Principals’ Managerial Roles in Pontian District, Johor, Malaysia


The responsibilities of a principal include those of a manager and of an instructional leader. The ability to balance managerial and leadership roles significantly affects quality management practices. The following research examines the three main roles played by a principal in managing a school. The roles are based on Mintzberg’s (1973) managerial role model and Mansor’s (2006) principals’ managerial role model. They are interpersonal, informational, and decisional. The research is quantitative and employs a survey method involving 66 principals in Pontian district, Johor, Malaysia. The findings show that the level of practice in all three managerial roles is very high. Inferential analysis reveals that there is no significant difference in roles played by the principals in terms of gender, school categories, or length of service. The findings raise important issues that warrant immediate action by educational policymakers, such as the need to develop more relevant standards that prioritize interpersonal, informational, and decisional roles over non-related tasks.

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Mansor, A. , Mansor, A. and Roslan, M. (2019) Principals’ Managerial Roles in Pontian District, Johor, Malaysia. Creative Education, 10, 3131-3141. doi: 10.4236/ce.2019.1012237.

1. Introduction

Managerial practices make an important contribution to a school’s organizational excellence. Zakaria (2013) defined school management as the process of planning, organizing, leading, and controlling. Discussion on school management practices is not complete without addressing the centrality of principals and the multiple roles they play. The notion of a multiplicity of roles was best described by Md Ali (2015) , who defined a principal as a leader, an administrator, and a leader in a school. A study by Dhuey and Smith (2018) suggested that a high-quality principal could influence student learning.

The advance of technology presented a new challenge to school principals in negotiating their managerial and leadership roles. This was in addition to the existing demand of having to fulfil their responsibilities in the face of societal expectations, as Sani and Md Noor (2001) stated. To fulfil these expectations, the principal’s main role was to act as a driving force who initiated, produced, activated, and made necessary changes to the school (Mansor, 2006) .

The framework that governs the practice of Malaysian school principals’ managerial roles is the Malaysian School Principals’ Competency Standards 2006 (MSPCS). The nine domains of competencies are: a) organizational management and leadership, b) curriculum and instructional leadership, c) co-curricular programmes leadership, d) management of student development, learning, and well-being, e) financial and asset management, f) administrative leadership, g) management of the learning environment and physical facilities, h) personnel and professional development, and i) external relations and partnership development (Ayob, 2012) .

2. Literature Review

Role and Responsibilities of Principals

In discussing the managerial roles of school principals, the best guide is Mintzberg’s (1973) managerial role theory. Mintzberg’s study answered the central question of what managers did when managing their organizations. His model was based on three managerial roles: informational, interpersonal, and decisional. These were subdivided into ten sub-roles (see Table 1).

A number of studies have examined managerial roles based on Mintzberg’s managerial role theory. Muma, Smith, and Somers (2006) evaluated the roles of physician assistant department chairpersons. Kumar (2015) categorized Mintzberg’s managerial roles into five configurations: simple structure, machine

Table 1. Mintzberg’s (1973) managerial role model.

bureaucracy, professional bureaucracy, divisionalized form, and adhocracy. Altamony, Masa’deh, and Gharaibeh (2015) examined the role of academic researchers, while Gokce (2013) evaluated school principal managerial behaviours.

Despite the popular acceptance of Mintzberg’s theory, few studies have used it to examine school principals’ roles in a Malaysian school setting. Most studies have analyzed principals’ roles without the specific reference to Mintzberg’s framework. For instance, Yunus, Yunus, and Ishak (2012) examined principals’ role in teaching supervision in selected schools in the state of Perak, Lee (2007) studied Malaysian principals’ role in developing innovative and creative environments in which to govern high-quality educational institutions, and Veeriah, Chua, Siaw, and Hoque (2017) studied principals’ transformational leadership practices and school culture in primary cluster schools in the state of Selangor, Malaysia. Ishak and Ghani (2012) developed a list of best leadership practices as a guide for schools wishing to become learning organizations. In terms of gender differences, Rahman and Lim (2018) discovered that there were no distinctions between male and female principals’ leadership styles.

Mansor (2006) carried out an exploratory qualitative study using Mintzberg’s model. It featured six experienced and effective principals working at five different types of school. Mansor discovered that the principals played an additional interpersonal sub-role, which she named the guardian. She did suggest a twelfth sub-role, namely instructional, but it applied to only one principal. She concluded that principals played the interpersonal role to gather information from inside and outside the school organization. They then synthesized, shared, and disseminated the information in the informational role. Finally, they used the information in the decisional role to make decisions regarding their school’s performance.

Mansor observed that principals played four sub-roles under the interpersonal role, namely figurehead, leader, liaison, and guardian. As figureheads, principals attended social and ceremonial activities, officiating at events inside and outside school. As leaders, they motivated, inspired, and shared their vision on how to make their schools successful. In the liaison sub-role, they developed networks and maintained relationships with people outside the school to gain their support in promoting the school’s effectiveness. As guardians, they carried out their responsibilities in place of a parent, caring for their students’ well-being once the students had entered the school compound. In Malaysia, principals are liable to be called to account if they were found to have been negligent in performing this role. The main purpose of the interpersonal role was to allow principals to gather and synthesize information from inside and outside the school organization and to use the information to formulate plans that were in accordance with the school’s goals.

The importance of the principals’ interpersonal role is best described by Musah, Rahman, Tahir, Al-Hudawi, and Daud (2018) , who suggested that principals should always build good relationships with teachers to gain their trust in maintaining school effectiveness. Achmad and Hamzah’s study (2017) found that school principals used the interpersonal role in managing information and communications technology (ICT) integration in school. They concluded that the interpersonal role was used by school principals to build good rapport with other staff. Chan and Sidhu (2009) , who studied leadership characteristics of an excellent principal identified a successful principal as “being reflective, caring and a highly principled person who emphasized the human dimension of the management enterprise” (p. 114).

Principals played three sub-roles under the informational role: monitor, disseminator, and spokesperson. As monitors, principals are responsible for gathering the most current information regarding the running of the school. They obtained this information from staff, students, and parents. Principals were also disseminators, synthesizing, integrating, and communicating information within the organization using memos, letters, and email. As spokespersons, they transmitted relevant information to parents, stakeholders, the Ministry of Education, and other relevant authorities.

Under the decisional role, principals played four sub-roles: entrepreneur, disturbance handler, resource allocator, and negotiator. As entrepreneurs, principals used their creativity and innovativeness, and surveyed opportunities to plan programmes or activities that would benefit the school. Principals were disturbance handlers when they managed problems relating to teaching and learning and day-to-day activities. As resource allocators, principals allocated school resources to ensure that all funds, assets, and supplies were used effectively and efficiently. Finally, as negotiators, principals acted as mediators in dealing with any issues involving the school.

Mansor (2006) concluded that the principals she studied played at least two of these roles simultaneously when carrying out their management activities. Their jobs were hectic and cyclical in nature, and they focused mostly on meetings (planned and unplanned), carrying out and checking paperwork, attending ceremonies, problem solving, walking around the school, and supervising teachers and students. Whilst, Kairy (2018) found that while men and women identified the same qualities required for senior management roles in vocational and educational training, men focused on task-orientated leadership skills and women focused on relationship development leadership skills.

3. Conceptual Framework

Two variables were used in this study (see Figure 1). The independent variable was the background information on the principals involved, which included gender, school category, and length of service. The dependent variable incorporated the three managerial roles.

The extent to which the practice of Malaysian principals reflected the three managerial roles encapsulated in Mansor’s (2006) managerial role model remained unclear, and there was a question as to whether they played their roles differently within the three categories of gender, school category (grade A schools

Figure 1. Conceptual framework.

with enrolments bigger than grade B schools), and experience (represented as length of service). The goals of this study were therefore to identify a) the level of managerial roles (interpersonal, informational, and decisional) as practised among principals and b) the difference level in the roles played by the principals based on gender, school category, and length of service.

4. Methods

This study employed a quantitative approach using a survey design. The questionnaire consisted of 30 items based on the principals’ three roles outlined by Mintzberg (1973) and Mansor (2006) . The respondents were asked to respond according to a five-point Likert scale: 1 = never, 2 = rarely, 3 = sometimes, 4 = often, and 5 = always.

A simple random sample technique was used and 66 principals were selected among the total population of 82 principals in Pontian district, Johor. The sample size was based on Krejcie and Morgan (1970) . Table 2 shows the interpretation of mean scores used in the research.

Source: Educational planning and research division, ministry of education malaysia, (2006).

A Cronbach’s alpha test was used to measure instrument reliability. The Cronbach’s alpha coefficient was above 0.65. This was in keeping with the view of scholars such as Konteng (2005) , Pallant (2001) , Sekaran (1992) , and Siti Rahayah (2003) , who have stated that a value above 0.80 was considered good but that a value between 0.60 and 0.80 was also acceptable. The coefficient value for all items was found to be very high (0.946). Table 2 shows the coefficient value for each construct.

5. Results

The respondents were 66 primary school principals from the district of Pontian, Johor, Malaysia. The sample size was based on Krejcie and Morgan (1970) . Table 3 presents the respondents’ demographic backgrounds.

Table 2. Coefficient value of instrument.

Table 3. Demographic distribution of respondents.

5.1. Principals’ Managerial Roles

Table 4 shows the average mean score for the principals’ managerial roles based on the three roles. The results show that the level of practice in Pontian district is very high, with an average mean score of 4.67. Interpersonal roles score the highest (4.73), followed by informational (4.67), and decisional (4.60) roles.

5.2. Principals’ Managerial Roles Based on Gender and School Categories

This section presents results for the three categories of managerial roles (interpersonal, informational, and decisional) based on respondents’ gender and school categories (grades A and B).

5.2.1. Interpersonal Roles

Table 5 shows the results of an independent t-test on the difference in principals’ interpersonal roles practices based on gender and school grades. In terms of gender, the analyzed data, t(64) = 0.392, sig. = 0.696 (p > 0.05), show that there is no significant difference in principals’ interpersonal roles practices. Whereas

Table 4. Overall mean for level of practices of principals’ managerial roles.

Table 5. Principals’ interpersonal roles based on gender and school categories.

Significant at p < 0.05 level.

in terms of school grades, t-test results indicate that again there is no significant difference: t(64) = 0.201, sig. = 0.842 (p > 0.05).

5.2.2. Informational Roles

Table 6 indicates that there is no significant difference in terms of gender, t(64) = 0.603, sig. = 0.548 (p > 0.05), and school categories, t(64) = 0.017, sig. = 0.986 (p > 0.05) in informational roles.

5.2.3. Decisional Roles

Table 7 indicates that there is no significant difference in terms of decisional roles practices based on gender, t(64) = 0.158, sig. = 0.875 (p > 0.05) and school categories, t(64) = 0.481, sig. = 0.632 (p > 0.05).

5.2.4. Principals’ Managerial Roles Based on Length of Service

A one-way ANOVA test was used to determine differences in the principals’ managerial roles based on their length of service. As Table 8 shows, there is no significant difference: F = 1.617, sig. = 0.194 (p > 0.05).

6. Discussion

The objectives of this study was to identify a) the level of managerial roles (interpersonal, informational, and decisional) as practised among principals and b) the difference level in the roles played by the principals based on gender, school category, and length of service.

Regarding the level of managerial roles, this study found that the level of practices was very high. This means that the managerial roles practised by school principals in Pontian district conform to Mintzberg’s (1973) model. The findings support those of previous research by Mansor (2006) , Mace (2013) and Achmad and Hamzah (2017) . There is a high level of involvement in interpersonal, informational, and decisional roles.

Table 6. Principals’ informational roles based on gender and school categories.

Significant at p < 0.05 level.

Table 7. Principals’ decisional roles based on gender and school categories.

Significant at p < 0.05 level.

One Way Anova

Table 8. One-way ANOVA analyses for principals’ managerial roles based on length of service.

Significant at p < 0.05 level.

That the interpersonal role is the most highly practised shows the preference of the principals. This is in keeping with Chan and Sidhu (2009) , who identified a successful principal as “being reflective, caring and a highly principled person who emphasized the human dimension of the management enterprise” (p. 114). Their preference in interpresonal roles was understandable and as highlighted by previous studies, in managing their schools, they need to build relationships with teachers in order to gain their tust in maintaining school effectiveness (Musah et al., 2018) and to manage ICT integration (Achmad & Hamzah, 2017) .

There is no significant correlation between managerial roles and the three demographic factors of gender, school grades, and length of service. This is in line with findings by Rahman and Lim (2018) and Kairys (2018) . In Kairy’s study, although there is no difference between gender in terms of skills required for managerial roles, women managers ranked interpersonal skills as the most important. Thus, in terms of gender, Malaysian women principals are as effective as their male counterparts in carrying out their managerial roles.

7. Conclusion

This research shows that principals in Pontian, Johor practise their managerial roles in conformance with Mintzberg’s theory. There is no relationship between these roles and demographic factors such as gender, school grades, and length of service. This research underscores the centrality of principals’ roles in ensuring the effectiveness of school organization. Principals need to develop their professional expertise continually to enhance their roles. It is recommended that policymakers assist in this task through the more focused development of principals’ professional and context-relevant leadership qualities. Further research involving bigger samples from other states in Malaysia is necessary to give more concrete empirical information on principals’ managerial roles. Also recommended would be a qualitative study line of inquiry to explore instructional roles practiced by selected successful school principals.


This research was partially supported by grant received from the Faculty of Education, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia code GGP-2018-008 and PP-FPEND-2019.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest regarding the publication of this paper.


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