Two out of three college managers hold no management qualifications, according to the largest survey of senior staff in further education.
And although a third of managers have at least 10 years' experience, nearly half have been in their present job less than three years.
The results are early findings of a survey of 3,000 FE college managers conducted by the Further Education Development Agency (FEDA).
Staff report problems balancing their teaching and management roles, a particular problem for the new breed of programme managers brought in during a wave of restructuring exercises in colleges.
But there were concerns about the pace of change in colleges and the amount of bureaucracy their jobs entailed.
And they are concerned that a lack of time is the major constraint on their development, arguing that management training is carried out on an ad hoc basis. Only a third felt their college had any coherent plan for management training.
While managers felt that they were most able in the areas of building relationships with staff and clients, FEDA researchers found this to be one of the areas most in need of work.
FEDA launched the survey as part of its Flagship programme of management training, established to deal with problems of poor management skills at a time of huge change within colleges.
Managers, surveyed at 250 colleges, rated MBA courses most highly, although most qualified managers held the slightly less well regarded diploma in management studies. They favoured one-day seminars, mentor schemes and secondment as means to gaining experience and management knowledge.
And they said job pressures were so great, managers needed immediate practical help from their training.
Survey results are currently being analysed as FEDA staff draw up what is planned to be the largest management training exercise staged in FE.
Sue Brownlow, Flagship project leader, said: "They are telling us that there is a real need to develop college management practice, as well as just to develop individual managers.
"FEDA's recent experience confirms this - more and more colleges are asking for in-house management development programmes tailored to their particular circumstances, and for specific management advice and support, rather than send individual managers away on courses."
Labour threw its weight behind improvements to FE management training before the election, when the then opposition FHE spokesman Bryan Davies announced moves to improve teacher and management training in colleges.
FEDA surveyed 3,000 managers in FE colleges, carried out further studies into 15 colleges and ran a series of seven consultation seminars.