What is a manager?
That was the first question the group of line managers asked me.
I just got hired by as a management trainee at a consumer goods company and was on my first month at its Manila manufacturing facility, going through orientation.
I was required to undergo a qualification test with senior managers to assess how familiar I was with the company’s personnel manual, which detailed policies and benefits for employees. The session with the line managers was a practice or “mock” qualification before the actual test with the facility’s top executives.
Even after reading through all the manuals and memorising human resource policies and procedures, I was stumped. I didn’t know how to answer the question.
“Do not guess!,” one line manager said, who happened to be a 25 year veteran shipping manager in the company. “Apparently, you do not know what a manager is.”
And right there, I failed the mock qualification test and had to go back to studying and finding out specifically what a manager is.
Some will say a manager is a leader. And that would not be the right answer.
Some will say a manager is a supervisor. And again, the answer is no.
A search on the internet will show varying results:
“A manager is a person who is responsible for supervising and motivating employees.”
“A manager is an individual that supervises both activities and people within a given organization. In other terms, it is the person in charge of overseeing things that to get done.”
“A manager is an expert in his or her field and is a support system for employees.”
“manager: a person who has control or direction of an institution, business, etc., or of a part, division, or phase of it.”
“manager: a person responsible for controlling or administering all or part of a company or similar organization.”
Words such as “responsible,” “supervision,” and “control”, however, don’t provide a complete picture of what a manager is.
After my disastrous failure at the mock qualification test, the shipping manager approached me and said, “check the Philippine Labour Code.” I did right away and this is how the Philippines labour law defines a manager:
(m) “Managerial employee” is one who is vested with the powers or prerogatives to lay down and execute management policies and/or to hire, transfer, suspend, lay-off, recall, discharge, assign or discipline employees. Supervisory employees are those who, in the interest of the employer, effectively recommend such managerial actions if the exercise of such authority is not merely routinary or clerical in nature but requires the use of independent judgment.
ref: Article 219 (m), Labor Code of the Philippines, DOLE Edition, 2016
In later conversations, the line managers said that the Philippine Labour Code was a starting point to knowing what a manager is. They said:
Managers are representatives of the business. They have the mandate and authority to make and enforce policies, and to hire & fire people.
But more than that:
Managers are expected to muster resources to deliver results but what makes a manager different from everyone else is that they have responsibility over people.
The late Peter Drucker, famous management guru, said it best when he said:
Management involves getting people to work toward the objectives of the enterprise.
A manager doesn’t just handle resources; a manager isn’t a manager unless he or she has people working for him or her.
When the line managers met me again for a retaking of the mock qualification, I was able to hurdle the definition of what a manager is. At the same time, the line managers taught me an important lesson.
You can’t manage anything until you first understand what your role as a manager is.
In a world where enterprises outsource work to third parties and oversee operations from far-away offices, defining what a manager is can be debatable and complicated.
I don’t really believe a manager is one until he or she directly handles people, as in person, face-to-face, restrictions such as pandemics notwithstanding. One can have one, two, or a team of a hundred working for him or her. The point is management when it comes down to it, is all about getting people to work for the goals you as a manager and the enterprise who hired you have set.
Defining what a manager is the very first step in any enterprise endeavour.
And in the field of supply chain management, for instance, the most important word is the last one.