Accueil » 65-1 ( 2010) » Les transformations socioprofessionnelles de l’encadrement de premier niveau : une comparaison France-Québec

Les transformations socioprofessionnelles de l’encadrement de premier niveau : une comparaison France-Québec

Anne Gillet


Nous comparons la fonction d’encadrement de premier niveau en France et au Québec. Nommés en France « agents de maîtrise » et « contremaîtres », ils sont, selon la terminologie québécoise, des superviseurs, des contremaîtres ou des gestionnaires de premier niveau, des first-line managers ou middle management en langue anglaise. Au premier niveau d’encadrement, ils exercent une responsabilité hiérarchique auprès des techniciens supérieurs et des opérateurs. Nous avons analysé cette fonction dans deux entreprises similaires de transports urbains de voyageurs (Paris, Montréal). Nous avons comparé son statut, ses rôles complexes de régulation, ses compétences, ses identités dans le travail et ses évolutions. Notre typologie des postures identitaires au travail des contremaîtres-agents de maîtrise en France s’applique en partie au Québec, soulignant donc l’hétérogénéité de ce groupe professionnel dans ces deux contextes nationaux.

Mots-clés : comparaisons internationales, entreprises, encadrement, contremaîtres, identités au travail


The Socioprofessional Transformations of First-Level Management: A France-Quebec Comparison

This paper relates the results of a post-doctoral research study with as its objective, the function of the supervisory framework of first-line management in France and in Quebec. What in France are referred to as “agents de maîtrise” or “maîtrises” (also “contremaîtres” in the industrial sector), the persons who exercise this “maîtrise” function are, according to Quebecois terminology superviseurs, contremaîtres or gestionnaires de premier niveau, and in the English language, first-line managers or supervisors. This refers to the first level of supervision in work organizations, those exercising a responsibility between the second-level manager (with associate status) and the technician or operator.

In permanent contact with the field and in direct relationship with higher management, their functions are at the operational centre of the business. In proximity with the workers, employees and managers, or the owner/boss-entrepreneur of small structures and organizations, the role of the supervisors is to guarantee the smooth daily running of the workplace at the social, organizational and technical levels. This supervisory personnel is at the heart of workplace relations and the accomplishment of the work: at the place where operating personnel and second-level managerial staff come together and are sometimes in confrontation. Responsible for supervising personnel, this person assumes various activities (leader, technical, management...) and complex interface and regulatory roles, essential in work relations, between different actors such as the operating personnel, second-level managers, the department heads, the unions. In France and in most countries, the supervisors are often neglected in social and professional current events. They have rarely been the focus of in-depth scientific research. No France-Quebec comparison has been made of this supervisory role. Subsequent to having analyzed this function and its evolution in France, it appeared necessary for us to analyze it from an international comparative perspective.

We carried out a comparative France-Quebec research study in the framework of first-line management, by questioning its status, its roles, its professional identities and its evolution in different corporate contexts. In Quebec as in France, this supervisory personnel is undergoing important transformations in its work. We did research in France and in Quebec, with in-depth field surveys in two comparative enterprises in the field of the public urban transportation of travellers (in Paris and Montreal). In each enterprise, we benefited from a wide-range access to the field and were able to develop a “research-action” in a partnership framework. In the end, we analyzed an important corpus of data (quantitative and qualitative), gathered from all sectors of the enterprises and from many salaried employees.

In a comparative perspective, our research consisted in analyzing the problematic identities of this function, among other things. Our first hypothesis is that the fundamental regulatory roles at this level of supervision are similar in France and in Quebec. Our second hypothesis is that the socioprofessional and identity configurations are slightly different in this context. In analyzing these two enterprises, we are comparing several professional dimensions of this first level of management: their status, their activities and their roles, their skills (managerial, technical...), their hierarchical positioning, the evolution of their work. We analyze the ways in which this personnel reacts and adapts to ongoing transformations. We demonstrate that the requested changes correspond not only to evolutions of their roles, their skills and their profiles, but in fact require identity transformations in their work.

A strong element of our analysis is the usage, as a comparative tool, of the typology of identity postures of first-level supervisors, built in our prior research (Gillet, 2005) by a thematic and lexical analysis, and a factorial analysis of the numerous interviews, supported and processed by an information system. This typology reveals the different action logic used by supervisors, drawn from a diversity of professional activities, modalities to accomplish the work and representations of the work. It encounters a variety of complex sociological variables and demonstrates the adaptation and innovation modes that this supervisory level personnel develops when facing the socioprofessional transformations it knows. The description of each type is, in fact, an “ideal-type” (Weber, 1922) never present in a pure state. Our approach favours working on the “configurations” (Elias, 1993) underlining the systemic coherences of types (Schnapper, 1999). We have thus constructed a typology (Schnapper, 1999) with four distinct types of supervisors: “managerial”, “technical-organizational”, “negotiation”, “managerial and sales”. This typology was constructed with theoretical links: establishing the perspective using the logic of three actors (Becker, 1963; Goffmann, 1968; Alter, 2000), four types of identity in the workplace (Sainsaulieu, 1977; Sainsaulieu et al., 1995) and four types of professional identities (Dubar, 1991). At play behind the logic of the actors and the identities in the workplace is the way in which to be positioned when facing the transformations of one’s work. We compare our typology of the logic of identities of supervisors constructed in France with the identity configurations of the supervisors in Quebec.

Our analyses validate our hypotheses. We have demonstrated that the typology of identity postures of the supervisors in France can be applied in part to Quebec in this business, thereby underlining the heterogeneity of this professional group in these two national contexts.

Keywords: international comparisons, companies, management, first-line managers, work identities


Las transformaciones socio-profesionales de la supervisión de primer nivel: comparación Francia-Quebec

Se compara la función de supervisión de primer nivel en Francia y en Quebec. Llamados en Francia “agentes de maestría” y “capataces”, ellos son según la terminología quebequense, los supervisores, capataces o directivos de primer nivel y “first-line managers” (directivos de primera línea) o “middle management” (directivos de mando medio) en lengua inglesa. Al primer nivel de supervisión ellos ejercen una responsabilidad jerárquica frente a los técnicos superiores y operadores. Hemos analizado esta función en dos empresas similares de transporte urbano de pasajeros (Paris, Montreal). Hemos comparado su estatuto, la complejidad de su rol de regulación, sus competencias, sus identidades en el trabajo y sus evoluciones. Nuestra tipología de las posturas identitarias en el trabajo en el caso de los capataces - agentes de maestría en Francia se aplican en parte a la situación en Quebec; lo que hace resaltar la heterogeneidad de este grupo profesional en esos dos contextos nacionales.

Palabras clave: comparaciones internacionales, empresas, supervisión, capataces, identidades en el trabajo