Mintzberg’s Managerial Roles
Hello! My name is Dr. Rob Austin McKee, professor of Organizational Behavior and Leadership, here with MGT.EDU, the open-access business school. In this video, we’ll be discussing Henry Mintzberg’s managerial roles presented in a lot of introductory management and business textbooks. Mintzberg originally described these roles way back in the 1970s. If you’re Gen Z or later, you may have never heard of the 1970s. I actually had never heard of “the 70s” so I did a quick Google search. Apparently, it was a pretty wild time. They had disco, cocaine, and… Henry Mintzberg. Yea! Si hablas español, tenemos una versión en español de este video disponible en el canal de YouTube MGT.EDU. Additionally, a transcript of this video is available on my website, robaustinmckee.com.
Mintzberg categorized 10 managerial roles within 3 functional areas. There are 3 types of informational roles, 3 types of interpersonal roles, and 4 types of decisional roles. I’m going to discuss the ten roles individually within their respective functional areas. Additionally, I’m going to provide one or more examples of each role that should be helpful if you’re studying this material for an exam or quiz. The people I use as examples aren’t necessarily managers, but they capture the essence of the concepts and should be relatively easy to remember.
Let’s start with the 3 informational roles, all of which involve managers’ efforts to collect, organize, analyze, store, and disseminate many kinds of information.
The role of monitor is performed whenever managers seek or acquire work-related information. They might do so by reading reports and other documents, searching online, and talking with other people. This information could be factual but could also include gossip or speculation. As an example of the monitor role, think of a police detective conducting an investigation, searching the crime scene for clues, doing background checks using a police database, interviewing witnesses, and interrogating suspects.
The role of disseminator is performed whenever managers communicate information, whether verbally or in writing, to others within their organizations. As an example, think of a military commander briefing his or her troops about the battle plan before a critical mission. In this case, the commander is only sharing the information with other members of the unit.
The spokesperson role involves managers communicating information, again, whether verbally or in writing, to others outside their organizations. So, that could mean buyers, suppliers, competitors, members of the news media, etcetera. As an example, think of the White House Press Secretary speaking at the podium to the news media and, thereby, the public.
With these three roles, it can be challenging to determine how much information to seek, because doing so takes time and energy, and how much information to release, because doing so makes that information less secure.
Let’s move on to the 3 interpersonal roles, which all focus on managers’ interactions with other people.
The figurehead role involves performing symbolic or ceremonial acts, like presiding over ribbon-cutting ceremonies or award ceremonies, hosting dignitaries, and making public appearances on behalf of an organization. This role focuses on creating and maintaining a positive image or perception of the figurehead and his or her organization. As an example, think of the Queen of England. She doesn’t really do much besides making occasional public appearances during which she generally just smiles and waves.
The role of leader involves managers interacting with subordinates. I think this role would be better labeled as Leader/Manager <<spoken as “leader slash manager”>> because it involves functions related to both leading and managing people, such as motivating, coaching, directing, training, counseling, etcetera. As an example, think of the greatest regional manager to ever sit at the helm of the Dunder Mifflin Scranton branch. I am, of course, talking about Michael Scott, who somehow managed and led Jim, Pam, Dwight, and everybody else on one of the best sitcoms ever produced, The Office.
The liaison role entails establishing, maintaining, and managing informational links outside the traditional vertical chain of command. These links could be inside or outside of the organization. As a liaison, the person is acting as an intermediary between two entities that might not otherwise have contact. As an example, a foreign ambassador acts as a liaison between two countries so that, even if the countries’ leaders are not communicating regularly, the two countries can maintain a relationship and a flow of information.
Let’s now talk about the 4 decisional roles, which involve managers making decisions on behalf of their organizations and stakeholders.
We’ll start with the role of entrepreneur. When performing this role, managers are coming up with and implementing new and innovative ideas to improve their businesses, adapt to changing conditions, and take advantage of opportunities. Here, we might think back on Steve Jobs revitalizing Apple with exciting new products like the iPod and iPhone in the early 2000s.
The role of disturbance or crisis handler is performed whenever managers react to problems, conflicts, disputes, etcetera, and take corrective action. These disturbances can be caused by internal or external issues. They could be the result of bad management or bad luck. As an example, think of all the managers that had to help navigate their companies through the Covid-19 pandemic. Think of a manager having to deal with a product recall.
The role of resource allocator is performed whenever managers make decisions about the people and projects that will receive certain resources under their control, as well as when, how, and where. This role involves planning, scheduling, and budgeting functions. As an example, think of, I don’t know, Oprah Winfrey on that episode when she gave everyone in the audience a car. She was like, “You get a car! You get a car! And you get a car!” She was allocating resources. I guess it’s too bad we don’t all work for Oprah.
Finally, the role of negotiator is performed whenever managers negotiate agreements or contracts with buyers, suppliers, unions, new hires, etcetera. As an example, you might think of a hostage negotiator, as depicted in countless movies and shows, trying to determine and satisfy the demands of abductors or terrorists, or at least trying to stall them long enough to send in the SWAT team. Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed to be an extraordinary negotiator. Now you may not agree with his self-assessment, but his name was on the cover of a bestselling book called “The Art of the Deal.” Of course, he didn’t actually write the book, but he did have to negotiate terms so that he could take credit for doing so.
So, what’s the practical importance of Mintzberg’s roles? I’m not sure. I think they can help future managers understand the breadth of responsibilities they can expect to have. However, not every manager is going to be performing every role. New managers may only perform a few of the roles. As they move up the hierarchy, it is likely they will perform more of the roles. We might expect CEOs to play all 10 roles, but not all of them do. Still, every organization of sufficient size and complexity should have at least one person assigned to each role.