efforts, successful management seems to rest on three basic developable skills: technical, human and conceptual. The relative importance of these three skills varies with the level of managerial responsibility. (See diagram, below.)

Technical Skill

The technical skill implies an understanding of and proficiency in a specific kind of activity, particularly one involving methods, processes, procedures, or techniques; it involves specialised knowledge, analytical ability within that specialty, and facility in the use of the tools and techniques of the specific discipline. Vocational and on-the-job training programmes largely do a good job in developing this skill.

Human Skill

This refers to the ability to work with, understand and motivate other people; the way the individual perceives (and recognises the perceptions of) his superiors, equals, and subordinates, and the way he behaves subsequently. The person with highly developed human skills is aware of his own attitudes, assumptions, and beliefs about other individuals and groups; he is able to see the usefulness and limitations of these feelings. He is sufficiently sensitive to the needs and motivations of others in his organisation so that he can judge the possible reactions to, and outcomes of, the various courses of action he may undertake.

Human skills could be usefully devided into (a) leadership ability within the manager's own unit and (b) skill in intergroup relationships. Experience shows that outstanding capability in one of these roles is frequently accompanied by mediocre performance in the other. Intragroup skills are essential in lower and middle management roles and intergroup skills become increasingly important in successively higher levels of management.

To acquire the Human Skill, the executive must develop his own personal point of view toward human activity so that he will (a) recognise the feelings and sentiments which he brings to a situation, (b) have an attitude about his own experiences which will enable him to re-evaluate and learn from them, (c) develop ability in understanding what others by their actions and words are trying to communicate to him and (d) develop ability in successfully communicating his ideas and attitudes to others.

The process of acquiring this ability can be effectively aided by a skilled instructor through use of case problems coupled with impromptu role playing. It is important that the trainee self-examines his own concepts and values, which may enable him to develop more useful attitudes about himself and about others.

Conceptual Skill

This skill involves the ability to see the enterprise as a whole; it includes recognising how the various functions of the organisation depend on one another, and how changes in any one part affect all the others; and it extends to visualising the relationship of the individual business to the industry, the community, and the political, social and economic forces of the nation as a whole.

The conceptual skill involves thinking in terms of the following: relative emphasis and priorities among conflicting objectives and criteria; relative tendencies and probabilities (rather than certainties); rough correlations and patterns among elements (rather than clear-cut cause-and-effect relationships).

Training can enhance previously developed conceptual abilities. In developing the conceptual skill, some of the best results have been achieved through "coaching" of subordinates by superiors. One way a superior can help "coach" his subordinate is by assigning a particular responsibility, and then responding with searching questions or opinions, rather than giving answers.

Another excellent way to develop this skill is through trading jobs: by moving promising young men and women through different functions of the business but at the same level of responsibility. Special assignments, particularly the kind which involve inter-departmental problems, can also help develop this skill.

Relative Significance of Managerial Skills









Technical *
Supervisory level
Middle mgmt level
Top mgmt level

* Technical skills are not so important for the chief executives in large organisations where such executives have extensive staff assistance and highly competent, experienced technical operators are available. In smaller organisations, however, where technical expertise is not as pervasive and seasoned staff assistance is not available, the chief executive has a much greater need for personal experience in the industry.

Click here for a more elaborate list of managerial skills.

@: Summary prepared by M.J. Arul. Article by R.L. Katz in Harvard Business Review, Sept-Oct 1974, pp. 90-102.