“An office manager is responsible for the smooth operation of the day-to-day business of the company,” one manager wrote us, adding the caveat: “No excuses accepted.” A good office manager makes it possible for other people to function efficiently. Office managers work closely with the company partners, owner, or president to meet their company’s staffing, equipment, and organizational needs. Duties may include pricing products from vendors, interviewing job applicants, managing payroll, and reimbursing members of the firm for out-of-pocket business expenses. An office manager must exercise sound judgment day in and day out, and any lapse can result in termination. This may be the reason that office managers generally take their jobs so seriously. Pressure can be significant, particularly for those in charge of large offices. Office managers who succeed have confidence, common sense, loyalty, and the ability to motivate others. Survey respondents who were part-time office managers added the importance of being able to work with others on a team or in pairs to coordinate smooth operations.
Although it is common to think that an office manager should be an angel of tact and discretion, existing on the favorable review of his superiors, people in the profession disagreed. Many office managers said their jobs require them to be somewhat more firm than gentle when projects have to be completed, equipment needs to be serviced, or difficulties with staffing spring up. “You’ve got to stand up for what you know are the right decisions for the company, even if the boss disagrees. You live on your reputation, and when you have to do your job to someone else’s commands, you have to voice your opinion,” said one fifteen-year manager. He was supported by a number of others. “Tough,” “precise,” and “go-getting” were also words that popped up many times on our surveys.
The greatest satisfaction that office managers mentioned concerned their productivity. Office managers can see immediate results from their decisions; they can control their environment (within the boundaries imposed by their employer). This ability to determine one’s own fate cuts both ways, however. Office managers have a very high turnover rate, due to firing, job mobility, and retirement. They are often the first one to be let go when conflicts arise between producers and managers, and they are frequently blamed for office problems that are not of their own making. Office management provides a very structured environment with clearly defined duties for those with financial, organizational, and interpersonal skills. One needs to have a high tolerance for risk and not be too concerned with job security.
Office managers are not required to have any specific degree, but most employers value a college degree and organizational, planning, and communication skills. Suggested courses include organizational behavior, psychology, sociology, finance, and English. Employers at smaller firms also recommend accounting studies, as payroll issues and some financial oversight may be part of the job.
Office managers often use their on-the-job accounting skills to become bookkeepers, bank assistants, and clerks. Some use their pricing experience to become professional purchasing agents, but these opportunities are limited, particularly for those in rural locations. Few office managers return to school for further degrees, although a small number go back to school to study library science.