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Middle Managers – The Ham In The Sandwich

Middle Management

In an article on middle managers, Mark Muller of American consultants, the Oliver Group begins with the following quote:

“Mid-level managers get a bad rap in American culture. They are the “Rodney Dangerfield” of most organizations… they don’t get much respect. They are stuck in that sandwich of leadership, doing their best to implement the far-sighted strategic goals of executives while dealing with the gritty day-to-day ordeals of managing and motivating the workforce.”

Isn’t this also true in South Africa? Middle managers are pressured from all sides and they ‘cop the flak’ when things go wrong. They are the ‘face of leadership’. They are expected at all times to be loyal to their employer and to implement strategies and policies which they have little input into and which they may not necessarily agree with.

They are responsible for bringing in sales; ensuring that the business has free cash flow; ensuring production targets and quality standards are met and that the correct deliveries are made within approved timeframes. In short, they are responsible for the profitability of the business.

When unpopular management directives result in labour problems, they are the people who have to face the angry work force and seek resolutions to conflict in the workplace.

Most importantly, they are required to ensure that rules, standards, policies and procedures are adhered to and that discipline is maintained. This sometimes requires them to make unpopular decisions and they therefore have to have the courage to take difficult decisions and to stand by them. They also have to have the courage and influencing skills to challenge management decisions when they are wrong and they must be loyal to the people who work for them.

They have to be change agents within their workplaces, constantly looking for efficiencies and better ways to do things. They manage teams and they have to have the skills to lead, inspire and motivate their people. If they do this well, they define the culture of the organisation. The business will prosper and labour conflict will be minimal. They are ultimately responsible for the success or failure of an organisation.

As Mark Muller says in his article, “The ironic thing is that our mid-level leaders need many of the same skills as our executive leaders to make sure this happens. Interpersonal and relationship skills such as assertiveness, emotional intelligence, communication skills (interpersonal and public), and motivation are all crucial skills for effective management at all levels.”

Most newly appointed middle managers have the necessary technical skills but few have the leadership, influencing and people skills required. Often they are ‘thrown in at the deep end and are expected to swim’. Some of these managers have natural leadership qualities and are able to figure things for themselves. Sometimes they don’t, and the consequences can be dire for both the individual and the organisation.

This can be avoided with proper training and coaching.

Bruniquel & Associates offer Seta accredited leadership courses at NQF levels 4 and 5 covering communication skills including leading discussions, listening, assessing performance and giving constructive feedback, making effective presentations and written communication skills; leadership characteristics and why becoming a leader is a choice; personal goal setting and time management; assertive conflict handling; performance management; handling discipline and employee grievances; motivating a work team; selecting and coaching a supervisor; one-on-one instruction and coaching techniques, understanding labour law; and more.

Click here for a complete list of B&A’s Seta accredited leadership training and industrial relations courses and it’s consulting service.