The Management Essentials Learning Centre focuses its interests and attention on helping individual managers refresh and reinforce their key managerial skills and abilities, those skills and abilities which they use everyday in such activities as leading their teams, achieving their goals, contributing to the strategic direction of their organization or any one of the many other 'things they do' in the performance of their job. In many ways these are the tacit or unconscious competencies that each person naturally or instinctively calls upon as they go about their work.
In 1954, Robert Katz, an American social psychologist and at that time an assistant professor at the Amos Tuck School of Business Administration, Dartmouth College*, published an article in Harvard Business Review, setting out a core skills-based approach to developing managers in contrast to the prevailing emphasis on behavioural traits. He identified three key areas in which managers should develop high levels of core competence. These are:
- Technical skills - the ability to understand, and be proficient in, a specific kind of activity, particularly one involving methods, processes, procedures, or techniques
- Human skills - the ability to work effectively as a group member and to build cooperative effort within the team he/she leads. As technical skill is primarily concerned with working with “things” (processes or physical objects), so human skill is primarily concerned with working with people
- Conceptual skills - the ability to see the enterprise as a whole including recognizing how the various functions of an organization depend on one another, and how changes in any one part affect all the others; and it extends to visualizing the relationship of the individual business to the industry, the community, and the political, social, and economic forces of the nation as a whole
Through his work, based on empirical research and studies of the prevailing literature, Katz also recognized that the application of each category of skill, and therefore the need for a high level of innate competence, changed with the level of responsibility each manager undertook within the organization. In broad terms, the lower levels of responsibility required a higher order of technical skills whilst the higher levels of responsibility required a higher order of conceptual skills. Katz model of essential management skills shows a gradual migration from technical to conceptual as responsibility increases.
* Since then, Robert Katz has taught in the graduate schools of business at Harvard and Stanford, written three textbooks, and helped found five industrial or financial companies. Until recently he was president and chief executive officer of U.S. Natural Resources, Inc. Now he heads a consulting firm specializing in corporate strategy and is a director of a number of publicly held corporations.