The three levels of management also differ in the importance attached to the key skills discussed earlier: technical, human, and conceptual. Generally, conceptual skills are most important at the top management level. Top managers have the greatest need to see the organization as a whole, understand how its various parts relate to one another and associate the organization with the world outside. Whirlpool’s David Whitwam points out that looking at an organization as a whole can be difficult, particularly when a company is doing well and there is not imminent crisis on the horizon. He said that Whirlpool was doing well domestically, but nevertheless, top management faced up to the challenge of looking at the big picture because they could envision their future growing more difficult and complicated. When they took a more holistic view, they realized that they had to globalize to survive and prosper.
In contrast, first-line managers have the greatest need for technical skills, since they directly supervise most of the technical and professional employees who are not manager. Yet middle managers, too often need sufficient technical skills so that they can communicate with subordinates and recognize major problems. Even top managers must have some technical skills, particularly when technology is an important part of the products or services their organizations produce.
Not surprisingly, all three levels of management require strong human skills because they all must get things done through people. Ironically, promotions to first-level management are often based on individuals good technical skills, with little consideration given to the adequacy of their human skills. Managers who lack sufficient human skills usually run into serious difficulties when they attempt to deal with individuals inside and outside their work units.