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Does the Respect for a Manager Have to Be Based on Technical Job Knowledge?

I was asked recently why an employee should have respect for their manager, if the manager didn’t have any experience doing the technical job that the employee is doing? This comes up frequently in the training and consultations that I conduct. The comments like, “They didn’t do their time,” or “they have never had to do this job, so why should I have any respect for them.” These indicate that the employee is not seeing the full spectrum of what happens in an organization and that they are not considering things from the different functional perspectives. Responses like these and lack of respect for someone who “has never done the job,” are said more out of ignorance of the aspects of the different functional distinction or role set, than out of lack of respect. To help understand the concepts, we need to look at the Functional Distinctions Chart.

When we talk about having respect for someone based on their job skills, we must consider not just their knowledge, skills and abilities, but what is their position and is that position required to have those technical job skills to be successful in that position.

A Line employee should have the technical skills to complete the job tasks. A direct line supervisor, or Lead, should also have technical knowledge and skills to evaluate the job tasks and determine if they were completed at a sufficient level. A manager should have some understanding of the nature of the tasks and how that impacts the ability of the division/organization to achieve its goals. An executive doesn’t necessarily need to understand the specific job task and is more focused on goal attainment. What I tell people when this comes up is that I want people to be competent in their role (role set) for their position.

Here’s an example:

Manager A is responsible for the functions of the Facilities and Maintenance Division for a medium-sized manufacturing plant.

Manager A has the following units and people assigned in her division:

Electrical Unit

  • 1 Lead Electrician (supervisor)

  • 3 Electricians

  • 1 HVAC Technician

Plumbing Unit

  • 1 Lead Plumber (supervisor)

  • 2 Plumbers

  • 2 Assistant plumbers

Grounds-keeping Unit

  • 1 Lead Groundskeeper (supervisor)

  • 6 groundskeepers

Building Maintenance Unit

  • 2 Lead Custodians (supervisor)

  • 10 Custodians

Engineering Unit

  • 1 Lead Engineer (supervisor)

  • 1 Mechanical Engineer

  • 1 Structural Engineer

Now consider the diversity of the positions that Manager A is responsible for and the technical knowledge, skills, and abilities that would be required for Manager A to have technical competence in each of these areas. Should the manager be able to do all these functions themselves? What should be the expectation of the manager?

Now consider the processes involved. If a request to replace a burned-out light fixture comes in from one of the production floors, does the manager need to go personally inspect the light fixture, determine the cause of the faulty fixture, buy replacement parts, and then repair it herself? No! That is not the manager’s job, if it were, then the manager wouldn’t need a lead electrician or the other electricians.

Or, let’s say a decision is made at the executive level to replace the manual sprinkler system with an automatic sprinkler system on all the grounds around the Administration Building and relays that message to Manager A. Does the manager need to go and do all the measurements and determine what sprinklers would be best for the type of grass and plants that surround the Administration building? Is the manager’s technical knowledge, skills, and abilities important in “sprinklering?” Or should the manager coordinate with the Groundskeeper and the Plumbing Units to determine the best way to achieve that goal?

In short, the manager doesn’t need to be “technically skilled” in each function, but does need to understand the function of each unit in order to delegate the tasks to the appropriate lead(s) or supervisor(s) of each area who in turn acts as the technical expert, and may delegate the task to be completed or completes the task themselves. The “Lead” or supervisor’s expertise is very important as they do need to know the technical aspect of the line employee people they are supervising, and act as advisers to the manager in the technical areas.

Does the manager need to have “done the job” before he/she is respected? No! The respect should be based on the manager’s ability to complete their own job, in their own area of functional distinction. In other words, the manager should be able to:

  1. Understand the tasks that are to be accomplished and how they inter-relate to achieving the goals of the organization.

  2. Plan and coordinate people, processes and materials to help achieve those tasks in the areas in which the manager is responsible.

  3. Coordinate with other areas of the organization in order to achieve the goals of the organization.

  4. Understand the inner workings of the organization including how the people, processes and functions are impacted internally by union contracts, M.O.U.’s, Personnel Rules, etc.

  5. Represent the interests of the individual units to the organization, as well as represent the organizational goals and directions to the individual units.

  6. Be able to navigate the internal political environment of interactions between units, division, areas and overall organizational interests.

  7. Understand and be able to analyze data to better achieve organizational effectiveness, not only for the individual units within their division, but as they relate to accomplishing the overall goals of the organization.

If a manager can do these things, yet can’t replace a broken faucet because they have never been a plumber, does that mean they do not deserve the respect because they haven’t “done the job” as a plumber? No, respect is earned and should be based on the ability of the person to do their own job, within their own functional distinction (role set) area, not based on the technical abilities of the people that they supervise.


So, if we put all this together, I always tell people that I want the executive to be able to set goals, navigate the environmental, political, budgetary, and other external factors that impact an organization. I also want managers who can help direct the different parts or areas of an organization, gather resources, represent the line staff to the executives and the executives to the line staff, and navigate the internal organizational environment to help achieve the goals of that division or area. I want the supervisors and leads to be able to assign, coordinate, evaluate and ensure completion of specific tasks, while also evaluating the competence of the line employees. I want the line employees to be able to complete specific tasks in their area of expertise or knowledge, skills, and abilities to the best of their ability. Each position or role set should garner the appropriate respect for the job that they do, not base the level of respect on the ability to have “done the job,” of someone else.

About the Author: Dr. Chris Fuzie is the author of "Because Why?...Understanding Behavior In Exigencies." and of "S.C.O.R.E. Performance Counseling: Save the Relationship, Change the Behavior," and Owner of CMF Leadership Consulting. Chris is a developer/trainer/consultant for leadership of public, private, profit, and non-profit organizations. Chris holds a Doctor of Education (Ed.D), M.A. and B.A. in Organizational Leadership, and has graduate certificates in Human Resources and Criminal Justice Education. Chris is honorably retired from the Modesto Police Department after 28 years of public service where he last served as the Assistant Division Commander of Investigations.

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