Robert L. Katz (1974) originally wrote Skills of an Effective Administrator in Harvard Business Review [HBR] January-February 1955 issue, but updated the article for a special HBR compilation on People: Managing Your Most Important Asset. In the revised article, he discussed three basic developable skill of an administrator, one who (a) directs the activities of other persons and (b) undertakes the responsibility for achieving certain objectives through these efforts. These three skills are thus applicable to supervisors and even management. The three skills are:
Technical skill implies an understanding of, and proficiency in, a specific kind of activity, particularly one involving methods, processes, procedures, or techniques. . . Technical skill involves specialized knowledge, analytical ability within that specialty, and facility in the use of the tools and techniques of the specific discipline. . . . Technical skill can be developed through a sound grounding in the principles, structures, and processes of the individual specialty, coupled with actual practice and experience.
Human skill is the executive’s ability to work effectively as a group member (intergroup relationship) and to build cooperative effort within the team he leads (leadership). This skill is demonstrated in the way the individual perceives (and recognizes the perceptions of) his superiors, equals, and subordinates, and in the way he behaves subsequently. . . By accepting the existence of viewpoints, perceptions, and beliefs which are different from his own, he is skilled in understanding what others really mean by their words and behavior. . . . Development of human skills are rooted in such disciplines as psychology, sociology, and anthropology and these are applied in "applied psychology," "human engineering," and a host of others.
Conceptual skill involves the ability to see the enterprise as a whole, it includes recognizing how the various functions of the organization depend on one another, and how changes in one part affect all the others, and it extends to visualizing the relationship of the individual business to the industry, community, and the political, social, and economic forces of the nation as a whole. . . the success of any decision depends on the conceptual skill of the people who make the decision and those who put them into action. . . . Conceptual skill can be developed through coaching, job rotationmoving through different functions of the business but at the same level of responsibility; special assignments in which the junior executives serve as advisers to top management on policy matters, as well as through case-problems course.
Although these three skills are important at every level of administration, the skills of the administrator vary in relative importance at different levels of responsibility.
At the lowest, e.g., supervisory level, technical skill is indispensable to efficient operation. As one moves up the administrator level, the need for technical skill becomes less important, provided one is surrounded with skilled subordinates who can help solve problems.
At every level, human skill, the ability to work with others, is essential to effective administration. At supervisory level, the focus is on collaboration of people in the work group. In the middle-management, in addition to collaboration, the primary concern is facilitating communication. At the top, the need for self-awareness and sensitivity to human relationships is emphasized. Up the administrative echelons, the human skill is subordinated to the conceptual skill.
At the top level, conceptual skill becomes the most important ability of all. "A chief executive may lack the technical or human skills and still be effective is he has subordinates who have strong abilities in these skills. But if his conceptual skill is weak, the success of the whole organization maybe jeopardized." He may have to sacrifice the interests of a single unit for the good of the whole. He should be willing to accept adequate and feasible solutions rather than an elegant or optimum one.
The administrator needs: (a) sufficient technical skill to accomplish the mechanics of the particular job for which he is responsible; (b) sufficient human skill in working with others to be an effective group member and to be able to build cooperative effort within the team he leads; (c) sufficient conceptual skill to recognize the interrelationships of the various factors in his situation, which will lead him to take that action which is likely to achieve the maximum good for the total organization.
Do you possess these three basic skills?