The Work of First-Level Management: A Managerial Function or a Profession?
These professionals are, according to the English terminology, “first-line managers”, or “supervisors”. This refers to the first level of supervision in work organizations, those exercising a responsibility between the second-level manager (with associate status) and the technician or operator. In permanent contact with the field and in direct relationship with higher management, their functions are at the operational centre of the business. In proximity with the workers and other managers, or the owner/boss-entrepreneur of small structures and organizations, the role of the supervisors is to guarantee the smooth daily running of the workplace at the social, organizational and technical levels. This supervisory personnel is at the heart of workplace relations and the accomplishment of the work. Responsible for supervising personnel, this person assumes various activities (leader, technical, management...) and complex interface and regulatory roles, essential in work relations, between different workers. In France and in most countries, the supervisors are often neglected in social and professional current events and are rarely the focus of in-depth scientific research. A strong element of my analysis is the typology of identity postures of first-level supervisors (Gillet, 2005) built in my researches by a thematic and lexical analysis and a factorial analysis of the numerous interviews supported and processed by an information system. This typology encounters a variety of complex sociological variables and reveals the different action logics used by supervisors, and their professional dynamics, drawn from a diversity of professional activities, modalities to accomplish the work, representations of work, and training. I have constructed a typology with four distinct types of supervisors: “managerial”, “technical-organizational” or “professional”, “negotiator”, “managerial and sales”. This typology was constructed with theoretical bases: establishing the perspective using the logic of three actors (Becker, 1963; Goffmann, 1968; Alter, 2000), four types of identity in the workplace (Sainsaulieu, 1977; Sainsaulieu et al., 1995) and four types of professional identities (Dubar, 1991). At play behind the logic of the actors and the identities in the workplace is the way in which to be positioned when facing the transformations of one’s work. To analyze the work and socioprofessional transformations of first-line management, I also used the theories of the sociology of the occupations professions (Elliott, 1972; Chapoulie, 1973, 1984; Dubar, Tripier 1998…) and the theories of the sociology interactionnists which participates in the research work on professional groups (“career of an occupation” Hughes, 1996; Bucher, Strauss, 1992; Strauss, 1992). In my researches, I also analyze the training and the professionalization of this fist-line managers. I also used part of the managerial literature and finally participate in the construction of a sociology of management.