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5 Management Traits of an Operations Manager

 |  7 Min Read

Overseeing the operations of any business is a career in which the right business-minded individual can truly succeed. An operations manager is tasked with ensuring that operations are efficient and effective. However, this requires understanding a business’s overall goals and objectives and using that information to run the business successfully. At its core, the skillset needed for operations managers includes thinking analytically, communicating effectively, and executing efficiently.

Today’s business structure differs significantly from past standards, and modern companies are focused on pinpointing the most effective operational practices to leverage against the competition. IKEA, a global business that provides low-cost, functional home furnishing products, is a prime example of an organization that has developed a plan to increase its operating procedures’ effectiveness, attract customers and increase revenue. Through various methods, IKEA has become a leader in best business practices, including controlling the value chain to set them apart from the competition.

Establishing an effective operations process involves strategy development with some trial and error. Still, operations management can shape efficient and effective business processes by employing this list of essential skills and qualities.

1. An Operations Manager is Realistic 

A good operations manager understands that employees are valuable and can effectively communicate with operations staff. That means delivering the hard facts, providing thoughtful and constructive feedback, and listening to empowered employees who are part of the same team.

Results showed from a 2007 study, “The Relationship between Transformational Leadership and Leader-Member Exchange in Different Cultures,” 1showed that teams with strong and trusting leadership positively impacted team members’ individual and collective performances. For example, if an operations leader realizes that production is slowing down, costing the company revenue, communicating directly with employees might be a better approach. An effective operations manager can impress upon employees the need to improve and explain the reasoning behind the request. If a goal cannot be reached, employees are empowered to share with management the necessary information for developing alternative, achievable plans.

2. An Operations Manager Looks for Efficiency

An effective operations manager is defined as the master and commander managing resource input and output. These professionals optimize processes to decrease the cost of goods per unit, making it possible to sell at a lower price and leave a high margin to remain agile in competitive business environments. Processes executed in this fashion are typically able to reward the hard work of the teams involved in production. So what is the secret weapon? Efficiency.

Today’s efficiency models date back to the 1950s when Toyota shifted to a “just-in-time (JIT)” model, focusing purely on production costs, product quality, delivery, and worker involvement to minimize excess time and overall costs. This model became the foundation for lean manufacturing, today’s more commonly used efficiency model. Production from a system pushing out products in batches is taken to a flowing design that systematically produces single units as needed at an optimum cost.

Efficiency is one of many essential qualities of an operations manager. An operations manager needs to ensure the focus remains on the organizational objective rather than the narrow focus of the different department and division goals. To accomplish this, operations leaders must implement areas of flexibility into all stages of operations and facilitate cross-functional communication, enabling adaptability between teams and departments.

3. An Operations Manager Focuses on Quality

In today’s marketplace, the focus on quality has progressed to ensuring value at the source. For example, rather than use a supplier with a rejection rate of 5% with provided parts, an effective operations leader might go with a supplier who charges slightly more but has a lower rejection rate to ensure the product’s lifespan and consumer satisfaction.

When operations leaders pay greater attention to quality, it helps to inspire their employees to strive to meet leaders’ expectations. Anyone who has studied how Steve Jobs operated at Apple understands how his demand for perfection drove his people to do everything possible to meet those demands. It was well-known that Jobs took tremendous pride in the equipment and devices that his company developed. By setting high standards for himself and everyone around him, Jobs took Apple from a company once in decline to the most valuable company in the world in 2012 at $623.5 billion – exceeding the previous record of $618.9 billion set by Microsoft on Dec. 30, 1999.

Not only does focusing on quality help operations leaders maintain productive teams by fostering pride in a product or service. It can also drive down costs, helping an organization gain an advantage over the competition. For example, investing in quality improvement ultimately drives down internal and external failure costs. This increase in profit provides an organization with the flexibility needed to meet the price reductions of its competitors, keeping it on par or even ahead of the competition.

4. Operations Leaders are Effective at Supply Chain Management

Supply chain management plays a vital role in the success of a company. Operations leaders within an organization are working on designing and executing supply chain strategies that maximize productivity, minimize risk and effectively respond to fluctuations in demand. Supply chain management encompasses the shaping of supply and demand and the optimal design of products, creating a wide range of responsibilities. As a result, operations leaders have begun to treat their supply chain networks—consisting of logistics providers and contract manufacturers—as partners to align goals and effectively orchestrate collaboration across these groups.

As an operations leader, having practical approaches to supply chain management requires knowledge of manufacturing, warehousing, logistics and transportation, and customer service. Knowledge of effective supply chain management is not only beneficial to the daily duties of an operations manager but also a competitive quality to have in today’s job market. Products need to be delivered to consumers in timely, cost-effective ways that also meet demands—in other words, the right products, in the right place, at the right time!

5. Operations Leaders Do Not Manage; They Lead.

When goals are not met, leaders delve further into operations to determine where primary problem areas might lie. For operations managers that feel it is their primary responsibility to maintain a close eye on specific procedures, setting up periodic meetings with various managers and department heads allows for close monitoring without manifesting an overt presence among staff.

The essential quality of an operations manager is leadership. Strong operations leaders ensure staff is encouraged to perform to the best of their abilities by providing the tools necessary to make tasks seamless. Maintaining healthy and motivated teams is more than just applying strategies and project management tools to create an optimum output result; it involves thoughtful leadership and management of each level of human capital.

One of the most complex parts of being a good operations manager is identifying when a team member is struggling to meet performance goals and addressing sensitive issues. Employees who aren’t performing only reduce the effectiveness and efficiency of their co-employees, and identifying possible solutions as a remedy is a difference between building trust in leadership and building fear for one’s position in tactical positions. Operations leaders need to make sure their management team keeps them informed of individuals who are excelling and individuals who are falling behind in crucial competencies. The ultimate goal should be consistency. An effective operations manager should encourage top performers to perform at their peak and find ways to bring underperformers up to standards.

The online MBA specializing in Operations Management from The University of Scranton is designed to provide a rich educational experience and the analytical and problem-solving skills needed in multi-layer organizations. Gain mastery of the five qualities of an operations manager, and apply your learning toward achieving a leadership role.


  1. Yu Xiaomin; Wu Yang; Shan Wei “The Relationship between Transformational Leadership and Leader-Member Exchange in Different Culture: A Meta-Analysis,” Wireless Communications, Networking and Mobile Computing (WiCOM), 2011 7th International Conference on, On page(s): 1 – 5

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