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What does an operations manager do?
An operations manager is sometimes also known as a chief operating officer or head of operations. They have a senior role within an organisation and oversee all day-to-day operations in a company or department. They are responsible for keeping businesses running smoothly by ensuring compliance with company policies and procedures.
There are numerous industries and sectors where operations managers can work, such as manufacturing, retail, healthcare, hospitality, construction, etc. They can specialise in various aspects of operations management, e.g. group, field or production. Individuals may also have a dual role, e.g. operations management and human resources. Therefore, what operations managers do will depend on where they work and their specialisms.
An operations manager’s main aim is to ensure a company achieves the highest level of productivity whilst maintaining efficiency, cost, safety and quality. They will plan, coordinate, monitor, analyse and improve production processes. They also have an important role in motivating and retaining staff. Overall, being an operations manager is about keeping businesses profitable and on the right side of the law.
Operations managers will carry out many tasks, including researching, developing strategies, improving production processes, recruiting and training staff, conducting audits, managing quality assurance systems, enforcing company policies/procedures, budgeting, financial forecasting, etc. The role will also encompass administrative and computer work, e.g. completing reports and conducting analyses.
Operations managers will work with many people, including employees, their team, directors, other managers and different internal departments, e.g. health and safety, quality control, finance, human resources and others (although they may carry out some of these functions). They will also liaise with external stakeholders, such as suppliers, customers, clients, contractors, regulators, etc. Their colleagues and who they liaise with externally will depend on their industry and employer.
Operations managers can work in various settings, from offices, warehouses and factory floors to hospitals and construction sites. They can work for different-sized companies (private, public or voluntary), from large national manufacturers and logistics companies to small/medium housing associations, charities and construction firms. There may be self-employed/freelance opportunities and temporary roles with recruitment agencies, but most tend to be employed.
An operations manager’s responsibilities will depend on many factors, including who they work for, the type of operations they specialise in and the industry in which they work.
Some examples of their day-to-day duties may include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Helping the company to remain legally compliant.
- Working out operations strategies to improve efficiency and productivity.
- Researching relevant laws, technologies, methods and industry trends.
- Monitoring, analysing, evaluating, and improving production systems/processes and workflow.
- Recruiting staff and negotiating contracts (sometimes working with HR).
- Training and supervising staff.
- Preparing and carrying out audits and developing action plans.
- Assisting with the creation and implementation of company policies and procedures.
- Ensuring company policies and procedures are being complied with, e.g. health and safety, and enforcing them where needed.
- Managing quality assurance systems.
- Reacting positively to change by careful planning, handling and controlling.
- Managing budgets and financial forecasting.
- Writing and reading reports.
- Liaising with various internal and external stakeholders, including holding meetings.
An operations manager can expect to work 37–40 hours a week, but they can do more or fewer hours depending on the requirements of their role. Monday–Friday, 8 hours a day, is typical for most jobs, e.g. 9–5. Some may have to work unsociable hours, e.g. evenings, weekends and bank holidays.
Most jobs are permanent and full-time. However, many employers are allowing employees to work flexibly, i.e. part-time, hybrid and remote. There may also be temporary opportunities, fixed-term contracts or freelance roles.
Operations managers may need to travel to meetings or to attend events, which can lengthen the working day. They may also be field-based and travel to various sites locally, regionally or nationally. There may also be opportunities to work overseas, depending on the company.
What to expect
There are many positives to being an operations manager, especially if an individual is confident and assertive, and comfortable making difficult decisions. Being an operations manager and overseeing company operations can be rewarding and fulfilling. They play an integral role in making businesses successful and profitable by ensuring production processes run smoothly. They can go home at the end of the working day knowing their job makes a difference.
Operations managers can work in almost any industry. There are numerous roles available across the UK, and there is potential for career progression. The salary is also competitive, especially with more experience. Some can earn up to £100,000 if they are in London. There may also be additional benefits and bonuses on top of decent salaries.
Boredom will never be a problem for operations managers, as their work is fast-paced and varied. There are also plenty of opportunities to specialise, so if an individual finds a specific area and industry they are interested in, they will enjoy their work.
Even though there are positives to being an operations manager, there are challenges and cons, e.g.:
- Most roles require experience – as operations managers have a significant amount of responsibility, most employers will require individuals to have relevant experience. Therefore, it can be hard to get into the role. Trainee/graduate/assistant jobs are available, but it can take many years to become a fully-fledged operations manager.
- Difficult employees – some employees can be challenging to deal with, and operations managers need to know how to address personnel issues to succeed in this role. They will need to motivate, coach and mentor workers to get the best possible productivity.
- Fast-paced and demanding – being an operations manager can be stressful at times, as they have a high level of responsibility. They have high-pressured positions and must be able to juggle different demands. Things do not always go according to plan, and operations managers must find solutions quickly.
- Unsociable/long working hours – some operations managers may work unsociable/long hours. As it is a position with a lot of responsibility, individuals will need to be flexible to meet the demands of the role.
Every career choice has pros and cons, and individuals must know what to expect before deciding whether it is for them. Juggling different demands can be challenging and stressful, and individuals must have relevant experience. It is fast-paced, and the hours can be unsociable and long. However, there are many positives too, and those who become operations managers enjoy their work, as they are an integral part of business profitability and success.
When considering whether to be an operations manager and the type of role, individuals should look at the pros and cons. They should also ensure they have the right personal qualities to carry out the role and responsibilities required.
Personal qualities needed to be an operations manager
Some of the personal qualities an operations manager requires will include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Business and financial acumen.
- Knowledge of relevant laws and latest trends.
- Knowledge of maths, HR, finance and health and safety.
- Knowledge of management systems and process planning.
- Confident, assertive, motivated, determined and process-driven.
- Diplomatic, approachable, understanding, inclusive and with initiative.
- Honest, trustworthy, reliable, ethical and professional.
- Excellent communication skills, both verbal and written.
- Customer service skills.
- Negotiating and influencing skills.
- Planning skills.
- Project management skills.
- Decision-making skills.
- Leadership skills.
- Business management skills.
- Time management and organisational skills.
- Problem-solving skills.
- Active listening skills.
- Interpersonal skills.
- Being thorough, accurate and having attention to detail.
- The ability to be flexible and adapt to change.
- The ability to delegate.
- The ability to work to tight deadlines and meet targets/goals.
- The ability to take responsibility.
- The ability to lead and manage people.
- The ability to develop relationships and work with other departments to meet goals.
- The ability to work well under pressure and remain confident and calm in stressful situations.
- The ability to work well with others in a team and alone using their own initiative.
- The ability to use IT equipment, e.g. computers and hand-held devices, and relevant software packages.
There are many routes to becoming an operations manager. Individuals could go to university or college, enrol on a private training course or do an apprenticeship. They could also do work experience to help them enter the role.
An individual does not need a degree to become an operations manager. However, having one can help individuals stand out from the crowd. It is becoming harder to enter the profession without a degree.
The degree topic needed will depend on the type of operations management an individual wants to work in and the industry.
Some examples of degree topics that may be helpful are as follows (this list is not exhaustive):
- Business administration or management.
- Supply chain management.
- Project management.
- Finance or financial studies (including budgeting).
Any courses relating to business are likely to be beneficial. Having a degree in other subjects may also help. For example, if an individual wants to be an operations manager in food manufacturing or construction, or work in technology, having a degree in these subjects or a relevant one may increase their chances of success.
A postgraduate degree, such as a master’s, may be required by some employers. There is an MA in business administration, and some universities offer an MSc in operations management.
The entry requirements will depend on each university, and individuals should check before applying. They will typically need two/three good A Levels for an undergraduate degree or a certain number of UCAS points to get into university. Postgraduate degrees usually require a 2:1 or 2:2 in a relevant undergraduate degree or a degree in another subject and appropriate experience. Some institutions also invite applicants for an interview as part of the selection process.
Undertaking a college course can help individuals become operations managers. Some companies will ask individuals to have at least A Levels or a Diploma.
Some examples of courses that may be useful are as follows (this list is not exhaustive):
- Level 2 Diploma in Business and Management.
- Level 2/3 Diploma in Business or Business Administration.
- Level 3 Diploma in Management.
- Level 3 Diploma in Project Management.
- Level 3 Diploma in Leadership and Management.
- A Level in Business Studies.
- T Level in Business.
- T Level in Management & Administration.
Individuals usually need:
- Level 2 – two or more GCSEs grades 9 to 3 (A* to D) or equivalent.
- Level 3/A Levels – five GCSEs grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) or equivalent, including English, maths and science.
- T Levels – four or five GCSEs grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) or equivalent, including English and maths.
Private training companies and business schools may also offer specific operations management courses, e.g. CILT Level 3 Certificate in Operations Management and the ILM Level 5 Diploma for Operational Leaders & Managers. It may also be worth enrolling on low-cost online short courses to see if a career in operations management would be of interest. That way, if it is not, it will save an individual a lot of time and trouble.
Individuals are not guaranteed success with courses and qualifications. However, it will demonstrate to employers and companies that they are keen on the job and may give individuals a competitive edge. Always check the entry requirements before applying.
There may be an apprenticeship route to help individuals become operations managers, e.g. Level 5 Operations or Departmental Manager. Employers will typically decide the entry requirements. However, individuals usually need five GCSEs, grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), including English and maths, or equivalent.
Opportunities are found on Government’s Apprenticeships, Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education and Indeed.
Having a degree is not always mandatory. Some employers may decide to take on individuals as interns and train them as operations managers if they have the necessary personal qualities and enthusiasm for the role. It would help individuals to have previous experience in business or finance. However, the requirements will depend on each employer.
Many individuals start their careers working in production or service while studying part-time. There may be opportunities to work as a trainee operations manager and shadow/help experienced operations managers. They may also be able to start as an assistant or analyst in operations and move into a management role.
Working in any areas where operations managers will be involved is useful. Individuals could apply for jobs in quality control, project management, finance, human resources (HR) or health & safety. Volunteering can also help people gain valuable experience. Individuals could volunteer with charities and help them in these areas. There is information on volunteering and local opportunities on Do-IT, NCVO and Volunteering Matters.
Individuals will need relevant work experience for higher-paying roles, as there is a lot of responsibility and competition.
Learning does not stop with experience or once someone becomes qualified. Attending relevant training courses and having additional certifications can help individuals enter the profession, enhance their employability and give them a competitive edge. Many colleges and accredited private training companies can provide relevant training courses.
Some examples of courses that may be useful for individuals looking at a career in operations management include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Health and safety for managers.
- Employment law.
- Human resources training.
- Level 3 management.
- Equality and diversity.
- Disability awareness.
- Conflict management.
- COVID-19 awareness.
- Sexual harassment in the workplace.
- Risk assessment.
- Data protection and the GDPR.
- Workplace first aid.
- Complaints handling.
- Customer service skills.
- Time management skills.
- Team leading.
- Resilience training.
- Anti-bribery awareness.
Additional IT skills, e.g. in office packages and other software, and training in business development and project management tools can also be beneficial. It is also advisable to have knowledge and experience in management systems, such as ISO 9001.
Professional bodies and associations relevant to the industry that individuals want to work in and general management institutes may also advise on reputable training courses, e.g. the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) and the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT). Some also provide memberships, events and support to help individuals become operations managers and give those already in the profession the means to continue their professional development.
The type of training required will depend on who an individual works for and their specialisms. It is worth looking at several job advertisements to identify the training needed for roles. Jobs are on websites such as GOV.UK find a job service, Indeed, LinkedIn, Glassdoor and many other sites. Also, look at recruitment agencies and company websites for operations management roles.
More relevant training and competence (skills, experience and knowledge) will open up more opportunities for individuals. Refresher training is also advisable as it keeps their knowledge and skills up to date.
Criminal records checks
Some operations managers may need to undergo a criminal record check, e.g. those working with or having contact with children or vulnerable people. A criminal record, caution, warning or conviction may put off prospective employers. However, employers should account for the seriousness of the crime, when it occurred and its relevance to the role.
The organisation that holds criminal records will depend on the country within the UK, for example:
- England and Wales – Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).
- Northern Ireland – AccessNI.
- Scotland – Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) scheme.
Most operations managers will need to drive as part of their role, especially if they are field-based. Therefore, they should have a full driving licence, preferably with no points.
Where do operations managers work?
Operations managers can work for private, public or voluntary organisations of all sizes and in many industries/sectors.
Such as (this list is not exhaustive):
- Healthcare, e.g. the NHS.
- Financial services.
- Retail and wholesale.
- Aerospace and defence.
- Transport and logistics.
- Information technology.
- Advertising and marketing.
- Energy and utilities.
- Pharmaceutical and biotechnology.
They can also be self-employed, freelance or work for recruitment agencies.
Operations managers can work in a variety of establishments, such as (this list is not exhaustive):
- Factories/manufacturing facilities.
- Contact/call centres.
- Construction sites.
- Education settings, e.g. universities, colleges and schools.
- Healthcare settings, e.g. hospitals, hospices and care homes.
- Their own homes, e.g. hybrid working.
Some operations managers may also travel during their working day, which may require some overnight stays. More experienced operations managers may have opportunities to work overseas for international companies.
How much do operations managers earn?
An operations manager’s salary will depend on their role, qualifications, experience, geographical location, employer, working hours, contract and specialist area.
Some examples of salaries include the following (these figures are only a guide):
- An entry-level operations manager (less than 1 year experience) – £29,135 a year.
- An early career operations manager (1-4 years of experience) – £31,487 a year.
- A mid-career operations manager (5-9 years of experience) – £36,971 a year.
- An experienced operations manager (10-19 years of experience) – £40,514 a year.
- An operations manager in their late career (20 years and higher) – £43,520 a year.
- The average salary for an operations manager – £35,745 a year.
Some operations managers can earn more than £50,000 and up to £100,000 in London, with more seniority and experience, especially if working in larger organisations. In addition to a salary, they may also receive bonuses and other benefits.
Self-employed operations managers will need to factor in various expenses when considering the salary, e.g. vehicle, tax, National Insurance, travel, other insurances (business/liability/vehicle), equipment, qualifications and training, etc.
As an apprentice, the salary will depend on age and how long they have been in their apprenticeship. Apprentices must earn at least the current National Minimum Wage (NMW). Some employers will pay more than this. However, it will depend on the organisation and role on offer.
Types of operations management to specialise in
There are different types of operations manager roles in which individuals can specialise.
Some examples include the following (this list is not exhaustive):
- Regional (area or territory) operations managers – will be responsible for various sites and employees within a region or nationally. They typically have to travel more to visit different sites and will usually have a company vehicle. They are sometimes also known as field-based operations managers.
- Shift operations managers – will manage and lead teams on shifts, usually in manufacturing or transport. They will usually hand over to other shift operations managers at the end of their working day.
- Group operations managers – will look after multiple sites owned by the company, some of which may be based overseas.
- Digital operations managers – will manage and lead teams that look after the efficiency, stability and security of digital platforms. It requires individuals to have extensive technical expertise.
- Production operations managers – work in different production environments and manage associated processes. They will be responsible for the team, as well as product standards.
As stated earlier, there are many specialist industries, sectors, products and services in which operations managers can specialise. Some other roles may include marketing, construction, childcare, retail, sales and healthcare operations managers. They can also combine the job with other areas, such as human resources, facilities and health and safety. The specialisms available will depend on where an individual decides to work. Looking through various job sites will give individuals an idea of the different types of roles available, as they are numerous.
All specialist roles will require differing knowledge, skills, experience and qualities. All operations managers must be excellent leaders and managers to get the most out of their staff. They will also need the confidence and abilities to oversee day-to-day operations and handle a lot of responsibility and pressure. Any additional areas of expertise will depend on what a company is looking for and an individual’s specialist areas. Further qualifications and training may be necessary for specialised roles.
If operations managers do not carry out their roles correctly, it could result in poor company culture, leading to lower productivity, efficiency and quality and unsafe practices. If this happens, companies can lose money. It can also negatively impact their reputation, especially if there is an increase in customer complaints or a serious accident on site. Therefore, whatever the type of role, operations managers must have the necessary competence to carry out the work professionally and safely. They should also know the limits of their competency, i.e. asking for help when something is beyond their expertise.
Products, services, laws, standards, trends, strategies and technologies are regularly changing. Therefore, operations managers must keep abreast with the latest developments and changes to comply with the law and ensure they carry out their roles effectively and correctly. Continuing professional development (CPD) gives operations managers the knowledge and skills to keep up to date with these changes, understand their responsibilities, and progress in their careers.
Joining a professional body and association can help prospective and current operations managers enhance their skills and overall career. They may offer different levels of membership, CPD, support and access to industry contacts and networking events.
There is ample opportunity for career progression for operations managers. With more qualifications and experience, they can become a senior operations manager, head of operations or an operations director. They can also decide to specialise in specific industries or departments or move from a small organisation to a larger one. Alternatively, they may become self-employed, freelance or work for agencies.
Knowledge, skills and experience gained from being an operations manager can also lead to a career in different areas. For example, they could move into quality assurance, business development, health and safety or supply chain management roles. There may also be opportunities in education to train future operations managers.
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