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power to the people

In the September 2005 issue of student accountant, an article on the theories of leadership asked what appears to be a simple question: what do managers do? Although there are many possible explanations, the most widely quoted is that of Henri Fayol, who said that managers perform five functions: forecast and plan, organise, command, coordinate, and control. Managers are ultimately responsible for the efficient use of their organisations resources, and are accountable to the organisations owners or directors. What many managers do not understand is the important difference between the role of the manager and that of the supervisor. It used to be said that managers did their jobs by getting others to do theirs, but in many ways this sums up the role of the supervisor. However, management must ensure that supervisors understand both organisational objectives and the powers and limits of their duties and authority. Supervision is an important and integral part of the wider task and process of management. The role of the supervisor is critical because it involves direct contact with the work of others. The supervisor is unique, providing an interface between management and the workforce, and a direct link between the two. The supervisor is in the front line of management, making sure that others fulfil their duties, resolving problems first-hand, directing the work of others and directly enforcing discipline. In addition, they must have direct knowledge of health, safety and employment legislation, and have authority for negotiation and employee relations within their department. The supervisors relationship with both management and the workforce requires a 40 student accountant March 2006 clear understanding of the various levels of management. In particular, the supervisor must understand the nature, sources and limitations of authority, responsibility and delegation all fundamental management skills. Responsibility is the liability of a person to be called to account for their actions, and is therefore an obligation. Unlike authority, responsibility cannot be delegated, although as every task contains an element of responsibility it is therefore the direction of responsibility that matters. It is obviously impossible to exercise authority without responsibility, as this could lead to problems of control and therefore undesirable outcomes for the organisation. The important point is that managers are always ultimately responsible for the actions of their subordinates. Authority is the scope and amount of discretion given to a person to make decisions according to the position they hold within the organisation. The authority and power structure of an organisation defines the role each member of the organisation is expected to perform, and also the relationship between the organisations members. The source of authority may be top-down (as in a formal organisation) or bottom-up (as in a social or political organisation). Underpinning these two fundamental management skills is delegation, an additional aspect of the manager/supervisor relationship. To delegate is to give someone else the discretion to make decisions within a certain defined sphere of influence although, of course, the manager must first possess the authority to delegate. Without delegation, formal organisations could not exist and it follows that without authority, responsibility and delegation, a formal organisation cannot be effective. Management must delegate because of the size and complexity of the organisation, and the physical and mental limitations of staff. Delegation also allows management to attend to other matters by passing down more routine tasks and decisions. For delegation to be effective, managers must specify expected performance levels and ensure that these are understood, assign agreed tasks, and ensure that resources are allocated effectively. It is important to ensure that the supervisor to whom duties are delegated has the ability and experience to undertake the tasks set, a requirement often overlooked. The manager should maintain frequent contact, but in such a way that the delegated authority is not undermined. Sufficient authority must be delegated to fulfil the task, which will preferably be specified in writing so that the delegated duties are understood by everyone. There should be no doubts about boundaries these must be clearly defined especially regarding authority and accountability. Because its importance is often misunderstood, managers are sometimes reluctant to delegate. Perhaps they are concerned that subordinates may not undertake their duties correctly, or simply feel that delegation may distance themselves from the workforce. Surprisingly, some managers lack confidence in themselves or their subordinates, or do not feel that there is sufficient trust between them. Careful selection and training, open communication, appropriate control, and a scheme that rewards effective delegation can overcome these problems. John Ball is former examiner for Paper 1.3


management and supervision

relevant to ACCA Qualication Paper F1 and CAT Paper 5