Understanding the Role and Scope of the Senior Manager

An Expansion of the Typical Manager's Role

manager and employee reviewing a report
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The title of senior manager is most often used and encountered in large organizations with multiple layers of management. A senior manager has responsibilities and authority that are broader in scope than a front-line manager, and a door is typically open for senior managers to move into a director- or general manager-level role.

The flip side is that the position can involve a good many challenges and it almost always brings with it a great deal of responsibility. Being a senior manager is not for the faint of heart and success can depend on your personality and skills. 

Average Compensation 

For all the pros and cons inherent in this position, compensation tends to be good. Senior management positions across all industries averaged base pay of more than $150,000 a year as of the close of 2017, with incentives, bonuses, and perks of an additional $10,000 a year or more. The overall salary range runs from about $101,000 to as much as $248,000 annually, depending on the industry and the size and scope of the employer. 

Common Responsibilities

Like all managers, the senior manager is responsible for planning and directing the work of a group of individuals. They monitor their work and takes corrective actions when necessary.

Senior managers might guide workers directly or they might direct several supervisors, who in turn directly manage the workers. The senior manager often supervises the largest or most important group or groups in a company.

Core responsibilities of the senior manager include:

  • Providing guidance to direct reports, typically comprising first-line managers and supervisors
  • Ensuring clarity around priorities and goals for the entire functional area
  • Approving requests for investment to a certain level of authority
  • Managing overall financial budgeting for her function
  • Approving hiring and firing requests within her group   
  • Guiding the talent identification and development processes for a group or function
  • Working across functions with peers in other groups to ensure collaboration for shared goals 
  • Interacting with senior management for reporting
  • Working with senior management and other peers for strategy development and execution planning 
  • Communicating financial and goal results and key performance indicators to direct reports 
  • Facilitating goal-level creation for the broader function and working with managers to ensure the goals cascade to all workers 

Other Common Titles for Senior Managers

The title tends to follow the manager's function. Some examples include senior accounting manager, senior marketing manager, senior engineering manager, and senior customer support manager.

Why Employ This Position? 

It's common for larger firms to evaluate their positions by scope, responsibility, size, and budgetary authority, and then to assign a level to these positions. The senior manager level or designation represents a step up from the manager and offers the opportunity for individuals to take on new responsibilities and increase their contributions. Implementing this added and higher level also helps organizations recruit experienced professionals and slot them into roles that fit their capabilities and compensation. 

Too Many Layers of Management

Complexity and inefficiency tend to increase as organizations grow and become more stratified with additional layers of management. Consider a department that includes supervisors, managers who are responsible for supervisors, and senior managers who are responsible for the managers who watch over supervisors.

The myriad of layers in the structure can slow decision-making, increase political and communication complexity, and ultimately breed dysfunction.

Many organizations cycle through a process of layering followed by flattening through restructuring, only to slowly add layers once again over time. In theory, a flatter organization with fewer layers simplifies decision-making and empowers a broader group of workers to assume responsibility for their actions. 

The Case for the Senior Manager Role

Implementing the role of a senior manager makes good business sense under a number of circumstances. The senior manager can serve as the "adult" in the group at times when the team is growing quickly and chaotically. He can interface with other functions for needed resources and provide mature guidance to managers and workers during a period of change.

This position can represent a tangible target or step up as part of a manager's career development plan and responsibilities when there's a clear distinction between the role of manager and senior manager. The senior manager can also support managers and take on responsibility for discrete work teams when the span of control for a group's managers is too broad. 

Developing As a Senior Manager

This role is an expansion of the typical manager's role in terms of the breadth of responsibilities and overall accountability.

A manager who is interested in advancing to this level should focus on personal, professional development for leadership skills, including talent development and coaching.

They should prepare a strategy, including understanding how the firm makes money and developing insights into the external market forces, competitors, and customers. 

They should have a firm understanding of finance, including budgeting, capital budgeting, and overall expense accounting, and should hone the negotiation skills she'll need to secure resources and gain help from other functions or executives. 

Communication skills, both written and verbal, are vital, with an emphasis on presentation skills. A good senior manager should also become skilled in team development.

Challenges of the Senior Manager

Regardless of the term "senior" in this position's title, a senior manager is still in middle-level management. These important middle-level roles are responsible for their people doing the work of the business, but they often lack the authority to add resources or to make the significant changes that are sometimes necessary to improve efficiency or the quality of the work environment. In spite of the challenges, the role is an excellent training ground for advancing to general manager at some point in the future.