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Office Manager Skills

 

By Matt Krumrie and Jim Lynch

3/2006 

 

Office managers are the people who make sure their offices run smoothly by providing support for the revenue generating groups in the office.  Lessening the administrative burden of revenue generating groups helps those groups stay focused on their primary duties and mission.  This centralization of administrative services, therefore, greatly enhances the productivity and profitability of the organization as a whole. 

As competition increases on a global basis, companies are regularly asked to do more with less.  Educated, trained, and talented office managers are critical to the success of their company.  And because office managers work for businesses representing virtually every industry and economic sector, they are also critical to the economy of the country.

Duties performed by office managers differ very little, regardless of the business being conducted by the office. The duties are wide ranging, however, and can be highly technical in nature.  This article discusses what education best prepares a person for these responsibilities and what skills are required to perform the duties well.

DUTIES

Taking a look at the many office management duties and responsibilities, provides a great deal of insight as to the education and skills required.  We have grouped the duties into seven categories and briefly described each below.

  • Administrative Services
    This can include managing the receptionist function; planning meetings and conferences; managing transportation and travel; managing mail processing; coordinating office parties; and administering business continuity programs such as business insurance, liability insurance and disaster preparedness and recovery.
     

  • Facilities, Equipment and Supplies
    This can include office space costing and leasing; office moves and relocation; signage; interior design and décor; furniture; fire safety; security; overseeing cleaning, maintenance, and repair; arranging for office equipment and supplies; and arranging for commercial printing.
     

  • Information Technology
    This can include use of desktop software (word processing, email, spreadsheets, and presentations); use of database systems; administering computer hardware; administering a file server and local area network; data and system security; systems monitoring and reporting; digital graphic design and desktop publishing; web page design and publishing; and even video editing and streaming.  And, because communication systems and records management are increasingly technologically advanced, it is now logical and more common for the following duties to be included in the information technology group: communication systems (phones, voicemail, email system, cell phones, 2-way radios, broadband internet access, and document collaboration systems); document imaging; and records management (organization, retention, storage, retrieval, disposal, and security).
     

  • Business Law and Finance
    This can include negotiating and writing contracts; sales; procurement; working with personal and real property; working with agents; and being familiar with partnership, corporate, antitrust, and consumer protection law. This can also include budgeting and strategic planning; bookkeeping; lease-buy analysis; cost analysis; return-on-investment (ROI) analysis; expense report management; petty cash management; and inventory tracking and management.
     

  • Human Resources
    This can include establishing office and personnel policies, procedures, and practices; composing and publishing an office handbook; drafting job descriptions; administering the compensation package (salary, health plans, and benefit plans); recruiting and interviewing; hiring and firing; skill and personality testing; working with temporary and employment agencies; outsourcing; administering performance plans and appraisal programs; administering recognition and award programs; administering training and professional development programs; and administering programs that groom employees for future company leadership roles.
     

  • Management
    This can include applying principles and functions of management (planning, organizing, leading, and controlling), documenting the management organization and chain of command, and establishing office etiquette and business ethics guidelines.
     

  • Leadership and Communication
    This can include coaching and supervising employees; adapting to changing employee values; establishing utilization, productivity, and quality controls; scheduling; managing time effectively; reasoning, problem solving, and decision making; managing projects; managing change; understanding personality types; motivating employees; building teams; building consensus; handling difficult customers; and managing difficult employees.  This can also include writing letters and reports; establishing phone procedures; formatting, editing, and proofreading documents; using paper and electronic forms; putting together a corporate style manual; and making business presentations.

Assignment of these duties depends on the size of the office and the company.

  • In a small size office, all of these duties might be assigned to a single office manager or they might be divvied up among several administrative staff
     
  • In a medium size office, all of these duties might be assigned to a single office manager who supervises a small administrative team (or who supervises the administrative staff to whom the duties have been divvied up)
     
  • In a large company with branch offices, there might be several office managers who specialize in a particular area (IT, finance, human resources, etc.), perhaps led by a single administrator such as a Vice President of Administrative Services at a headquarters location (and each branch office might have a single office manager to oversee administrative services at their location)

EDUCATION

Education requirements vary a great deal, again depending on the size of the office and company, the level of the management position, and the assigned responsibilities.

Generally, office management positions require some formal training beyond high school.  An associate degree in business or management is desirable, although a high school diploma may be adequate when combined with appropriate office experience (and an aptitude for the position).

In medium and large organizations, at least a bachelor’s degree in business, human resources, or finance is appropriate (with a curriculum in office technology, accounting, business mathematics, computer applications, human resources, or business law, depending on the role of the office manager in the particular organization).  For example, if specializing in facilities management, an undergraduate or graduate degree in engineering, architecture, construction management, business administration or facility management may be appropriate.  And a background in real estate, construction or interior design would be helpful.

In large organizations, a master’s degree in business administration would be useful for a first-level manager wishing to advance to a mid-level management position, such as director of administrative services, and eventually to a top-level management position, such as executive vice president of administrative services.

Office managers in small offices may advance by performing various office management duties, gaining experience and then assuming supervisory responsibilities.  Office managers in small and medium offices can advance by moving to other management positions or to higher level office management positions in a large organization. 

Regardless of the size of the organization, technical school training, seminar and conference attendance, or online training is appropriate to meet many of the specialized educational needs of the position and to continue education and training in the field of office management.  For example, online training may be appropriate for learning desktop software programs. Or, an office manager responsible for administering the business and liability insurance for their company might attend a property-casualty training seminar offered by the insurance industry.

Because office services continue to improve rapidly with technological advances, it is important that office managers continue training and professional development throughout their career through online training, seminar and conference attendance, and advanced education. 

It is also helpful for office managers to have access to a professional organization that can provide information, networking, and training resources.  This can be especially important because they perform or directly supervise workers performing office management tasks and they have no peers in the organization available to help with their efforts. 

Finally, arrangements for continued training and education should be part of every office manager’s own performance plan and goals. 

SKILLS

The skills required to accomplish the duties of an office manager can be grouped into three categories:

  • Conceptual Skills
  • People Skills
  • Technical Skills

While office managers must possess all of these skills, the importance of each area varies depending on the management level of the position.  For example, office managers in small and medium size offices need more technical skills to perform their job effectively.  Office managers in medium size offices rely heavily on their people skills.  And for top level managers, such as an executive vice president of administrative services in a large organization, conceptual skills are most important.

Conceptual skills include the ability to analyze problems and come up with solutions and to identify potential problems and prevent them.  Identifying and correcting inefficient processes is an example of a conceptual skill.  This category also includes the ability to work without close supervision, be detail oriented, demonstrate sound reasoning and judgment, and have the ability to make decisions.  And, it includes the ability to see the organization as a whole and understand how a change to one part of the organization could impact the other parts, anticipating the impact of decisions. 

People skills (sometimes referred to as “soft skills”) enable you to work well with others.  They include good oral and written communication abilities, the ability to resolve conflicts and build consensus, and the ability to motivate and inspire employees.  Equally important are the abilities to read people, work with difficult people, and to be fair and firm.  They also include the ability to listen and give others the opportunity to provide input and offer meaningful suggestions.  These skills are particularly important for an office manager because they are usually the liaison between company executives and all kinds of other employees, from professional, technical, and managerial staff to clerks and blue-collar workers.

Technical skills include the ability to use computer technology.  They also include specialized knowledge and abilities in numerous areas such as communication systems, records management, finance, human resources, facilities, commercial printing, mail processing, and business insurance, to name a few. The ability to coordinate several activities at once, set priorities, and establish and meet deadlines are other examples of technical skills. This category also includes a sound understanding of business law, various federal and local laws, and how to comply with those legal requirements. Technical skills are also particularly important for an office manager because they are usually the only person in the organization responsible for these areas.

TRAITS

Office managers must be able to handle of variety of tasks, situations and personalities; they must be able to handle private company information and private personnel information; and they must be prepared to handle stressful situations that can occur in offices.  So, what traits make for a great office manager?  Here are a few keywords:

  • organized
  • detail-oriented
  • analytical
  • intuitive
  • decisive
  • sound judgment
  • good communicator
  • courteous
  • polite
  • receptive
  • diplomatic
  • gregarious
  • dedicated
  • loyal
  • trustworthy
  • honest
  • fair
  • firm
  • patient
  • persevering
  • composed
  • confident
  • flexible

CONCLUSION

Changes in the office environment have increased the demand for office managers who are competent, professional, adaptable and versatile. Office managers must have a core set of education and abilities.  And because they are continually faced with new and diverse challenges, as well as rapid advances in office technology, it is important for them to keep apprised of the latest knowledge and trends.

Organizations can raise the competency and professionalism of office managers by recruiting and promoted qualified candidates and by providing training, professional development, and continuing education opportunities.  This will ensure the office manager can provide the best possible value and help keep the organization thriving, competitive, and profitable.

 


 


 

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