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Middle management duties and responsibilities

A middle manager leads a staff meeting

By Cooper Nelson

At a glance

  • There are three traditional levels of management: top level, middle level and first line.
  • Middle managers are necessary facilitators of communication and employee growth within organizations.
  • Middle managers leverage skills like organizational knowledge, problem-solving, interpersonal communication and more.
  • Grow your business knowledge and skill set with an online business degree from University of Phoenix.

How middle manager roles are evolving (and what that means for business)

The role of middle management is evolving as organizations seek to become more agile and responsive to change. In recent years, there has been a shift from traditional hierarchical structures, with middle managers given more authority and responsibility. This plays a crucial role in a company’s bottom line as middle managers are closest to front-line employees and have a better understanding of their needs.

Middle managers are necessary facilitators of communication and employee growth within organizations. Without them, a company would struggle to function effectively day to day. 

What is middle management?

Middle management is between executive-level managers and first-line managers. Middle managers have a vast range of responsibilities, but most importantly, they communicate the goals of upper management to front-line employees and ensure those goals are met. In many cases, middle managers are also responsible for training and development, as well as performance management.

While middle management may seem like an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy, there are several reasons why it’s relevant in certain situations. Here, we’ll explore the managerial hierarchy, useful skills for middle managers and what challenges they face. 

The three levels of managerial hierarchy

There are three traditional levels of management: top level, middle level and first line. These three levels are often known as the managerial hierarchy. Each level has a different set of responsibilities and a different focus.

Top-level management

C-suite executives oversee company strategy and usually have a broad perspective on the company and its position in the industry. With this comes the responsibility of setting goals and objectives that employees must accomplish. These goals trickle down through management until they reach front-line employees.

Generally, top-level management positions handle big-picture items such as:

  • Company vision and strategy
  • Long-term planning
  • Resource allocation
  • Establishment of corporate policies

While top-level management encompasses many titles, some of the most common are:

  • Chief executive officer
  • Chief operating officer
  • President
  • Vice president 

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It’s crucial for top-level managers to have extensive industry experience and a deep understanding of business. Most top-level executives have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, but many also hold an MBA or another advanced degree.

The following degree programs offer a pathway to gaining a deeper understanding of business:

Aside from experience and education, top-level managers also need strategic-thinking, problem-solving and leadership skills to helm an organization successfully.

Midlevel management

Middle management, also known as executory management, refers to the layer between senior executives and first-line managers. Middle managers are responsible for carrying out the decisions made by upper management and ensuring the directives are executed efficiently and effectively.

Middle managers typically have a broad range of responsibilities, which vary depending on the size and structure of an organization. For example, in small organizations, middle managers may be responsible for all day-to-day operations, such as planning, budgeting and staffing. In larger organizations, middle managers may be responsible for specific functions or departments such as human resources, marketing or sales.

Some of the most common responsibilities of middle managers are:

  • Supervising and training first-line managers
  • Coordinating work between departments
  • Developing and implementing operational plans
  • Monitoring progress toward objectives

Common job titles for middle managers include:

  • Branch manager
  • General manager
  • Regional manager
  • Department manager

Middle managers often hold a bachelor’s degree, although some jobs require a master’s degree, depending on the industry.

Low-level management

First-line managers, also known as front-line or supervisory managers, are the lowest management level in an organization. First-line managers directly supervise front-line employees and ensure they complete their tasks on time and to standards.

Some of the most common responsibilities of first-line managers are:

  • Hiring and training employees
  • Setting work schedules
  • Assigning tasks and responsibilities
  • Enforcing company policies

Common job titles for first-line managers include:

  • Supervisor
  • Team leader
  • Floor manager
  • Shift manager

Most organizations require a high school diploma to qualify for a first-line management position. In some circumstances, however, industry experience may suffice. For example, someone who has worked their way up from being a barista to a store manager at a coffee shop would likely not need a formal education to qualify for the position.

However, a first-line management position in other industries, such as healthcare, may require at least a bachelor’s degree.

What are the benefits of middle management?

Though it may not seem like it, middle management plays a vital role in ensuring an organization operates smoothly. Without middle managers, upper management would be bogged down by day-to-day tasks, and front-line employees would have no one to direct them.

Some important skills and advantages of middle management are:

  • Problem-solving: Middle managers handle everything from staffing issues to conflict resolution.
  • Employee engagement: Middle managers use positive reinforcement (such as recognition and rewards) or negative reinforcement (such as disciplinary action) to engage and motivate employees.
  • Organizational knowledge: With a deep understanding of the organization, its structure and its culture, middle management provides a valuable perspective when making decisions or solving problems.
  • Network building: Middle managers often have a vast network of contacts within the organization. This can be helpful when troubleshooting or identifying new opportunities.
  • Communication: Middle managers facilitate the easy flow of information between different levels of the organization.
  • Interpersonal skills: Because their job requires them to work with people at all levels of the organization, middle managers offer invaluable interpersonal skills.

To obtain a better understanding of business, many middle managers hold a bachelor’s degree within the field of business, whether that’s a Bachelor of Science in Communication, a Bachelor of Science in Business or a related degree.

What challenges does middle management face?

While middle managers play an essential role in organizations, research has shown that some experience lower levels of job satisfaction than top-level executives. Several factors contribute to this phenomenon, including that middle managers are often caught between executives and lower-level employees. Therefore, they may be required to take on tasks both groups dislike.

In addition, middle managers may feel that they aren’t given enough authority to make decisions or that senior management doesn’t adequately recognize their efforts.

While middle management faces its own set of challenges, it offers distinct advantages to both the organization and the people in those positions.

If roles in middle management interest you, discover how an online business degree from the University of Phoenix can help you build the skills you need to succeed.

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