Management Skills' Structure in Chinese Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises

Article excerpt

To find out which skills are most important at various management levels in small and medium-sized enterprises in China, 1,000 questionnaires were distributed and 635 returned. The study's structure was based on Katz's skills classifications-technical, human, and conceptual-but demographic data were also gathered. Results showed that technical skill was the most critical for the respondents, followed by human (interpersonal) skill and, last, conceptual skill. The latter became more important in age categories over 31--particularly for men.



Most modern management theories have originated in the Western societies and are not always relevant in the Asian economies, but management skills might be one of the exceptions. Management guru Peter Drucker thought management was the unity of practice and application, science and art. Management includes knowledge and skills. Management knowledge can be learned, while management skills are the internalization and sublimation of management knowledge, which needs time and practice. Skills used by managers relate to enterprise efficiency and have a profound impact on performance. Katz's theory has been validated in the Western context, but whether the structure of management skills at different levels in the Chinese context is consistent with Katz's theory has not been verified by scholars. This article, based on theory and experience, studies the structure of management skills at different levels and the demographic factors influencing them.

Management Skills

Many scholars have researched the management skills required for effective management (Mujtaba and Kaifi, 2011; Mujtaba and Preziosi, 2006), of which Katz's classification of management skills is the most popular. Katz first proposed that effective management behavior reflects technical skills, human skills, and conceptual skills in different degrees. He believed that in an enterprise, managers of different levels are committed to work with different natures and responsibilities, and require different management skills. High-level managers decide the enterprise's development direction, play a key role in organizational performance, and need to have strong conceptual skills. Low-level managers' work generally is to complete the task assigned by superiors, so the technical skills may be the most important. Human skills are essential for effective communication, motivation, and authority and are important in all levels. In 1974, the Harvard Business Review reissued Katz's viewpoint, and, subsequently, many scholars have conducted research on management skills (Analoui, Labbaf, and Noorbakhshl, 2000; Bigelow, 1991; Hill, 2003; McLennan, 1967; Brush, 1979; Krembs, 1983; O'Neal, 1985). Companies have also found that one of the biggest obstacles to a company's growth is the managers' lack of necessary skills.

Mann (1965) conducted a series of studies to test Katz's management skills categories. He provides empirical support that different amounts of the three skill categories are required at different levels within the organization and that the three skills are interrelated, so that all levels of management need some of each. Guglielmino's study (1978) surveyed a random sample of mid-level managers from Fortune 500 companies, management professors in business schools, and training and development directors from Fortune 500 companies. All three groups identified technical, human, and conceptual skills as important. Also, a mix of all three skills was reported as necessary at each level of management. Paolillo's (1984) finding was broadly consistent with Katz's view that managers on different levels required different management skills. Eduardo's (1992) study showed that the opportunities to use technical skills, human skills, and conceptual skills increased to some extent as the management level rose. Peterson and Peterson (2004) surveyed a group of senior managers using a critical-incidents technique (Flanagan, 1954) and found that all successful and unsuccessful incidents exhibited either the presence or absence of technical, human, or conceptual skills. …