Exploring management accountants’ role conflicts and ambiguities and how they cope with them

Seán Byrne, Bernard Pierce

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: The aim of this study is to explore the nature of the expectations of operations managers (OMs) and the enacted roles of management accountants (MAs) and to understand how MAs construct roles around these expectations. Design/methodology/approach: A qualitative design draws upon company documentation and 36 semi-structured interviews with MAs and OMs. The study uses role theory as a theoretical lens with its core concepts of role expectations, role conflict and role ambiguity. The design draws from role theory’s original development and testing to pair particular roles of MAs with particular roles of OMs in operational settings. Findings: The findings indicate that there are a number of different forms of OMs’ expectations giving rise to role conflicts and role ambiguity for the roles of MAs. OMs’ expectations were identified as conflicting expectations, ambiguous expectations, overloaded expectations and underloaded expectations. MAs construct roles in different ways around these OMs’ expectations, including prioritising the line function, competence deployment, non-accommodation and communication. Factors moderating OMs’ expectations are also identified, including characteristics of the OM and the role of the finance manager. Research limitations/implications: The study is based on an in-depth investigation of a small number of roles of MAs paired with OMs, and no assurances can therefore be given regarding generalisability of the findings. Practical implications: The results provide an understanding of the varied nature of expectations that OMs have of MAs and mechanisms through which MAs can address these expectations. It suggests ways in which both MAs and OMs in operational settings can reduce conflicts and ambiguities. Originality/value: This paper provides an in-depth analysis of the expectations of OMs in relation to the roles of MAs and contributes to the literature on the roles of MAs using role theory. It shows how different forms of OMs’ expectations have related mechanisms used by MAs to navigate these expectations through role constructions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)410-436
Number of pages27
JournalQualitative Research in Accounting and Management
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 24 Oct 2018


  • Accounting roles
  • Ambiguity
  • Conflict
  • Expectations
  • Management accountants
  • Role theory


Dive into the research topics of 'Exploring management accountants’ role conflicts and ambiguities and how they cope with them'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this