Who's The Middle Manager Now?

By Paula Santonocito, Special for USDR

Organizations have become flatter in recent years, and middle managers are not as prevalent as they once were. However, the work must still get done—and administrative professionals (admins) are increasingly the ones doing it.

So finds research from the American Society of Administration Professionals (ASAP), an association with more than 45,000 members.

In a new report, “Meet the New Middle Manager: Today’s Administrative Professional,” ASAP points to a significant shift in responsibility among admins.

Duties and Drivers

ASAP research, which includes data from the Administrative Professionals Conference (APC), finds that today’s admins have responsibility for business expenditures; for example, purchasing responsibility, including approval and authorization, nearly doubled from 2008 to 2013.

And admins aren’t only managing money. Often they manage projects and lead teams. In addition, they serve as the office tech front line support.

Indeed, the report finds that where admins once offered only clerical support, they now also increasingly provide business support. This may include making decisions on behalf of executives, overseeing staff, and more.

The changing role has three drivers, according to ASAP: the recession and its aftermath, evolving technology, and an improving economy.

The recession and its aftermath affected organizational structures. Organizations eliminated management layers, including many middle manager positions, leaving those who remained to assume the workload.

At the same time, increased use of technology, most notably the growth of mobile and social media, has presented new challenges for organizations. Customers and other stakeholders have come to expect ongoing communication, and businesses must respond accordingly.

While it might be assumed that the economic recovery would take some of the pressure off, the recovery appears to be having the opposite effect. Today’s business environment is highly competitive, requiring that businesses up their game. As a result, more demands are placed on staff members in organizations that are leaner post-recession.

Widespread Practice

The ASAP report cites external research as well as its own data in making a case for the changing role of the administrative professional, and suggests the shift has no particular boundaries.

The “new middle manager” doesn’t appear unique to any one business sector or type of industry. Organizations referenced in the report include Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, among others.

“The trend toward greater responsibility among admins includes organizations in nearly every industry,” says Judy Geller, Director of ASAP and the APC.

ASAP surveys its members regularly in order to know what training and resources to provide, she explains.

“As we examined the data, it became apparent that it is now common practice for admins to perform what were once considered managerial tasks,” Geller says.

The report includes quotes from leading organizations that share how admins manage budgets, give business presentations, and supervise staff.

Addressing Challenges

Administrative professionals are enthusiastic about their responsibilities, and they are doing their best to succeed, according to Geller.

Yet, ASAP research finds skills gaps exist.

Although 85 percent of admins spend between 61 and 100 percent of their workday using Microsoft Office applications, only 13 percent view themselves as expert. Yet, organizations frequently rely on the admins in their offices for technical guidance.

Social media is another area where admins seem to lack expertise. The numbers speak for themselves: 48 percent of admins are on Facebook, 28 percent are on LinkedIn, 11 percent are on Twitter, and 15 percent don’t use social media at all. Nevertheless, even though admins are not social media savvy, organizations striving to maintain a strong presence on multiple social channels often turn to administrative professionals for support.

In light of these and other skills gaps, perhaps the most notable findings in the report relate to training.

“Meet the New Middle Manager” cites a recent OfficeTeam survey of HR managers in North America which finds less than half of organizations currently offer or plan to offer subsidized training for administrative professional in the next 12 months.

Meanwhile, ASAP research finds that admins are actively seeking training—on their own. APC conference attendance, for example, was self-initiated by 37 percent of administrative professionals, while only 12 percent of admins attended the conference at the suggestion of their manager, HR or training department.

ASAP research also shows that, when it comes to learning a new technology, whether software or hardware, 58 percent of admins teach themselves, while another 10 percent search online for training.

“It surprised us that training often falls to the admin,” says Geller. “The fact that admins are doing their best to improve their skills shows their dedication to the job, but research findings certainly highlight the need for more organizational involvement in training.”

And the new middle managers who could benefit from additional training are not small in number. The ASAP report points out that approximately 7,894,100 people were employed as administrative professionals in the United States in 2012, the most recent year for which data is available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Granted, not all admins have assumed managerial tasks. However, the growing trend suggests organizations should take a look at their administrative professionals’ responsibilities and make sure they are adequately prepared to support the business.
Paula Santonocito is a business journalist specializing in employment issues and the author of more than 1,000 articles on a wide range of human resource and career topics. Her articles have been featured in many publications and information outlets, including Thomson Reuters’ HRWire, The Wall Street Journal, Monster.com, and others; reposted at more than 100 websites; referenced in academic and legal publications as well as books; and translated into several languages. She has been a guest on radio programs, where she discussed career issues, and has been quoted in articles that have appeared at Forbes, CNN.com, MSN, and NBC.

All opinions expressed on USDR are those of the author and not necessarily those of US Daily Review.

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