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Strategic Planning

Strategic Management Skills

Strategic Management Skills

Strategy as a concept emerged originally as part of military activity (coming from the Greek word “strategos” meaning generalship), where it was broadly defined as “the art of planning and directing overall military operations and movements in a war or battle”. A more up-to-date and widely applicable definition today, and especially when it applies to the business world, is “a method or plan chosen to bring about a desired future, such as achievement of a goal or solution to a problem”. Modern synonyms for strategy are “blueprint”, “design”, “game plan”, “master plan” “road map” and even the much-used term in organizational life “vision”.

The above definitions and synonyms all imply a very structured process to evolve strategy. However, in practice it is often far from organized or linear and instead can be a messy, iterative process that requires lots of discussion and even bargaining from many people over what might be a long period of time to shape a plan that helps an organization to move positively towards a future goal. And this effort is not only messy when trying to evolve a strategy for the enterprise as a whole, but also when strategy is crafted for a department, a team, a project or even a process.  What this means is that strategy is no longer just the responsibility of a few people at the top of an organization but falls to every leader at all levels. Leaders therefore need to have well-evolved strategic management skills and it is therefore worth looking at what these skills are in a little more detail. Of course, at a very high level, strategic management skills involves thinking about all the possible ways that business goals or targets might be achieved and then setting a course or overarching strategy that has the best chances of success. But what are the individual skills or competencies that leaders can best develop to achieve this? It is suggested that there are seven key competencies that are briefly described below: 

Big picture thinking

This refers to a manager’s ability to assess the impact of issues or challenges beyond the organization that might arise or will have a future impact on any potential strategy (including Government policy, economic opportunities, competitive threats etc) make sure that the strategy that is evolved makes appropriate accommodations. 

Listening skills

This is the ability to both genuinely hear and understand other people when they provide input to possible strategic options and to quickly discover their full communication or message so that the input is properly accommodated. This aids employee buy-in and future execution.

Commercial acumen

This refers to a manager’s ability to assess the potential investment and economic payoff of different strategic options so as to select the one that has the greatest commercial benefit.

Planning and Organizing

Planning and organizing is about the ability to organize people, ideas, resources and the time available to you, in order to give yourself the best possible chance to shape a coherent strategy. 

Collaboration ability

This refers to a manager’s capacity to work positively and flexibly in group situations at all levels, maintaining an open and helpful attitude as much as possible so that the best ideas about possible strategies can emerge. 

Critical/Lateral thinking

This refers to a manager’s capacity to think rigorously and broadly about issues, challenges or problems that may lie ahead when strategizing and to then critically r laterally think in order to optimize the route to finding potential solutions that work.

Execution skills

This refers to a manager’s capacity to maintain a firm eye focus on useful output results execute a written strategic plan and to achieve the stated outcomes (and go beyond mere input activity). Execution skills also involves resourcing the strategic plan, putting it into action, and managing those actions.

How are strategic management skills deployed?

The deployment of all of the above strategic management skills are critical in the development of a long-term plan, which naturally includes any pre-planning effort. In addition, a good strategic plan will also include the measurement and evaluation of how the plan is communicated to key people and then executed (and ultimately getting the desired results). To achieve this, all of these skills need to be deployed at different times (although it is likely that they will be deployed in the order in which they are listed).

When an organization is practicing good strategic management skills, the general thinking increasingly becomes much more visionary in many leaders. This more visionary thinking is often characterized by:

  • Lateral thinking about the future, with more creative options about how to achieve results
  • A shift in focus from the inputs that are used to run an enterprise to the outputs and outcomes the enterprise wants to achieve
  • A focus on optimizing organizational processes (making them more efficient and effective in order to better meet customer needs)
  • A move toward an organizational culture that adapts readily to change and continual improvement.

With practice, patience, dedication, and hard work, leaders across an organizational can increasingly apply strategic management skills to achieve the goals that matter most to the organization.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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One Comment

  1. Thomas BylesAugust 16, 2016 at 10:54 am

    WOW Great post… Really it is very informative and your mentioned skills are really applicable in real life, thanks for such a a good stuff.

About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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