There are operations managers in every industry, and they’re all responsible for making sure that companies use resources as efficiently as possible. How they do that varies significantly from field to field, however. It’s reasonable to think of operations management as an umbrella term for many occupations that are clearly related but can be quite different.
An operations manager who specializes in retail operations, for example, may oversee inventory management, human resources management, sales promotions, and policies and procedures related to cashing out at the day’s end. A construction operations manager, on the other hand, might help develop project budgets, set project benchmarks, manage the construction schedule, and handle procurement.
At first glance, it seems like these two professionals have very little in common, but it makes sense to call them both operations managers. That’s because:
If you’re considering a career in operations management, it’s worth looking at this role in general terms and exploring what operations management entails in various industries. In this article, we look at what operations managers do by discussing the following:
Don’t confuse operations managers with office managers, the professionals who oversee administrative functions in a workplace. Operations managers keep entire companies running smoothly and find ways to boost efficiency across departments. To do that, they might:
A better question might be, ‘What aren’t operations managers responsible for?” That’s because operations managers may be involved in almost every facet of a business, from finance to IT to HR to logistics to manufacturing.
Experienced supply chain professionals often enroll in graduate programs to advance to senior roles, while professionals in other fields may enroll to transition into SCM careers. (
You'll have the business chops to transition out of SCM if you decide this field isn't for you and the knowledge and skills to work in management roles in the various areas of supply chain management. ( )
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The day-to-day duties of an operations manager vary depending on where they work, but most operations management professionals handle tasks like:
To do all this, operations managers have to know a little bit about every facet of a company. While operations managers are specialists in operations management, they’re also generalists—especially if they want to transition between industries throughout their careers. They have to have a solid understanding of finance, HR, supply chain management, organizational structuring, project management, process management, and possibly also manufacturing and distribution.
Operations managers work in business, government, technology, healthcare, retail, and many other fields. Most of the time, this is a white-collar office job with regular hours, but some operations managers (especially those in manufacturing and construction) regularly put in overtime and may spend more time at construction sites or on a factory floor than at a desk.
Regardless of the setting, operations managers spend a lot of time talking to people, whether they’re reviewing processes, drawing up budgets, or presenting their findings to executive leadership. Operations managers have to be as comfortable talking to the CEO as they are to workers on the factory room floor. They also have to enjoy working collaboratively, because this is a role that involves a somewhat extreme form of teamwork. The operations manager is, to some degree, a part of every team.
Yes and no. Almost all operations managers handle some or most of the tasks listed above. What changes from industry to industry is an operations manager’s primary focus. For instance:
Step one is getting a bachelor’s degree. Salary.com data shows that about an undergraduate degree is the highest level of education for about half of all operations managers. This suggests that a four-year degree can give you the skills and knowledge you’ll need to succeed in operations management. There may not be a single best degree pathway for aspiring operations managers, but there are plenty of operations management degrees. You might earn a:
Be aware, however, that employers in some fields prefer that operations managers have industry-specific degrees. It’s worth finding out what companies in your field of interest are looking for in candidates before you enroll in a degree program. The best way to do that is to browse job listings.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in operations management or a bachelor’s degree in business, aspiring operations managers work in a variety of roles; the advancement path for operations managers varies by industry. Some people gain experience in lower-level positions in operations, like operations specialist or operations analyst. Others work as manufacturing specialists, line supervisors, production planners, logistics analysts, sales associates, or supply chain analysts. Before advancing into an operations manager position, they might spend a few years in an assistant general manager or assistant operations manager position.
You don’t need a master’s degree to become an operations manager. Most people can pick up the problem-solving skills, communication skills, supply chain management skills, and leadership skills operations managers need on the job. That said, having a master’s degree is almost always an asset when you’re looking for work and negotiating salaries. Going to graduate school is also a unique opportunity to learn more about operations management if it’s your passion.
At the graduate level, operations managers earn degrees like the:
Some of the top colleges and universities for operations management are:
It’s hard to pin down an average operations manager salary because salaries vary significantly from industry to industry. Across fields, operations managers typically earn somewhere between $65,000 and $98,000 (which is higher than the US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ national salary average). That said, a hotel operations manager might earn $54,000 while a supply chain operations manager might earn $100,000 or more.
The reason some operations managers earn more than others likely has to do with the nature of their day-to-day duties and the required education. A construction manager might, for example, be required to have a master’s degree in engineering management, and they’ll be responsible for staff and end-product safety and monitoring regulatory compliance. An operations manager in scientific research might have to do complex data analysis and have a thorough knowledge of chemistry or medicine. Both of these operations management professionals will probably be paid more than a retail operations manager working for a smaller company who spends the majority of their time dealing with staffing issues and managing inventory flow.
Managing an entire organization’s operations or the operations of a large department is clearly a big job, and it’s hard to imagine that there could be a role that involves taking on even more responsibility. Operations manager isn’t a terminal position, however. Someone has to manage the general and operational managers. That someone is the chief operations officer (also known as the COO or chief operating officer). Like an operations manager, the COO’s overarching goals involve boosting efficiency and reducing costs. The chief operating officer approaches those goals a bit differently, however. The COO is in charge of all strategic planning related to operations, developing innovative operations models, overseeing operations management, and managing strategic assets.
Operations management can even be a stepping stone on the path to CEO. About 44 percent of Fortune 500 and S&P 500 CEOs were chief operating officers first—and plenty of those COOs were operations managers first.
Not all operations managers want to land in the c-suite, however. Many are happy staying in operations management, where the impact of their work is clear and immediate. That’s why Aditya Gupta, a consultant at Deloitte, loves being an operations manager. He wrote: “The position of operations manager is very close to the people who are actually working day night on the shop floor (say in an automobile company) or in plants (for the processing industry)… You realize that your decisions not only improve the productivity, cost-effectiveness, and timeliness of different processes, but also directly impact the lives of people working in the organization.”
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