The four functions of management: Overview + examples

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Being or becoming a manager can feel like a daunting task in today’s business world. But if you look closely, everything a manager does falls under four key functions:

  1. Planning functions

  2. Organizing functions

  3. Leading functions

  4. Controlling functions

While we can’t solve all the growing pains you face, we have some great news: No matter your industry or your level of management, you’ll perform this same set of functions. They may look different as a first-tier manager than they do as a CEO, and the problems within those functions vary endlessly.

But master each of these, and you’ll be well on your way to conquering nearly any business challenge.

A breakdown of the four functions of management

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Let’s look more closely at each of the four functions — and the ways that effective managers leverage this framework to better meet their organization’s goals.

1) Planning

"Without a plan, even the most brilliant business can get lost. You need to have goals, create milestones, and have the right strategy in place to set yourself up for success."

~ Yogi Berra

Managers are responsible for the long-range vision and goals within a company. The planning function includes this vision and goal-setting along with the work of creating a plan to reach those goals. They identify business challenges, work on future-facing initiatives (such as growth plans, company goals, and business forecasting) and make decisions that move the business toward goals.

Another element of the planning phase of management is resource allocation or workload management. Typically, the manager decides which employees in the department are assigned to which projects, seeking to balance workload and maintain efficiency through this work. Managers often enlist the help of project managers (a vital role for businesses across many industries) to determine workload and capacity. Or, in some cases where there is no formal project manager, managers may use project management tools themselves to fill this role.

Planning is essential within any organization, and it’s an important part of the management role for a few reasons. First, the rank-and-file employees are usually too busy completing tasks to step back and think strategically about the big picture. Second, people management tend to get there precisely because they have above-average decision-making, leadership, and planning skills.

Managers are typically responsible for several types of planning within an organization:

Strategic planning

The highest and most crucial level of planning looks at the long-range, big-picture view of the company. It identifies future threats and opportunities and sets long-term direction and organizational goals. Strategic planning isn’t concerned with day-to-day decisions and is looking instead at three-year plans, five-year plans, market trajectories, and similar big-picture elements.

In most organizations, top management does the bulk of the strategic planning. CEOs and other top-ranking leaders may rely on input from mid-level managers and will certainly inform them of the strategic plans, but most decisions here are made by the people in charge.

Tactical planning

Tactical planning looks at how to accomplish more midrange or short-term objectives — usually those that last a year or less. Tactical planning is more targeted than strategic planning and is informed by the strategic plan, setting a general course of action that will be fleshed out further in operational planning.

Middle managers usually complete tactical planning, taking the strategic plan and breaking down the high-level goals within it into smaller, more measurable and near-term achievable goals.

Tactical planning is more granular than strategic planning, but it still doesn’t delve into the details of day-to-day operations.

Operational planning

Operational planning, on the other hand, is all about those day-to-day operations — seeking to use the principles and strategies laid out in tactical plans to accomplish the big-picture goals in the strategic plan. Department managers, first-level leaders, and project managers often contribute to operational planning.

Weekly project team meetings are one example of operational planning in action. Project schedules, timelines, RACI charts, swimlanes, and Gantt charts are all tools used within operational planning.

2) Organizing

Next up is the organizing function, which refers to the way managers distribute resources, delegate tasks, structure departments, set staffing levels, etc. This function encompasses everything from assigning right-fit tasks to the appropriate team members to deciding how those team members relate to each other in an organizational structure.

If your company is growing rapidly, you’ll need more sales agents next year than you do this year (and more of just about every other role, too). At some point, even the structures and departments you have now will no longer make sense: you’ll need more managers to oversee those new hires, and you might need new divisions that wouldn’t have been feasible when you were smaller.

All of this takes careful organization from someone in a leadership role — which is why organizing is the second function of management.

Example of organizing functions

Managers have ongoing responsibilities to rebalance workload and even headcount as they respond to changes in the business landscape. Just 20 years ago, most marketing departments were doing little (if any) digital marketing, let alone content marketing or SEO. Today those areas comprise the majority of business for many marketing departments and agencies. And that same story plays out across numerous departments, roles, and business units.

Managers must keep jobs, job hierarchies, and resource allocation organized and appropriate for the business landscape of today — with an eye toward future needs and further changes.

Are you a manager or business leader at a creative agency? Find out why is the project management software solution of choice for agencies.

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3) Leading

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Every organization, from creative agencies to enterprise operations, needs a force to drive it forward: rallying the troops and pushing them toward a common goal. Move down through the layers of a business and you’ll find a similar need for teams, projects, departments, and any other organizational or work structure that’s in place.

This is the leading or leadership function of management — a crucial part of every manager’s job.

The leading function of management focuses on people (whether individual, teams, or groups) more than work tasks. That’s not to say that tasks don’t matter, but rather, how those people are or aren’t handling their tasks and responsibilities will influence the type of leadership response that managers ought to give.

Managers and business leaders provide both direction and inspiration to those who follow them. This can take all sorts of forms:

  • Rallying

  • Motivating

  • Inspiring

  • Instructing

  • Encouraging or praising

  • Redirecting

  • Pushing

  • Demanding or commanding

Additionally, leadership includes both people management and making the tough right calls that others might miss.

There are many approaches to leadership in management, each with its own pros and cons. And it’s important to understand that there is no one right style — successful managers skillfully move between approaches, as each has its uses.

We’ll use the situational leadership model popularized by author and business coach Marshall Goldsmith, which highlights four other leadership styles: directing, coaching, supporting, and delegating.


A top-down, more authority-driven style of leadership, the director makes decisions and provides strong leadership without much, if any, input from the person or team being led. This style is useful when leading new or inexperienced teams, training new employees without a background in your industry, and potentially when forging ahead into a new market or technology (but only when the leader has experience worth trusting).

This method doesn’t work as well when the manager isn’t a powerful, experienced figure or when the people being managed have valuable input to offer.


"Each person holds so much power within themselves that needs to be let out. Sometimes they just need a little nudge, a little direction, a little support, a little coaching, and the greatest things can happen"

~ Pete Carroll

A coach comes alongside skilled contributors, guiding them as they use their skills. The coaching style of leadership is much the same, working alongside team members yet retaining authority to make the final call. Coaches also develop potential or raw talent into something better and more useful, and it works exactly the same way in business.

Coaching is highly effective for employees who have input to give or raw talent that needs refining. It’s also effective with skilled employees who need help staying on target. Just like in sports, a coach can’t be better than the sum of the players on the team. So coaching may not be the best approach for inexperienced employees or those with significant performance issues.


Supporting steps back even further than coaching. This method assumes team members know what to do and how to do it, so the manager takes a more hands-off approach. Supportive managers often step into the relational aspects of a team, helping team members work better together.

This style of leadership also comes into play when individuals grow unsteady in terms of output or performance, offering support to a person who may need a hand getting through a rough patch.

Supportive management works best with highly skilled teams that still have some issues with interpersonal relationships, consistent performance, or other metrics.


The delegating style of leadership assigns tasks to employees (delegation) and provides little more than basic oversight once assigned, freeing the leader to spend more time on high-level work — like long-term vision and goal-setting for the project.

This method is very attractive to managers because in some ways it’s the easiest and least time-consuming. However, it only works consistently well with high-performing teams and team members who don’t need directing, coaching, or support.

4) Controlling

Controlling includes all of management’s efforts to make sure the goal (established way back in the planning phase) is accomplished. It includes ongoing analysis of the plan and iterative updates to that plan as needed.

The manager’s project monitoring component (the analysis of how well the project team is adhering to the plan) may overlap slightly with project management. Not every business or project gets a dedicated project manager, either. If you’re a manager and find yourself doing more project management than you’d like, a good project management software tool can help. is a robust project management suite that managers and project leads alike can use to improve their project workflows. Take a look at’s powerful Resource Management capabilities.

Examples of controlling functions

Schedule and deadline management, employee training, performance evaluations, adjustments to budgets or staffing assignments, and resource allocation are all included within the controlling function.

Lead better — stay organized with

The four functions of management can be a powerful framework that helps effective leaders categorize and prioritize their tasks and responsibilities, identifying where their particular leadership skills best fit within an organization.

But even the most successful manager can struggle to stay on top of long-range plans, detailed planning processes, and the specifics of multiple concurrent projects. All of this combined is just too much information. is a powerful project management platform that helps busy managers stay organized so they can focus on leveraging their management skills, not tracking down project details.

See more of what can do for your business now - get started now for free, view our comprehensive pricing plans, or book a demo today.

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