What does an Operations Manager do?

Carol Francois

An operations manager’s daily job depends a lot on the sector in which he or she works, but in most cases there are four main tasks: supervising staff, project management, working with clients, and solving problems. Most people in this profession work in storefront or retail settings managing shops and the flow of commerce from day to day and week to week. Some managers work as consultants, which means that they take clients on for a shorter amount of time and focus on advising owners and staff on ways to become more efficient. The things that make up a “typical” workday can vary a lot depending on whether the setting is a small shop in the mall or a huge chain store, but in terms of broad work categories a lot is the same across the board.

Operations managers often work in retail.
Operations managers often work in retail.

Supervisory Duties

Operations managers are required to supervise or manage teams of staff, including cashiers, stock crews, and customer service representatives. The number of individuals and the breadth of areas they are responsible for vary by industry For example, an operations manager for a large grocery store may be responsible for the produce, grocery, and baked goods department. The same type of manager in a small boutique shop may be responsible for the daily operation and management of the whole store.

Team-building skills are important for operations managers.
Team-building skills are important for operations managers.

Regardless the setting, the main idea is for there to be a single person who has oversight over things that other staff is doing. The manager is usually the one to look at the ways different people and, sometimes, store divisions interact with each other, and he or she is often able to reassign or shift things around as needed to promote efficiency. The manager is typically seen as the head “boss,” though he or she almost always reports to owners or other managers. This person is usually the most senior employee present each day, but in most cases there are more important people and executives higher up in corporate offices or other settings.

Operations managers may train new employees.
Operations managers may train new employees.

Project Management

These professionals are often responsible for project planning, creating time lines, and organizing regular meetings. Goal setting is often an important part of this work, particularly where sales targets are concerned. Operations managers are often looking for ways to not just keep things running smoothly, but also to improve outputs and efficiencies, work that requires change and sometimes a shifting of priorities and resources. Projects can include physical renovations to the space, changes of merchandise, or the launching of new products. The managers are usually the ones working with contractors, employees, and funding officers and keeping the team on track.

Operations managers may be in charge of a commercial mall.
Operations managers may be in charge of a commercial mall.

Negotiating Client Needs

Interacting with clients is a big part of the job in most places, too, and in some cases client needs and requests actually drive the bulk of the work. Many things about running a business, from profits to stock prices, trace their way back to customer satisfaction, sales, and spending. Managers often look closely at consumer studies and polls. In large settings this part of the job can be somewhat abstract, but in smaller companies it often involves actually interacting with people on the sales floor to answer questions and offer guidance, particularly during busy times. The manager is often seen as something of a face for the larger business in these situations.

Conflict Resolution

The operations manager may also be called to solve problems or resolve debates that arise amongst staff or with customers. This person usually has the final say in questions of pricing, returns, and discounts, and may also have firing or hiring capabilities.

Considerations for Consultants

Most professionals work for the store or company they directly advise. They may be called to report to upper management every once in awhile, but for the most part they spend their days in the shop to which they are assigned. The biggest exception to this rule comes where consultants are concerned. Operations management consultants are typically experts in certain sectors of business who are called on a contract basis to analyze and make recommendations for individual owners. This sort of manager may travel around quite a bit, and may work for more than one company at a time.

Required Education

University education is not always required, but it is almost universally preferred. Degrees in business, communications, and statistics are among the most valued. Experience is also important, and depending on the setting it may be possible to advance without formal education if a candidate can prove that he or she already has the required skills.

Helpful Attributes

Personality also matters. The ability to work well with a wide range of people, resolve problems quickly, and share information and experience with staff are critical to success in most cases. Many operations managers find that additional courses in team building, effective communication, and mentoring can be helpful as well. The dynamic of any team is based on the behavior of the team leader, which makes this a very important job.

Operations managers have to be on the lookout for potential shoplifters.
Operations managers have to be on the lookout for potential shoplifters.

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Discussion Comments


"Youth and energy" are no compensation for experience and wisdom. I work in an industry and for a company where many employees have been with the company for 20 or more years, where the average age (in our company) is somewhere in the late 40s.

The people being promoted and who are asked to take on the challenging assignments are those with experience, regardless of their degree status. So much for the game addicts! "Play with the kids - work with the men."


@gameaddicted: While I agree with what you are saying (I work retail as well and have seen what you are talking about), I think it’s important to stress that having a college degree will almost certainly give you the edge over your competition. I have a friend who skipped out on college thinking he could work up to the corporate ladder from the very bottom, and he is still in the same position he’s been in for the past 5 years.

The moral of the story: If you want to work in the cooperate world, *get a degree.* Some people will be able to make it without one, but you are taking a gamble if you think that person is you.


There are several big box companies out there that will allow you to work up the ladder without a degree. This is becoming more and more common as the past few generations have begun to turn to retail as their first jobs rather than fast food or food service industry jobs.

Beware that people that are young and capable or full of energy can most certainly beat out the highly educated Retail Management graduate nowadays. This isn’t to say it will happen every time and in every situation, but I have seen it happen.

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