Mintzberg: The Managerial Roles

Mintzberg (1973) groups managerial activities and roles as involving:

Managerial activities

Associated roles

interpersonal roles - arising from formal authority and status and supporting the information and decision activities.




information processing roles




decision roles: making significant decisions


             disturbance handler

             resource allocator


The broad proposition is that, as a senior manager enacts his/her role, these will come together as a gestalt (integrated whole) reflecting the manager's competencies associated with the roles. In a sense therefore they act as evaluation criteria for assessing the performance of a manager in his/her role.

Social, inspirational, legal and ceremonial duties must be carried out. The manager is a symbol and must be on-hand for people/agencies that will only deal with him/her because of status and authority.

       The leader role
This is at the heart of the manager-subordinate relationship and managerial power and pervasive where subordinates are involved even where perhaps the relationship is not directly interpersonal. The manager

       defines the structures and environments within which sub-ordinates work and are motivated.

       oversees and questions activities to keep them alert.

       selects, encourages, promotes and disciplines.

       tries to balance subordinate and organisational needs for efficient operations.

This is the manager as an information and communication centre. It is vital to build up favors. Networking skills to shape maintain internal and external contacts for information exchange are essential. These contacts give access to "databases"- facts, requirements, probabilities.

       As 'monitor'
- the manager seeks/receives information from many sources to evaluate the organizationís performance, well-being and situation. Monitoring of internal operations, external events, ideas, trends, analysis and pressures is vital. Information to detect changes, problems & opportunities and to construct decision-making scenarios can be current/historic, tangible (hard) or soft, documented or non-documented. This role is about building and using an intelligence system. The manager must install and maintain this information system; by building contacts & training staff to deliver "information".

       As disseminator
- the manager brings external views into his/her organization and facilitates internal information flows between subordinates (factual or value-based).

The preferences of significant people are received and assimilated. The manager interprets/disseminates information to subordinates e.g. policies, rules, regulations. Values are also disseminated via conversations laced with imperatives and signs/icons about what is regarded as important or what 'we believe in'.

There is a dilemma of delegation. Only the manager has the data for many decisions and often in the wrong form (verbal/memory vs. paper). Sharing is time-consuming and difficult. He/she and staff may be already overloaded. Communication consumes time. The adage 'if you want to get things done, (it is best to do it yourself' comes to mind. Why might this be a driver of managerial behavior (reluctance or constraints on the ability to delegate)?

       As spokesman (P.R. capacity)
- the manager informs and lobbies others (external to his/her own organisational group). Key influencers and stakeholders are kept informed of performances, plans & policies. For outsiders, the manager is an expert in the field in which his/her organization operates.

A senior manager is responsible for his/her organizationís strategy-making system - generating and linking important decisions. He/she has the authority, information and capacity for control and integration over important decisions.

       As initiator/changer

†††††††††† - he/she designs and initiates much of the controlled change in the organization. Gaps are identified, improvement programmes defined. The manager initiates a series of related decisions/activities to achieve actual improvement. Improvement projects may be involved at various levels. The manager can

       delegate all design responsibility selecting and even replace subordinates.

       empower subordinates with responsibility for the design of the improvement programme but e.g. define the parameters/limits and veto or give the go-ahead on options.

       supervise design directly.

Senior managers may have many projects at various development stages (emergent/dormant/nearly-ready) working on each periodically interspersed by waiting periods for information feedback or progress etc. Projects roll-on and roll-off,

       The disturbance handler
- is a generalist role i.e. taking charge when the organization hits an iceberg unexpectedly and where there is no clear programmed response. Disturbances may arise from staff, resources, threats or because others make mistakes or innovation has unexpected consequences. The role involves stepping in to calm matters, evaluate, re-allocate, support - removing the thorn - buying time. The metaphors here are

If you are up to your backside in alligators it is no use talking about draining the swamp.


Stop the bleeding as only then can you take care of the long term health of the patient. (not Mintzberg's anecdote)

       As resource allocator
- the manager oversees allocation of all resources (£, staff, reputation). This involves:

       scheduling own time

       programming work

       authorizing actions

With an eye to the diary (scheduling) the manager implicitly sets organisational priorities. Time and access involve opportunity costs. What fails to reach him/her, fails to get support.

The managerial task is to ensure the basic work system is in place and to programme staff overloads - what to do, by whom, what processing structures will be used.

Authorizing major decisions before implementation is a control over resource allocation. This enables coordinative interventions e.g. authorization within a policy or budgeting process in comparison to ad-hoc interventions. With limited time, complex issues and staff proposals that cannot be dismissed lightly, the manager may decide on the proposer rather than proposal.

To help evaluation processes, managers develop models and plans in their heads (they construe the relationships and signifiers in the situation). These models/constructions encompass rules, imperatives, criteria and preferences to evaluate proposals against. Loose, flexible and implicit plans are up-dated with new information.

       The negotiator
- takes charge over important negotiating activities with other organizations. The spokesman, figurehead and resource allocator roles demand this.


The roles point to managers needing to be organisational generalists and specialists because of

       system imperfections and environmental pressures.

       their formal authority is needed even for certain basic routines.

       in all of this they are still fallible and human

The ten roles offer a richer account of managerial tasks than the learnership models of Blake or Bersey and Blanchard etc. They explanation (and justify/legitimize) managerial purposes (contingency theory) in terms of

       designing and maintaining stable and reliable systems for efficient operations in a changing environment.

       ensuring that the organization satisfies those that own/control it.

       boundary management = maintaining information links between the organization and players in the environment.

Seminar Questions

       How do these role propositions compare with your current role behavior and your need to change your role capabilities in the future?

       How do such descriptions contribute to

       an ideology of management?

       manager training and development?

       management recruitment and selection?


       Taking a stakeholder perspective on organisational management and the role of various managers - how would these views on managerial roles be modified?

       What do these role descriptions offer practicing managers - anything.

       How robust is this type of theorizing?


  1. Mintzberg H, 1973, The Nature of Managerial Work, Harper Row
  2. Mintzberg H, 1979, The Structuring of Organizations, Prentice Hall
  3. Mintzberg H and Quinn J, 1996, The Strategy Process: Concepts, Contexts, Cases, Prentice Hall
  4. Mintzberg H, Crafting Strategy, Harvard Business Review, July-Aug, 1987, 66-75
  5. Handy C, Understanding Organizations, Penguin, latest edition
  6. Harrison R, op. cit. - work summarized in Handy - chapter on Cultures
  7. Burns and Stalker, The Management of Innovation, Tavistock, 1962 (new edition 1996?)
  8. Morgan G, 1986, Images of Organization, Sage
  9. Gabriel Y, Fineman S, Sims D, 2000, Organizing and Organizations, SageHolman D, Thorpe R (eds), 2002, Management and Language, Sage
  10. Alvesson M, Willmott H, 2003, Studying Management Critically, Sage.
  11. Humble J, Management by Objectives in Action, McGraw Hill, 1970
  12. Herzberg, 'One more time how do you motivate employees', Harvard Business Review, 46, Jan-Feb, 1968
  13. Child J, 1984, Organizations: Problems and Practice, Harper Row.
  14. Drucker P, 1954, The Practice of Management, Harper Row - pp 121-136.

(© Chris Jarvis) Last updated on: 09/07/2005 12:45:03