The word “manager” came to Russia from western business and settled in Russian language pretty well. Nowadays it is used everywhere in business and this is a common title for various positions. However in Russian business environment term “manager” means something different.
Manager in Russia typically refers to entry office positions or front line employees dealing with customers. For example, sales manager is someone who makes cold calls and takes orders. Anyone who works in car sales on the dealership floor would be a car sales manager. Normal dealership would have a dozen of sales managers and sales director they report to. Office manager is a person who makes coffee, loads paper into copy machines and printers and cleans office cafeteria. You meet managers everywhere, but such positions most often found in internet stores, companies that sell something, not in retail shops, but through the office. All these managers – people doing front line jobs, clerks dealing with customers. I called internet store the other day and they had a bunch of managers to answer my technical questions and take my order.
Now if you are coming to work in Russia for an international company, this may become a bit of a problem. Let’s say you have a managerial position and inside your company “manager” means real manager. Outside of your company perception of manager is bottom of corporate hierarchy. In other words your partners might not take you seriously.
How to deal with the difference
Demonstrate power and authority by your looks and behavior, so regardless of title they would see you as important. This means being bold, direct, serious, demanding, giving strict orders, talking short and ignoring those lower in hierarchy. Typical Russian boss type of behavior. May be not a compelling image, so you can just consider the idea and make up your own image. This works - proven by experience.
Change title on business cards. You can keep your position name for internal use, but have title on business cards, which your Russian partners would understand and appreciate. It is not unusual for upper level managers from international companies to have something like “director” or “vice-president” on their business cards.
Have someone explain to your Russian counterparts differences in corporate hierarchy. Most people in Russian business have no idea how international companies operate on the inside. Having proper understanding of who is who on a corporate ladder, regardless of position names, helps to establish credibility and avoid confusion.
Начальник (Nachalnik) or Руководитель (Rukovoditel’) - Both words above in Russian mean “manager” in its original meaning.