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Common Terms, Levels and Roles in Management

© Copyright Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD, Authenticity Consulting, LLC.

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Common Roles in Management

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Board of Directors (Governance)

(NOTE: Many experts would assert that the focus of a Board in a corporation is on governance and not on management. They would clarify that the Board determines the overall purpose and strategic priorities, and the management implements those.)

A board is a group of people who are legally charged to govern an organization (usually a corporation) -- thus, they are "governing boards." The board is responsible for setting strategic direction, establishing broad policies and objectives, and hiring and evaluating the chief executive officer. The chief executive officer reports to the board and is responsible for carrying out the board's strategic policies. The nature of a board can vary widely in nature. Some boards act like "policy boards", that is, they take a strong policy-making role, and expect the chief executive to operate the organization according to those policies. Some boards, despite their being legally responsible for the activities of the corporation, follow all of the directions and guidance of the chief executive (in this case, board members arguably are not meeting their responsibilities as a board). Still, other boards take a strong "working board", or hands-on role, including micro-managing the chief executive and organization. For more information, see Boards of Directors.

What is Management?

Traditional Interpretation

There are a variety of views about this term. Traditionally, the term "management" refers to the activities (and often the group of people) involved in the four general functions listed below. (Note that the four functions recur throughout the organization and are highly integrated):

1) Planning,
including identifying goals, objectives, methods, resources needed to carry out methods, responsibilities and dates for completion of tasks. Examples of planning are strategic planning, business planning, project planning, staffing planning, advertising and promotions planning, etc. (See Planning (many kinds).)

2) Organizing resources
to achieve the goals in an optimum fashion. Examples are organizing new departments, human resources, office and file systems, re-organizing businesses, etc. (See Organizing (many kinds).)

3) Leading,
including to set direction for the organization, groups and individuals and also influence people to follow that direction. Examples are establishing strategic direction (vision, values, mission and / or goals) and championing methods of organizational performance management to pursue that direction. (See All About Leadership.)

4) Controlling, or coordinating,
the organization's systems, processes and structures to reach effectively and efficiently reach goals and objectives. This includes ongoing collection of feedback, and monitoring and adjustment of systems, processes and structures accordingly. Examples include use of financial controls, policies and procedures, performance management processes, measures to avoid risks etc. (See Coordinating Activities.)

Another common view is that "management" is getting things done through others. Yet another view, quite apart from the traditional view, asserts that the job of management is to support employee's efforts to be fully productive members of the organizations and citizens of the community.

To most employees, the term "management" probably means the group of people (executives and other managers) who are primarily responsible for making decisions in the organization. In a nonprofit, the term "management" might refer to all or any of the activities of the board, executive director and/or program directors.

Read the rest of the overall topic Management (Introduction) to understand more about management.

Another Interpretation

Some writers, teachers and practitioners assert that the above view is rather outmoded and that management needs to focus more on leadership skills, e.g., establishing vision and goals, communicating the vision and goals, and guiding others to accomplish them. They also assert that leadership must be more facilitative, participative and empowering in how visions and goals are established and carried out. Some people assert that this really isn't a change in the management functions, rather it's re-emphasizing certain aspects of management. For more information, see New Paradigm in Management.


Usually, this term generally applies to those people or specific positions in top levels of management, e.g., chief executive officers, chief operating officers, chief financial officers, vice presidents, general managers of large organizations, etc. In large organizations, executives often have different forms of compensation or pay, e.g., they receive portions of the company's stock, receive executive-level "perks, etc. Chief executives usually pay strong attention to strategic plans and organizational performance, whether measured financially or from impact of services to a community. Many people think of the Chief Executive Officer as heading up large, for-profit corporations. This is not entirely true. The majority of businesses in the United States are small businesses, whether for-profit or nonprofit. Their top executives could be called Chief Executive Officers. For more information, see Chief Executive Role.


A classic definition is that “Leaders do the right thing and managers do things right.” A more standard definition is usually something like “managers work toward the organization’s goals using its resources in an effective and efficient manner.” In a traditional sense, large organizations may have different levels of managers, including top managers, middle managers and first-line managers. Top (or executive) managers are responsible for overseeing the whole organization and typically engage in more strategic and conceptual matters, with less attention to day-to-day detail. Top managers have middle managers working for them and who are in charge of a major function or department. Middle managers may have first-line managers working for them and who are responsible to manage the day-to-day activities of a group of workers.

Note that you can also have different types of managers across the same levels in the organization. A project manager is in charge of developing a certain project, e.g., development of a new building. (See Project Planning.) A functional manager is in charge of a major function, such as a department in the organization, e.g., marketing, sales, engineering, finance, etc. (For example, see Program Planning) A product manager is in charge of a product or service. Similarly, a product line manager is in charge of a group of closely related products. (See Product/Service Management.) General managers are in charge of numerous functions within an organization or department.


Very simply put, a leader is interpreted as someone who sets direction in an effort and influences people to follow that direction. They set direction by developing a clear vision and mission, and conducting planning that determines the goals needed to achieve the vision and mission. They motivate by using a variety of methods, including facilitation, coaching, mentoring, directing, delegating, etc. As noted above, one of the four key functions of management is leading (along with planning, organizing and controlling). Leaders carry out their roles in a wide variety of styles, e.g., autocratic, democratic, participatory, laissez-faire (hands off), etc. Often, the leadership style depends on the situation, including the life cycle, culture and strategic priorities of the organization. There are many views about what characteristics and traits that leaders should have. There are also numerous theories about leadership, or about carrying out the role of leader, e.g., servant leader, democratic leader, principle-centered leader, group-man theory, great-man theory, traits theory, visionary leader, total leader, situational leader, etc. See
All About Leadership

"Leading versus Managing"?

(Whatever the title, the person in the top-level position in the organization is (or at least should be) responsible for setting (or, in the case of corporations, pursuing) the overall direction for the organization. Consequently (and unfortunately?), the "executive" level of management is often referred to as the "leadership" of the organization.)

With recent focus on the need for transformational leadership to guide organizations through successful change, the term "leadership" has also been used to refer to those who embrace change and lead the change of organizations for the betterment of all stakeholders. Some people believe that leadership occurs only at the top levels of organizations and managing occurs in the levels farther down the organization. Some people believe that leadership occurs (or should occur) throughout the organization, but still use the term "leadership" mostly to refer to the top positions in the organization. Others believe that managing and leading occur at many levels of the organization. For more information, see
Is Leading Different than Managing? (pros and cons of this debate)

(This term is commonly misapplied when people use the term mostly to refer to the top levels in an organization. The term has -- and should have -- much broader usage. Anyone at any level in an organization can show leadership; thus, almost anyone can be a leader in the organization.)


(This is a widely misunderstood term. Many people believe it applies only to people who oversee the productivity and development of entry-level workers. That's not true.) The term "supervisor" typically refers to one’s immediate superior in the workplace, that is, the person whom you report directly to in the organization. For example, a middle manager’s supervisor typically would be a top manager. A first-line manager’s supervisor would be a middle manager. A worker’s supervisor typically would be a first-line manager.

Supervisors typically are responsible for their direct reports' progress and productivity in the organization. Supervision often includes conducting basic management skills (decision making, problem solving, planning, delegation and meeting management), organizing teams, noticing the need for and designing new job roles in the group, hiring new employees, training new employees, employee performance management (setting goals, observing and giving feedback, addressing performance issues, firing employees, etc.) and ensuring conformance to personnel policies and other internal regulations.

Supervisors typically have strong working knowledge of the activities in their group, e.g., how to develop their product, carry out their service, etc. Many also use the term "supervisor" to designate the managerial position that is responsible for a major function in the organization, for example, Supervisor of Customer Service. For more information, see Basic Overview of Supervision.

Supervision is a leadership role especially when leading in the domain of leading other individuals and groups.

Work Directors

Work directors directly oversee the work of their subordinates. They carry out their oversight role by specifically assigning work and then closely monitoring to ensure the work is carried out according to their wishes. Often, people work their way up through management levels by starting out as work directors. Over time, they develop skills in delegation, which frees them up from having to closely monitor the work of their subordinates and, instead, to attend to more high-level managerial activities. Work directors are not always at lower levels of the organization. For example, a middle- or upper-level manager who has poorly developed delegation skills might still be interpreted as work directing her or his subordinates.

Boards of Directors / Governance Development

Board / Governance development refers to the activities involved in enhancing skills of the corporation's board members to effectively fill their role in governing the corporation. Board development typically includes helping board members to understand their role of boards, build skills in recruiting and training board members, carry out effective board meetings, make policy decisions about strategic goals and finances, evaluate the board and chief executive officer, etc. For more information, see Boards of Directors.

Management Development

Usually, this term refers to the activities involved in enhancing leaders', managers' and supervisor's abilities to plan, organize, lead and control the organization and its members. Consequently, many view the term "management development" to include executive development (developing executives), leadership development (developing leaders), managerial development (developing managers) and supervisoral development (developing supervisors). For more information, see Management Development.

As mentioned above, there are people who assert a strong difference between "leading" and "managing". These people often refer to leadership development (developing skills in leadership) as apart from management (and managerial) development (developing skills in planning, organizing and controlling). See Leading Versus Managing (pros and cons of the debate).

Executive Development

(Today's organizations are changing dramatically. Successful change requires strong leadership from top positions in the organizations. Therefore, writers often interchange use of the phrases "leadership development" with "executive development". They are not the same. As noted above, this is handy, but it can cause substantial confusion.)

Executive development refers to the activities involved in enhancing one's ability to carry out top-level roles in the organization. Some key skills for executives to have include understanding the external environment of the organization, leadership, strategic planning, financial forecasting and analysis, organizing, program planning and human resource management, etc. For more information, see Chief Executive Role.

Managerial Development

This term is not frequently used. When it is, it is usually meant in the same regard as management development.

Supervisoral Development

Supervisoral development refers to the activities involved in enhancing one's ability to oversee, guide and evaluate activities of immediate subordinates in the organization. Supervisor development often includes learning basic skills in employee performance management, managing meetings, project management, etc. Good supervisory development should also include developing skills in time and stress management -- the role of supervisor is often quite stressful to those who are first getting used to the hectic activities of management. For more information, see Supervisoral Development.

Leadership Development

Leadership development refers to the activities involved in enhancing one's ability to establish vision and goals, and motivate and guide others to achieve the vision and goals. Leadership development is critical at almost any level in the organization -- not just the executive level. For more information, see Leadership Development.

Additional Online Readings

Guidelines to Carefully Examine Literature (and Avoid Confusion) About Leadership

Guidelines to Understanding Literature About Leadership

Definitions Management, Managing ...

What is Management? Definitions
Management Definitions by Great Management Scholars
Management Dictionary, Glossary and Terms directory

Leading Versus Managing

Leadership Theories
Management Styles
Fundamental Difference Between Leading and Managing
Leader or Manager? These 10 Important Distinctions Can Help You Out

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