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The four functions of management explained

Georgina Guthrie

Georgina Guthrie

August 18, 2021

Behind every successful project is a manager guiding it to safety. Much like a captain steering a ship, the successful manager needs to set a destination, define roles, support the team, and steer everyone over the finish line.

Whether you’re navigating a ship or launching an app, success depends on the manager’s solid understanding of what’s expected of them and their team. And, while roles and responsibilities vary, there are four core responsibilities that all managers need to have — and these are known as the four functions of management.

What are the four functions of management?

The four functions of management are four key skills every PM needs to have. So who decided this? And where does the idea come from?

Well, in the 1900s, a French industrialist named Henri Fayol identified five key management functions — which were then whittled down into four: planning, organizing, leading, and controlling. These functions work together as a whole and can also work sequentially, with each one leading onto the next.

You will need to follow the steps in the right order. To help you along, we’ll explain them in the exact order that you’ll need to work through. So first, managers create a plan. Then, they organize their resources and delegate work according to their plan. Next, they lead the team to execute the plan, and finally, evaluate the project and make adjustments (controlling).

No matter what industry you work in, these functions — which remain the same today — are consistent and applicable.

Let’s go into the four functions in a little more detail.


All good projects begin with a plan, and it’s the manager’s responsibility to develop one. During the planning stage, the manager will identify goals and set out a route to achieving them. They might also create a project charter and be involved in defining the project’s scope.

As with any project, there will be multiple options and pathways to choose from — and it’s the manager’s job to work out which they think are best.

Some key features of a successful plan include the following:

  • Making sure goals are aligned with the company vision
  • Running a risk assessment
  • Creating a timeline
  • Assessing triple constraint and planning budgetary requirements

There are three main approaches to planning:

  1. Strategic: This type of planning is usually top-level and carried out by the company’s upper management. It’s a big-picture view of the project and how it fits in with the organization’s wider goals, values, and mission. This type of planning often has a long timeframe of a year or more.
  2. Tactical: This is shorter-term planning that will take a year or less. It’s usually tasked to middle management and aimed at a specific department or focus area, such as marketing, HR, or logistics.
  3. Operational: this type of planning is tactical. It begins with a timeframe for putting a part of the strategic goal into place. It usually falls under the remit of lower-level managers.


Organizing involves taking the plan and setting the wheels in motion. This includes identifying all the necessary steps, assigning tasks and deploying resources, establishing responsibility, and articulating lines of communication.

During the organizing phase, managers should assign tasks and responsibilities according to employees’ motivation, skills, and aptitude. Then, they need to make sure these tasks are properly understood. Managers also need to make sure there are tools and procedures put in place to ensure smooth and easy communication and collaboration among team members.


The leading stage involves managers motivating employees to do the work and meet quality standards. It’s more than just delegating work and chasing deadlines: successful managers are those who are good at connecting with their employees and using language to inspire, encourage, and motivate employees to do their best work — as well as spotting opportunities for praise or offering support if needed.

Here are some of the most popular leadership styles managers might draw from:

  • Directing: a top-down method of leadership, which involves the manager leading with little or no input from the rest of the team. It’s ideal in factory settings or when the team is made up of new, inexperienced employees.
  • Delegating: Here, the manager is more hands-off, preferring to hand out tasks and focus on the bigger picture rather than supporting and guiding. It’s best for teams that are experienced and used to working autonomously.
  • Supporting: The manager leads but focuses on building a supportive relationship with team members. It’s ideal for a team that has the necessary skills but needs help with motivation or soft skills, like communication, confidence, and/or collaboration.
  • Coaching: the manager works with employees to help them work to the best of their ability. It’s about working cooperatively, building trust, and developing skills.

The leading stage consists of motivating and influencing employees to do the work and meet performance standards. Keep in mind that effective leadership extends beyond delegating and directing employees what to do. Good organizational communication is a must, as are strong people skills.


Controlling is the process of monitoring, evaluating, and tweaking the plan as the project progresses. Managers keep a close eye on progress, making sure the team hits deadlines, budgets are under control, and the team is using resources efficiently.

The two major focus areas are budget and staffing.

Budget: Managers need to keep a close eye on resources to make sure they’re being used effectively. If they spot they’re going over budget, but they’re not sure why — then they’ll need to identify the cause and take steps to get it back under control. Or have a meeting with senior management or stakeholders to negotiate a new budget.

Staff: From unplanned sick days to a member of the team producing low-quality work — it’s the manager’s job to make decisions about who works on what, when and if freelancers or contractors need to be called in, or if more team members need to be put on a job to get it finished on time.

Tools for mastering the four functions of management

Ultimately, the four functions of management serve as a compass, guiding leaders through the complexities of organizational dynamics. By recognizing the interplay between planning, organizing, leading, and controlling, you can navigate challenges, seize opportunities, and cultivate a resilient and thriving enterprise in today’s dynamic and competitive world.

Getting to grips with the four management functions may seem like to deal with, but with the right knowledge, support, and tools, you’ll fly.



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