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Management skills' structure in Chinese small and medium-sized enterprises.

To find out which skills are most important at various management levels in small and medium-sized enterprises in China, 1,000 questionnaires were distributed and 635 returned. The study's structure was based on Katz's skills classifications-technical, human, and conceptual-but demographic data were also gathered. Results showed that technical skill was the most critical for the respondents, followed by human (interpersonal) skill and, last, conceptual skill. The latter became more important in age categories over 31--particularly for men.



Most modern management theories have originated in the Western societies and are not always relevant in the Asian economies, but management skills might be one of the exceptions. Management guru Peter Drucker thought management was the unity of practice and application, science and art. Management includes knowledge and skills. Management knowledge can be learned, while management skills are the internalization and sublimation of management knowledge, which needs time and practice. Skills used by managers relate to enterprise efficiency and have a profound impact on performance. Katz's theory has been validated in the Western context, but whether the structure of management skills at different levels in the Chinese context is consistent with Katz's theory has not been verified by scholars. This article, based on theory and experience, studies the structure of management skills at different levels and the demographic factors influencing them.

Management Skills

Many scholars have researched the management skills required for effective management (Mujtaba and Kaifi, 2011; Mujtaba and Preziosi, 2006), of which Katz's classification of management skills is the most popular. Katz first proposed that effective management behavior reflects technical skills, human skills, and conceptual skills in different degrees. He believed that in an enterprise, managers of different levels are committed to work with different natures and responsibilities, and require different management skills. High-level managers decide the enterprise's development direction, play a key role in organizational performance, and need to have strong conceptual skills. Low-level managers' work generally is to complete the task assigned by superiors, so the technical skills may be the most important. Human skills are essential for effective communication, motivation, and authority and are important in all levels. In 1974, the Harvard Business Review reissued Katz's viewpoint, and, subsequently, many scholars have conducted research on management skills (Analoui, Labbaf, and Noorbakhshl, 2000; Bigelow, 1991; Hill, 2003; McLennan, 1967; Brush, 1979; Krembs, 1983; O'Neal, 1985). Companies have also found that one of the biggest obstacles to a company's growth is the managers' lack of necessary skills.

Mann (1965) conducted a series of studies to test Katz's management skills categories. He provides empirical support that different amounts of the three skill categories are required at different levels within the organization and that the three skills are interrelated, so that all levels of management need some of each. Guglielmino's study (1978) surveyed a random sample of mid-level managers from Fortune 500 companies, management professors in business schools, and training and development directors from Fortune 500 companies. All three groups identified technical, human, and conceptual skills as important. Also, a mix of all three skills was reported as necessary at each level of management. Paolillo's (1984) finding was broadly consistent with Katz's view that managers on different levels required different management skills. Eduardo's (1992) study showed that the opportunities to use technical skills, human skills, and conceptual skills increased to some extent as the management level rose. Peterson and Peterson (2004) surveyed a group of senior managers using a critical-incidents technique (Flanagan, 1954) and found that all successful and unsuccessful incidents exhibited either the presence or absence of technical, human, or conceptual skills.

Most domestic studies on management skills remain in the theory stage, lacking empirical research. Shi Jintao and Wang Li (2004) analyzed the key management skills through factor analysis: leadership and incentive skills; planning, organizing and coordination skills; decision and innovation skills, and control and authorization skills. Managers achieve different performance levels using different management skills.

Management skills reflect many factors. Kaifi and Mujtaba (2010, 2011) studied managers' skills in India and Afghanistan, finding significant differences between those of men and women. Clem and Mujtaba (2010) found that education and experience helped managers acquire relevant skills, allowing them to perform their jobs effectively. Idogho and Augustine (2011) found that managers who received instruction in entrepreneurship education showed better use of management skills.

Many scholars believe that good skills are necessary for managers to effectively carry out their work (Mujtaba, 2005). Effectively identifying and using management skills can also improve efficiency (Katz, 1974; Whetten and Cameron, 1983; Analoui, 1998; Peterson and Peterson, 2004). Without needed skills, managers cannot effectively implement the planning, organizing, leading, and control functions (O'Neal, 1985). However, in the Chinese context, few scholars have carried out empirical research to verify the categories of management skills. This article is based on empirical investigation and analysis about enterprise managers and explores the structure of management skills at different levels and the demographic variables that influence such skills.

Study Methodology

The questionnaires were mainly distributed to low-, mid-, high-level managers in high-tech small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The main source of data was secured through three methods: field survey of MBA students; e-mailing questionnaires to enterprise managers; and field visits to survey business managers. One thousand questionnaires were distributed. Of the 806 responses, 635 surveys were completed successfully by participants, representing an 80.6% response rate and 78.78% efficiency rate.

The two-part style inventory survey of skills and personal background provided by Peter G. Northouse (2010) was used for management skills assessment. Eighteen management skills consistent with Katz's three classifications are ranked on a five-point Likert scale. Each skill has six questions. Personal background information included age, gender, race, religion, management experience, government work experience, and education level. This article focused on skills of managers in different levels in the context of Chinese culture. SPSS Statistics 19.0 software was used for statistical analysis.

Results of empirical study

First, we tested the reliability and validity of the questionnaire. Table 1 shows the overall questionnaire reliability coefficient analyzed through SPSS to be 0.883 (>0.8), so the internal reliability of the questionnaire was strong. KMO test value is 0.913. The significance of Bartlett's test is 0.000 (Table 2). The loading factors were all above 40%. Eighteen questions tested technical skill, human skill and conceptual skill, of numbers 1, 4, 7, 10, 13, and 16 examined technical skills; 2, 5, 8, 11, 14, and 17, human skills; and 3, 6, 9, 12, 15, and 18 conceptual skills. This was broadly consistent with the result of the factor analysis, reflecting the appropriation of the structure reliability.

Although, management level is not necessarily equivalent to management experience, they are associated in this questionnaire. By means process analysis, technical, human, and conceptual skills are grouped according to management experience for comparing the scoring of the three skills at different management levels. The analysis results can be seen in Table 3. When management experience ranges from one to five years, the means of technical, human, and conceptual skills were 3.6682, 3.6439, and 3.3539, respectively. The means of the three skills change to 3.7889, 3.7676, and 3.5537 when the management experience is from six to 10 years. The mean score of the three skills rise to 3.9676, 3.8401, and 3.6349, when management experience is beyond 11 years.

Spearman correlation analysis

Correlation analysis was used to study when one of several interrelated variables takes a certain value, the value of the corresponding variable changes. This article tested the relationships among age, gender, management experience, and level of education, as well as technical, human, and conceptual skills, respectively, to determine whether the demographic variables affected the score of the three skills. Since the independent variables were ordinal, we used Spearman rank correlation coefficient to measure the correlation degree of the variables.

Table 4 presents the results of correlation analysis. As can be seen from the data, age had a positive correlation with technical, human, and conceptual skill. Gender had no significant relationship with technical and human skills and a weak negative correlation with conceptual skill. There was no significant difference between men and women in technical and human skills. But men's conceptual skill was slightly higher than that of women. Management experience and education level correlated positively with technical, human, and conceptual skills. As management experience and level of education increased, the three skills also improved.

The results of using ANOVA to find whether there were significant differences in technical, human, and conceptual skills when age, gender, management experience, and education level varied are shown in Tables 5-11.

As can be seen from Table 5, the corresponding p-values are 0.040, 0.038, and 0.005, less than the system default value 0.05. So age had a significant impact on technical, human, and conceptual skills.

Table 6 shows the mean differences of management skills at different ages. Values with an asterisk signify a significant difference at the 0.05 level. As can be seen from the data, technical and interpersonal human skills in the second age group (26-30) were significantly lower than that of the fourth age group (over 40). The mean of conceptual skill in the second age group was significantly lower than the third and fourth groups.

Table 7 shows that only the p-value of conceptual skill was less than 0.05. The corresponding p-values of technical skill and human skill were 0.290, 0.332, respectively. Namely accepting the null hypothesis gender had no significant effect on technical and human skills-there were significant differences between men and women in conceptual skills.

Table 8 shows that the corresponding p-values of management experience in the three skills were much smaller than the default significant level 0.05. So management experience had a significant impact on technical, human, and conceptual skills.

Table 9 shows the LSD multiple test results. For managers whose management experience exceeds 11 years, technical skill is significantly higher than for those with 1 to 5 years and 6 to 10 years, and no significant differences between 1 to 5 years and 6 to 10 years. As to human and conceptual skills, management experience of 1-5 years is significantly lower than that of 6 to 10 years and 11 years, but no significant difference existed between 6 to 10 years and 11 years.

The corresponding probability p-values of the education level in the three skills are 0.000, 0.007, and 0.000, respectively and are much smaller than the default significance level. So education has a significant impact on technical, human, and conceptual skills. It can be seen that regardless of these skills, when the education level is below high school, management skill is lower than undergraduate, master, and doctoral graduates.

Discussion and Analysis

Based on Katz's management skills theory, this article aimed to study the structure of management skills at different levels and the demographic factors influencing them. The results have many implications, which are discussed in the upcoming paragraphs.

1. Regardless of management level, technical skill is the most critical for these Chinese respondents, followed by human skill, and finally the conceptual skill. Many reasons lead to the difference between the results of this study and Katz's findings. First, a manager's promotion from the general staff to a management position might be due to successful completion of basic work. Basic work mainly requires technical skills. Without this skill, many tasks cannot be carried out effectively by managers (Analoui et al., 2000; Boyatzis, 1982). Second, technical skill may relate to the sample respondents, since people are culturally focused on mastering each aspect of their jobs and are expected to be experts in it. The survey focused mainly on small and midsize enterprises, which lack mature management experience and skills. Most business managers are "affairs-oriented," emphasizing specific technical matters. Third, the unique "guanxi" culture (ties among multiple members of a group, as discussed by Tusi and Jinh-Lih, 1997), keeps managers focused on the development of interpersonal relationships. Therefore, human skill occupies an important position in management skills. Finally, the Chinese belief system that "a good scholar can become an official" and the subsequent selection system may also help explain why the conceptual skill of senior managers is not very high.

2. The result of the Spearman correlation analysis is consistent with the variance analysis--age, management experience, and education levels significantly affect technical, human, and conceptual skills; gender has no significant effect on technical and human skills; but regarding conceptual skill, women's score is lower than men's. The three management skills scores rise with increase in age, management experience, and education level. The research results are generally consistent with previous studies.

3. Age significantly affects technical, human, and conceptual skills. LSD for multiple tests shows that for the age category of 26 to 30, technical and human skills were significantly lower than for those over 41 years old. Conceptual skill in the age category 26 to 30 category was significantly lower than for the 31 to 40 and beyond 41 categories. Obviously, as age increases management skills grow as well, because, managers accumulate experience in their daily work.

4. Gender had no significant effect on technical and human skills, but women's conceptual skill score was lower than men's. In modern society, men and women compete in the workplace. Women tend to start from details while men are inclined to macro-thinking, which may lead to the differences in conceptual skills. In the real world, partially due to the "glass ceiling," we seldom see an equal number of women as business executives or senior managers in modern organizations, and this may further limit the ability of women to develop conceptual (Mujtaba, 2010).

5. Management experience has a significant effect on technical, human, and conceptual skills, of which technical skill attains the highest value when management experience exceeds 11 years. But there are no significant differences in human and conceptual skills when management experience is in the 6 to 10 year range or is more than 11 years. This may be because technical skill is the most basic of the three skills, based on the "practice makes perfect" principle that would benefit from management experience. Human and conceptual skills are related and can be acquired with management experience and when encountering bottlenecks that require differentiating between root causes and symptoms.

6. Education level also has a significant effect on the technical, human, and conceptual skills. Regardless of these skills, when the education level is below high school, management skill is lower than those with college degrees. This may be because the ability to understand and learn complex concepts can be relatively poor. Human skill had no significant difference within undergraduate, master and doctoral levels. During master and doctoral periods, time and energy are focused on academic research; communication skills have few opportunities to be exercised. Regarding conceptual skill, managers in other education levels had significant differences in conceptual skill. Many projects need to be completed independently during the master period, thus developing a person's overall ability to consider many options in decision-making. While doctoral studies tend to be more refined (Mujtaba and Scharff, 2007), conceptual skill had no significant differences compared with the master's level.


In daily life, managers should pay attention to the management skills' role in promoting business performance. Expatriates working in Asian countries can certainly benefit from these findings as they strive to develop effective managers and leaders in new cultures (Cuevas, Beda-Andourou, Bernal, Bolivar, and Mujtaba, 2011). Many scholars also verified that the lack of management skills is one of the root causes leading to bankruptcy of small and medium-sized enterprises (Van Dijk and Rabellotti, 1997; Burke and Collins, 2001). Given the results of this study, we put forward the following recommendations for managers and employees of modern enterprises:

* Organizations should strengthen management skills. Based on the results of this study, management skills have a positive relationship with management experience. Enterprises can use the scenario simulation, role-playing, special duties, and so on to help managers gain experience indirectly and, thus, improve their management skills.

* Establish a sound manager selection system. Our analysis shows that age, experience, and education level affect management skills and should be taken into account in the selection of managers. In recruiting managers, the most appropriate person is not necessarily always the oldest, the one with the longest management experience, or the candidate with the highest education levels. As can be seen from the study, there were few significant differences in management skills between the ages of 31 to 40 and over 41, management experience of 6 to 10 years and more than 11 years, or education levels of master's and doctoral degrees. Enterprises can take all aspects into account to make the best choice. Gender discrimination should not exist, since men and women basically have no differences in technical and human skills, only in conceptual skills, where women appear to have lower scores than men. In the meantime, companies wishing increase the number of females in their upper-level management positions should provide more developmental opportunities in the area of conceptual management skills. Having more female managers in top-level executive positions provides more diversity of ideas and can keep firms more competitive with their global counterparts (Mujtaba, 2010).

Finally, the results of this study have relative limitations. Sample collection targets were mainly from small and medium-sized enterprises, whose management systems may differ from large enterprises. Their functional divisions may not be very clear, and even senior managers may engage in specific work functions that are typically reserved for newly promoted supervisors. Besides, the narrow geographical coverage of the survey undoubtedly limits the conclusion. Future researchers can expand the scope of the sample collection and investigate managers in large enterprises. Moreover, independent variables affecting management skills should be added to further increase the normative of the study.


Management skills are important for leaders, managers, and entrepreneurs of small and large enterprises alike. This article studied the structure of management skills at different levels working with adult Chinese respondents at small and medium-sized enterprises. The results showed that technical skill accounts for the largest proportion, followed by human skills. The study also demonstrated that managers' technical, human, and conceptual skills were enhanced as they climbed management ranks. This study also showed statistically significant differences in management skills based on age, gender, management experience, and education levels. Implications and recommendations were provided for managers, leaders, trainers, human resources professionals, recruiters, and researchers who work in modern organizations across the globe, especially Chinese firms.


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Han Ping, Xi'an Jiaotong University

Bahaudin G. Mujtaba, Nova Southeastern University

Cao Jieqiong, Xi' an Jiaotong University

Han Ping is the author or co-author of three books and some 30 articles dealing with leadership, organizational behavior, and organization analysis. She also consults in the private and public sectors regarding management issues. Bahaudin Mujtaba has worked with human resource professionals, researchers, and managers in the U.S., Brazil, Japan, India, and many other countries. He is the author or co-author of 17 books dealing with diversity, business ethics, leadership, and management. Cao Jieqiong has published articles on human resource practices and leadership and participated in two humanities and social sciences projects sponsored by the Ministry of Education.
Table 1. Questionnaire Reliability Coefficient

Cronbach's Standard-based Number of items
Alpha Cronbach's Alpha

.883 .884 18

Table 2. Analysis of Construct Validity

Kaiser-Meyer-Olkin Measure of 0.913
Sampling Adequacy

Bartlett Approx. Chi-Square 3558.804
Spehericity Test df 153
 Sig. 0.0000

Table 3. Means Process Analysis

Management Technical Human skill Conceptual
experience skill skill

1-5 3.6682 3.6439 3.3539
6-10 3.7889 3.7676 3.5537
Above 11 3.9676 3.8401 3.6349

Table 4. Spearman Correlation Coefficient

 Technical Human skill Conceptual skill

Age .122 ** .097 * .131 **
Gender -0.043 -0.062 -.092 *
Management experience .169 ** .129 ** .140 **
Education level .217 ** .093 * .327 **

**. p<0.01 (two-tailed)

*. p<0.05 (two-tailed)

Table 5. Age--ANOVA p-value Table

 Technical skill Human skill Conceptual skill

Age .04 .038 .005

Table 6. Age: Mean Difference Analyzed by LSD

 1 2
 2 3 4 1 3

Technical .05167 -.04953 -.16740 -.05167 -.10120

Human .34705 .23650 .17582 -.34705 -.11055

Conceptual .04411 -.11147 -.25815 -.04411 -.15557 *

 2 3 4
 4 1 2 4 1

Technical -.21907 * .04953 .10120 -.11788 .16740

Human -.17123 * -.23650 .11055 -.06068 -.17582

Conceptual -.30226 * .11147 .15557 * -.14668 .25815

 2 3

Technical .21907 * .11788

Human .17123 * .06068

Conceptual .30266 * .14668

Table 7. Gender: ANOVA p-value

 Technical skill Human skill Conceptual skill

Gender .000 .332 21

Table 8. Management experience: ANOVA p-value

 Technical Human skill Conceptual
 skill skill

Management experience .000 .006 .001

Table 9. Management Experience: Mean Difference Analyzed by LSD

 1~5 6~10

 [greater [greater
 than or than or
 equal equal
 6~10 to] 11 1~5 to] 11

Technical skill -0.12072 -.29935 * .12072 -.17863 *
Human skill -.12367 * -.19620 * .12367 * -0.07253
Conceptual skill -.19976 * -.28098 * .19976 * -0.08121

 [greater than or
 equal to] 11

 1~5 6~10

Technical skill .29935 * .17863 *
Human skill .19620 * .07253
Conceptual skill .28098 * .08121

Table 10. Education Level: ANOVA p-value Table

 Technical Human Conceptual
 skill skill skill

Education level .000 .007 .000

Table 11. Education Level: Mean Difference Analyzed by LSD

 1 2
 2 3 4 1

Technical -.41965 * .53148 * -.38881 * .41965 *
Human -.19119 * .25095 * -.07883 .19119 *
Conceptual -.63472 * -.85897 * -.91913 * .63472 *

 2 3
 3 4 1 2

Technical -.11183 .03084 .53148 * .11183
Human -.05976 .11236 .25095 * .05976
Conceptual .22425 * -.28441 .85897 * .22425 *

 3 4
 4 1 2 3

Technical .14267 .38881 * -.03084 -.14267
Human .17213 .07883 -.11236 -.17213
Conceptual -.06016 .91913 * .28441 .06016
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Author:Ping, Han; Mujtaba, Bahaudin G.; Jieqiong, Cao
Publication:SAM Advanced Management Journal
Date:Jan 1, 2012
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