Decisional Roles in Management: Types, Examples & Definition

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Jennifer Wiley-Cordone

There are 10 different management roles grouped into three distinct areas: informational, interpersonal, and decisional. Define the four types of decisional managerial roles and explore real-life examples of this action based style.

We also recommend watching Management Roles and Principles and Productivity, Quality, Profitability and the Role of Managers

Decisional Managerial Roles in Context

Have you ever seen a car commercial featuring a soccer mom schlepping her kid's friends and equipment around, putting a month's worth of groceries in the trunk, and smiling broadly as she fills up the gas tank because she gets such great mileage with her new car? Just as the cheerful voiceover describes this mom's roles as chauffeur, caterer, or accountant to demonstrate how the car will make her life easier, Professor Henry Mintzberg of McGill University describes how knowing the different roles of a manager will make life easier for leaders. But he isn't trying to sell you anything.

Through extensive observations of leaders in action, Mintzberg identified ten different roles of a manager which he then sorted into three categories. Think of these roles as different 'hats' a manager might wear.

Imagine that Kristin, a maintenance worker for a 50-unit complex, gets a phone call in the middle of the night from a tenant. She needs to be prepared to fix an exploding toilet, start the pilot light on the furnace, or catch a mouse. She doesn't decide which hat to put on to deal with the call, she just becomes a plumber, a heating technician, or a pest control agent given the situation she's faced with. The more 'hats' she can wear (roles she is skilled in), the more effective she is at doing her job. Roles are not problem solving approaches with relative strengths and weakness; each one is necessary for managers to accomplish goals more effectively.

Managerial Role Categories
Henry Mintzberg Three Categories of Managerial Roles

Remembering Mintzberg's three categories is easy;

  • Three informational management roles are relevant to communication.
  • Three interpersonal management roles are related to establishing and maintaining relationships.
  • Four decisional management roles pertain to action through making and following through on decisions.

Ideally, a skilled manager is able to move in and out of each role with ease, but it is more likely for new leaders to gravitate naturally toward one or two of the three areas. Understanding each of the types of management roles is helpful in recognizing nuances in leadership skills. This lesson focuses on decisional management roles: entrepreneur, disturbance handler, resource allocator, and negotiator.

Decisional Managerial Roles
Managerial Roles

The Entrepreneur Management Role

Entrepreneur Steve Jobs of Apple Computers created an innovative culture where new versions of existing products were revised and improved upon even as avid customers lined up around the corner for the product launch. Managers wearing the entrepreneurial hat are chief change makers in their area of responsibility, whether it is throughout the entire organization or in one department. Entrepreneurs drive process improvements, creatively spark new ideas, solve problems, and make innovation happen.

The Disturbance Handler Management Role

The disturbance handler steps in and works with stakeholders (those affected by a decision's outcome) to remove roadblocks or to change tactics and work around problems when there is an obstacle for an individual contributor, team, or the organization as a whole. Fictional mobster Tony Soprano of HBO's The Sopranos is the definitive disturbance handler, literally shooting his way through roadblocks. More realistically this role involves managing conflict, resolving supply-chain issues, and generally reacting to external events with an impact on the organization.

The Resource Allocator Management Role

A manager allocates organizational resources by determining where funding and staff are assigned, as well as addressing other organizational resources such as space and equipment. Oprah Winfrey acted as a resource allocator when she used part of her talk show marketing budget to directly donate to highly visible charities. Later, when the long-running Oprah Winfrey Show was on a downward slope from its decades long peak, she again shifted financial, staff, and organizational resources to creating O, The Oprah Magazine and OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network.

The Negotiator Management Role

Celebrity businessman Donald Trump is well known as a negotiator. He writes, 'Negotiation is an art. All the arts require discipline, technique, and a dose of imagination to take them beyond the realm of the ordinary.' As a negotiator, managers personally represent the best interests of their areas of responsibility when establishing agreements with other parties. A negotiator establishes contracts, resolves personal conflict, addresses grievances, and facilitates shared decision making among stakeholders.

Lesson Summary

The four roles within Mintzberg's decisional category--entrepreneur, disturbance handler, resource allocator, and negotiator--are each action-based parts of a manager's responsibilities. Skilled managers are required to create new products and/or processes, remove or avoid obstacles, distribute money, personnel and equipment, and advocate for the organization. Recognizing the variety of responsibilities a manager has can improve a leader's performance.

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