Managerial Roles by Mintzberg: Theory vs Application

Lucija Bakić

April 30, 2024

A screenshot of a software for managerial roles showcasing a project management interface with task columns labeled 'Backlog,' 'To-do,' and 'In Progress' for the ACME Project. The tasks include 'Research,' 'Draft plan,' and 'Kick-off meeting' with due dates and priority indicators.

Employees sometimes underrate the importance of management within an organization. But what about the managers? Do you understand your unique managerial roles?

Henry Mintzberg set out to address the unique goal and purpose of the manager in his influential 1973 study, The Nature of Managerial Work. He envisioned it as an essential categorization that eliminates ambiguities and supports professional development.

This article summarizes the basics of his theory and reviews practical applications to help you become a more successful manager.

Key Takeaways

  • According to Mintzberg, the managerial position involves a combination of three essential activities: gathering information, sharing information, and strategic decision-making.
  • The categories are further divided into ten roles, which describe the particular duties performed within an organization.
  • Nowadays, the role of the manager involves handling additional pressures, such as changes in the workplace and evolving employee expectations.
  • Some of the main challenges, such as work prioritization and delegation, can be resolved by leveraging modern professional services automation software for improved efficiency and oversight.

What Are Managerial Roles?

Managerial roles are a set of ten behaviors and functions adopted by managers, grouped into three basic categories. These categories include the manager’s role as a figure of authority, an essential point of contact and information, and a decision-maker.

The theory was developed by Henry Mintzberg in 1973 to provide a systematic approach to the role of the manager within an organization. Mintzberg had a twofold goal in developing his classification. The first was to demystify it: what is it that the manager even does on a daily basis?

The other, equally important one, is to provide a set of criteria that can help managers improve their own processes. In his words:

Performance depends on how well a manager understands and responds to the pressures and dilemmas of the job. Thus managers who can be introspective about their work are likely to be effective at their jobs.

Source: The Manager’s Job: Folklore and Fact

Overview of 10 Managerial Roles by Mintzberg

Mintzberg reports that his classification of the ten management roles is only one possible approach to categorizing the work of a manager. However, he maintains that these roles are common to the work of all managers.

He sees them as separated into three larger groups:

  • Interpersonal: the manager is in charge of a unit in an organization, giving him a special authority within the business. This results in three specific roles: the figurehead, who represents the organization formally; the liaison, who interacts with people outside of the organization; and the leader, who leads their subordinates.
  • Informational: the manager has the necessary information to serve as a focal point for his company, team, or department. This category is separated into three roles: the monitor, who receives and collects information; the disseminator, who shares it internally; and the spokesman, who shares it externally.
  • Decisional: as a result of the first two categories, the manager is also in the position to make strategic business decisions. These roles include: the entrepreneur, who initiates change; the disturbance handler, who resolves risks and challenges; the resource allocator, who decides how the organization uses its resources; and the negotiator, who resolves situations that involve external circumstances.
A diagram from educational material illustrating Mintzberg's managerial roles, categorized into interpersonal, informational, and decisional roles with specific functions like leader, liaison, monitor, and negotiator detailed, emphasizing the flow of information.

SOURCE: Use of Mintzberg’s model of managerial roles to evaluate academic administrators

These roles are closely intertwined, and managers can switch between multiple ones throughout their workday. We’ll now examine each in more detail, with reference to how this can look in practice.

The Interpersonal Category

The interpersonal category refers to the manager’s unique position as a point of contact within and outside the organization.

It comprises three main managerial roles:

  • Figurehead – in charge of representing the organization
  • Leadership role – guides and leads people
  • Liaison role – builds external relationships

The Figurehead Role: Representing the Organization

The manager as a figurehead is a symbolic role. It requires various social activities, such as representing the company at key events and legal or social obligations.

In practice: A manager in a design agency would fulfill their figurehead role by speaking at design conferences or industry events. They might also participate in community outreach programs to strengthen their brand image and improve word of mouth.

Leadership: Fostering a Productive Environment

The manager as a leader influences the organization’s atmosphere and provides guidance and motivation to people. Mintzberg names the leader role as one of the most significant, as it’s often part of the manager’s other activities, such as decision-making. In short, this role facilitates the “integration of individual needs and organizational goals”.

In practice: A manager fulfills their leadership role by participating in the hiring process, providing one-on-one meetings, and supporting employee capacity building. For example, they set criteria for hiring, participate in writing selection tasks, and monitor professional progress.

The Liaison: Networking and Building Relationships

As a liaison, the manager handles relationships with external individuals and groups, especially those with similar duties and titles. As a liaison, the manager establishes his web of contacts, which he uses to gather and share insights more effectively.

In practice: A manager should aim to stay connected to other professionals through LinkedIn or in-person networking. This helps them stay in touch with the latest industry trends, gain competitive insights, and support growth with partnerships.


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The Informational Category

The informational category includes activities related to receiving and transmitting information, for example: gathering reports, news of events, briefings, etc. According to Mintzberg, the manager occupies “the central position in the movement of certain kind of information within his organization”.

The informational roles include:

  • Monitor – collects internal and external information
  • Disseminator – disseminates information within the organization
  • Spokesperson – disseminates information with external sources

The Monitor: Collecting Critical Information

The monitor role involves continuously seeking information for understanding their organization and environment. The monitor wants to detect changes, identify problems and opportunities, and build up knowledge about their environment. This usually includes undocumented information transmitted by word of mouth, which the manager transmits throughout his organization.

In practice: Due to his unique position as a point of contact, both externally and internally, a manager will often receive information on clients, competitors, suppliers, marketing changes, and technology. For example, he might learn of a competitor offering a popular new service or feature and spread this information to other producers and managers to support a timely response.

The Disseminator: Sharing Relevant Knowledge Internally

The disseminator role involves sharing external information with the organization and disseminating internal information between different parties. Mintzberg categorizes this information into two types: factual and value information. The previous type can be true or false, while the latter includes preferences from various levels of staff.

In practice: A manager who wants to improve his organization’s workflow efficiency might gather feedback from his staff to get hands-on impressions. Then, he can share this feedback with other managers and evaluate which information is applicable and actionable.

The Spokesperson: Sharing Relevant Knowledge Externally

The spokesperson role involves the manager speaking on behalf of his organization, which can include board meetings and various public entities (the press, the customers, government agencies, etc.). He’s tasked with keeping these groups up-to-date on the organization’s plans and policies and acts as an expert on his organization’s industry and activities.

In practice: A manager in a product-based agency would be expected to share news of a new feature or service across relevant social media. It would include images or a video demonstration of the new features and explanations on how it resolves specific problems or improves existing solutions.

A screenshot of a social media update by Tomislav Car, CEO at Productive, describing a new search functionality in a software for managerial roles. The post highlights the feature's speed and new small, useful navigation features, reflecting a commitment to "quality of life" improvements. A promotional image below the text showcases the 'Quick Actions' feature with options like 'Visit Time Off Requests' and 'Add New Time Entry'.

An example of a LinkedIn announcement of a new feature in Productive

The Decisional Category

The decisional category includes making significant decisions, such as holding meetings, negotiating with other companies, and handling and executing various requests. These decisions can range from innovative ones, such as marketing or developing a new product, to crisis decisions, which are made to plan for challenges.

These includes:

  • Entrepreneur – drives innovation and change
  • Disturbance Handler – manages crises
  • Resource Allocator – optimizes resource allocation
  • Negotiator – leads internal and external negotiations

The Entrepreneur: Driving Positive Change

As an entrepreneur, the manager initiates and supports change in his organization. This includes organizational oversight with the aim of identifying growth opportunities. Then, it involves implementing a new business operations strategy through delegation, authorization, or supervision.

In practice: A manager who analyzes the progress of team initiatives might realize that certain processes are inefficient — for example, perhaps a lack of undocumented information causes repeated mistakes and communication bottlenecks. The manager might recommend the creation of handbooks to act as a source of internal knowledge and know-how.

The Disturbance Handler: Managing Crises

The disturbance handler role deals with unexpected situations and changes. They implement corrective action to resolve a variety of disturbances, such as a decrease in crucial business planning metrics or issues between people.

In practice: For example, if a key client expectedly cancels a contract, the manager can schedule a meeting with the sales team to strategize recovery. This can include a client outreach program, addressing internal workflow issues, and reallocating resources to stabilize revenue.

Find out more: Best agency CRM

The Resource Allocator: Distributes Resources

Managing agency capacity is at the heart of business decision-making. The resource allocator role involves deciding how to best use the organization’s limited resources, such as money, time, equipment, materials, and reputation. This includes scheduling time, planning out, and authorizing resourcing.

In practice: The manager understands his organization’s resource availability and strategically decides how to best utilize it. For example, a manager can identify high-priority projects by analyzing customer profitability. In case of resource gaps, they would ensure that the timelines and service quality of the most profitable project aren’t affected.

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The Negotiator: Leading External and Internal Negotiations

Finally, the manager’s final obligation is that of a negotiator. The negotiator role involves mediating internal and external negotiations using conflict resolution, communication, and strategic thinking skills.

In practice: For example, a marketing manager can mediate partnership discussions by evaluating potential benefits and costs. Once an agreement is reached, the manager coordinates with legal and operational teams to finalize the partnership details and implementation plans.

Find out more about the various aspects of project management for marketing teams.

The Managerial Role Today

While Mintzberg’s review of managerial roles still holds, the dynamics of the modern workplace have introduced several significant changes. Nowadays, an effective manager has to contend with:

  • The changes in the nature of work, i.e., hybrid, remote, and flexible workplaces
  • The use of technology in monitoring and automating daily tasks
  • Changing employee expectations and desires

Different surveys have reported on these modern challenges. For example, Microsoft reports that only 12% of leaders have full confidence that their team is productive, compared to 87% of employees who report that they are productive at work.

How to manage these difficulties?

For example, setting and monitoring goals shifts the focus from daily activities to broader business strategies. OKRs can help managers and employees feel reassured about meeting organizational objectives and long-term goals.

Another important step is to collect employee feedback regularly, both with managers and employees. This contributes to a more positive work environment and supports employee well-being.

Learn more: How to do a post mortem analysis?

Main Challenges of Management Roles

The position of a manager requires balancing various types of roles, from decisional roles to managerial and collaborative duties. Here are some of the main challenges that managers face and tips for resolving them:

Delegating Work

One of the first step towards becoming a great manager is accepting that you can’t do everything on your own. In a McKinsey research, around 20% of survey respondents identified that one of the main causes for inefficiency are slow approval mechanisms.

In order to avoid burning out or becoming their organization’s bottleneck, managers need to develop trust in their team’s capabilities and set clear expectations. This involves identifying strengths and weaknesses and assigning tasks aligned to employee skills. Managers should also provide the necessary resources and guidance to ensure team members can perform their tasks effectively.

Effective Prioritization

Balancing multiple projects and responsibilities is a significant challenge. To tackle this, managers must learn to recognize the urgency and importance of each task. This strategic prioritization ensures that resources are allocated efficiently and critical objectives are met on time. Doing this across multiple projects can be difficult, especially if your project management is not standardized — consider implementing a series of best practices and utilizing them across similar projects to support efficient prioritization.

More predictability is probably the biggest win for us. Having all of our projects be more consistent and reliable. It’s tough having three different teams each having 3-6 projects of varying nature and complexity. Being able to look into the details of what they’re doing and how, and being able to understand it quickly.

Orion Jensen,
CEO at Clear Launch

Giving Feedback

Constructive feedback is essential for team development but can be difficult to deliver effectively. This is especially true for managers that were promoted internally, and now have to provide feedback to their former coworkers.

It’s important to create a positive feedback culture where such exchanges are seen as opportunities for improvement rather than criticism. Organizing more regular one-on-one meetings can be a great way to normalize the practice and evaluate employee performance on a continuous basis.

Adapting to Technology

According to research by West Monroe, 36% managers spend about half of their working day on administrative tasks, such as responding to emails, tracking time, and submitting expenses. Almost 20% spend upwards of 5 hours.

Adapting business workflows to the latest technology has twofold benefits — one is for the managers. They can reduce time spent on administrative tasks, improve their accuracy (for example, by automating report creation), and focus more on strategic tasks and managerial responsibilities.

Equally important is that this technology can be used across project teams. Some benefits can include automated time tracking, easier task management and better project visibility, real-time data, and much more.

Learn more about the benefits of using all-in-one operations management software.

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More on the Managerial Career Path

If you’re looking for to switch into a managerial role, here’s some essential information you need to know:

  • Career path: According to Glassdoor, 59% managers have a Bachelor’s Degree in Business or a related field. Managers usually specialize in a specific industry and field — for example, Marketing, Engineering, Design, etc. The manager career path starts at the entry-level, with approximately two years taking to advance to the next level of seniority.
  • Compensation: Your pay will vary depending on your enterprise, seniority, industry, and location. According to Glassdoor, a Senior Manager in the US is estimated to earn $180,000 dollars per year. LinkedIn reports that associate brand managers have a median income of more than $100,000, making it among the highest paying entry and mid-level jobs.
  • Skills: Managers are usually expected to have excellent communication skills and leadership capabilities, with aptitude in using Microsoft tools and cloud based software.
  • Responsibilities: Responsibilities usually include planning and organizing, strategic decision-making and data analysis, liaising and communication, risk management, problem-solving, and resource allocation.

Check out our article on a related topic: how to become a project analyst.

Supporting the Entire Organization as a Manager

Mintzberg’s managerial roles provide a starting place for managers to evaluate their management skills and primary roles within an organization. It also helps staff understand the roles managers occupy and why they’re so important.

As the workplace evolves, organization managers need to refine their approaches to address new challenges, such as technological advancements and differences in workplace expectations. Therefore, it’s a role that requires adaptability, strategic foresight, continuous learning, and above all — empathy.

For those looking to streamline managerial processes and optimize team performance, Productive offers a comprehensive solution for agencies of all shapes and sizes.

Book a demo today to find out more.

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Lucija Bakić

Content Specialist

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