Professionals and Managers: A Study in Contradiction?

By Pemberton, J. Michael | Records Management Quarterly, July 1996 | Go to article overview

Professionals and Managers: A Study in Contradiction?


Pemberton, J. Michael, Records Management Quarterly


In 1956, C. P. Snow, an English novelist and physicist, wrote for the New Statesman an article which was later published as a little book entitled The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution (1959). The fundamental premise of this now often-quoted volume is that the sciences and the humanities have come to represent two different ways of knowing and understanding, two divergent sets of values, and two dissimilar ways of teaching the intellectual content of their domains within educational programs. This state of affairs was becoming dangerous, Snow believed, in that the two cultures - or intellectual and professional communities were having trouble talking with each other about what should be areas of common interest or concern. Later research has tended to confirm Snow's view.(1) It is not merely in academic communities, however, that such divergences, or conflicts, may occur.

Consider, for example, the following situations and identify the central conflict common to all of them:

* In almost any episode of a hospital-based dramatic series on television, the technically brilliant chief of surgery confronts the head of the hospital's administration - often another physician - about a patient's expensive care vs. the administrator's admonitions about cost-containment.

* An engineer with outstanding technical ability at the XYZ aerospace company is made a mid-level manager, and, after two years of "personnel problems," budgeting fiascoes, and projects lagging months behind schedule, the new manager resigns in disgrace.

* During the first week of my son's new job as a transportation specialist with a large paper-products company, he is confronted with a choice of two career development tracks within the corporation: management or a technical area.

* On an Internet list-serve for Certified Records Manager (CRM) candidates, a records manager who has passed all parts of the exam, Steven Whitaker, posts some guidance for some who have had trouble with Part VI (case study) of the exam:

Remember to put on your 'management hat' when you take Part VI. Think about the scope of what an 'analyst' would typically consider when presented with a project/case study ... a good technical solution. Then think about what 'management' would have on their minds, and compare and contrast the two. 'Management' is typically concerned with safety, costs, public relations, the environment, compliance with regulations/laws, meeting customer needs regardless of the circumstances AND with a good technical solution [policy, procedure, people, facilities, and tools] derived using sound judgment.(2)

These vignettes, considered generally, suggest a definite contrast between the "cultures," to use Snow's term, of the professional practitioner and the administrator, or manager. There is a distinction, then, between those skilled in the knowledge or art of a field (practitioners) and those who care for the infrastructure (managers) that enables those in that field to function effectively. More specifically, Whitaker's useful recommendation that records managers wear a "management hat" for Part VI suggests that we are also dealing with two cultures in records management. The implication - one worthy of consideration by records managers - is that one cannot be a wholly effective practitioner and, at the same time, successfully be a manager; they are, to some extent, mutually exclusive.

The literature of business and management offers many discussions of the sometimes stormy professional-manager relationship. Weld Coxe demonstrates, for example, that professionals, such as lawyers, doctors, and architects, are increasingly frustrated by the conflict between "practicing" and "managing."(3) Jay W. Lorsch and Peter F. Mathias, well-known observers of organizational behavior and human resources management, note that in many professional services organizations

management [is] an uncomfortable, almost dirty, word . …

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