A few production managers we surveyed added “traffic controller” to their title parenthetically. The clarification is apt, since their job is not to produce but to make sure that production runs smoothly. Production managers are primarily administrators or supervisors; they determine the allocation of labor resources, track production scheduling and costs, make any on-the-fly adjustments to the process, and coordinate any receiving of raw materials or shipping of final goods. A production manager is very busy most days. “The job is a lot of coordination. You should be able to juggle a lot of different jobs at the same time and deal with any emergencies that come up,” explained one. The variety of the work on a day-to-day basis recommends this job to people with strong work ethics, curious minds, and organizational abilities.
Many production managers are asked to implement systems of production tracking and quality control, so the first step for product managers is to become intimate with existing systems of production, past cost estimates, and company policies. “You’ve got to be careful not to make recommendations until you’ve gathered enough information to make intelligent ones,” offered a five-year production manager. Also, production managers need to gain the trust of the people who work for them. “If you’re not credible, you’re not effective,” said one production manager. A good production manager will also react to situations as they occur. “Flexibility is the key to success,” as one respondent noted. Priorities, backlogs, breakdowns, strikes-all of these can alter intricately planned scheduling, and the production manager has to be flexible enough to adjust to these situations without reducing overall efficiency.
It’s not unusual for the production manager to be located on the production floor, in order to see first-hand the running of the production process. But while production managers are involved in each stage of production, few micromanage the day-to-day details of each department’s work. A production manager spends some time working alone on reports, but most of his/her time (over 60 percent) is spent meeting with representatives from different levels of the production process. In situations where production facilities are spread over large areas, a production manager spends a significant amount of time on the telephone.
The visible, tangible results they produce are a source of satisfaction for most production managers. Many noted that it was good to be able to point to shipments going out and coming in, to quality products produced cheaply and efficiently, and to the increase companies see in their bottom line. One summarized his feelings simply by saying, “It feels great because people at first resent what you do, and when they see the results, they come around. Everybody wins.”
Production managers have no specific academic requirements, but coursework that proves helpful includes economics, accounting, finance, production and manufacturing systems, organizational behavior, psychology, sociology, and English. Production managers have to be well organized and creative-a combination of talents that many find difficult to demonstrate through ordinary work experience. Production experience can be a big plus on a resume. No licensing requirements exist, and professional organizations are significant only in areas of specialization, such as for quality control managers or human resource managers.
Production managers who decide to leave the profession search out challenges that excite both the creative and the detailed sides of their personalities. Many become entrepreneurs, efficiency experts, and strategic marketers. Their intimacy with the production process makes a transition to general administrative management easy, but relatively few take this option. It seems that the profession provides a challenge that few are in a hurry to forsake.