Sunday, March 4, 2012

What Is the Strategic Role of the CSR Manager?

In their 2009 article, Mario Molteni and Matteo Pedrini “present an analysis of the organisational position, educational background and activities of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) professionals. The results suggest that CSR managers: l) have a growing relevance in the firm; 2) are predominantly existing members of the organization; 3) have principally a business management educational background; and 4) play a key role in supporting senior management and improving stakeholder engagement. It emerges that CSR managers are supporting senior management in different manners. The "CSR Manager Map" allows for the identification of four types of CSR manager: (1) Specialist; (2) Generalist; (3) Process oriented; (4) Externally oriented,” (p.26).

What’s interesting in general business debates is that there appears little doubt that corporate social responsibility is an activity that most agree is both required in today’s society and at the same time, still, sadly lacking. Yet when it comes to discussions about the function itself, the position of CSR Manager, for some reason, isn’t considered as ‘attractive’ as other positions within an organisational set-up – hence not attracting the best talent. This contradiction might be one simple reason why CSR isn’t taking hold in organisational strategy quick enough and is a reason that needs to be addressed.

The proposition that firms are responsible for the effects produced by their activities on stakeholders and society is becoming more extensive year by year and as such Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) represents a very real strategic issue for executives and academics. There is widespread acknowledgement that CSR can take a variety of forms, and significant efforts have been devoted to developing theoretical frameworks for CSR issues and practices. Currently though, this effort is surrounded by much the same ambiguity as it was 30 years ago (see Sethi. 1979); (Molteni and Pedrini, 2009, p.26).

CSR should attract the top business minds and those with a real entrepreneurial spirit, and great strategic vision. CSR has been shown to add real value to an organisation and does offer a competitive advantage, if only slightly. Research has shown that this trend will increase over time and thus organisations need to get the best talent into CSR to maximise the real benefits for their stakeholders, their community and their own organisation. 

Molteni and Pedrini highlight how the importance of the effects of CSR implementation requires that the CSR manager cover three key roles;
(1) The sensor of social and environmental changes both locally and nationally. Where the CSR manager weighs sustainability issues in decision making and aids strategy makers in thinking about their industries ongoing social and environmental trends. The manager has to collaborate with the board and CEO in strategy development (Molteni, 2006);
(2) The integrator of those engaged in the CSR implementation team. Where the CSR manager provides the cohesion between the multiple internal actors involved in CSR implementation. He or she assures that diverse members of the firm contribute to a unique strategic plan (Panwar et al., 2006). And where the implementation path requires a team composed of experts from each of the firm's functions that work in close contact with the senior management; and
(3) The expert in CSR issues and practices. Where the CSR manager needs to be an ‘expert’ in those practices which translate into expressions of responsibility towards their stakeholders and the community, (Hess, Rogovsky & Dunfee, 2002), (p.27).

When you look at the areas CSR influences, one can begin to see that this isn’t a ‘nice-to-have’ function, but a function that adds significant value at the highest level of the organisation. Molteni and Pedrini state how, “a large range of new tools and practices have emerged as direct expressions of CSR. The presentation of an exhaustive list of practices regarding the responsibility of a corporation in society appears difficult, but that a classification of the CSR manager's tasks by universally recognized categories of CSR issues is possible. (Tborne McAlister. Ferrell & Ferrell, 2005). Where these CSR issues are:
(1) The integration of CSR in strategy and decision making;
(2) The extension of corporate governance;
(3) Responsible supply chain management;
(4) Social accountability;
(5) Socially responsible investing;
(6) Philanthropy and business in the community;
(7) Environmental management;
(8) Corporate welfare, (p.27).

CSR is an area all organisations need to revisit and re-assess, not just the roles and responsibilities of the function, but the ‘talent’ they need to optimise the outputs from this valuable function.

As Molteni and Pedrini conclude “the CSR manager can play diverse roles in CSR implementation. In some cases they are directly in charge of the management of one or more CSR practices and assume the role of professional. In other cases they coordinate the activities related to CSR issues that have an impact on internal processes or on external stakeholder opinion. Although the role may vary, it is clear that his job determines the efficiency of CSR implementation. The CSR manager's role is fundamental for transforming executive strategy into operational activities, and, in other words, in establishing a new stakeholder culture in the firm,” (p.36).

So do you need to re-look at your CSR role and make it a ‘best in class’ position?


Molteni, M. and Pedrini, M. (2009). The Corporate Social Responsibility Manager Map. Corporate Ownership & Control, Vol. 6 Issue 3, p. 26-38.

Sethi, S.P. (1979). A Conceptual Framework for Environmental Analysis of Social Issues and Evaluation of Business Response Patterns. Academy of Management Review, 4(1), pp. 63.

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