What Is Conceptual Management?

M. McGee

Conceptual management is process of working through tough situations in order to come up with a well-developed plan before starting a project. This is one of the four main skill sets used in management, along with technical, political and interpersonal. Unlike the other skills, conceptual management is extremely difficult to learn from another person; it is generally considered more of a personal trait than a learned skill. The focus of this skill set is creating plans that will allow teams to work efficiently, before a project is even started.

Businessman giving a thumbs-up
Businessman giving a thumbs-up

The main portion of conceptual management is looking at a situation and figuring out a way to break it down into manageable pieces. When a project is in its infancy, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the upcoming choices and work. The conceptual manager’s job is to look over that pile of tasks and information and lay it out in a clear and organized manner.

Like many management and business concepts, the most important part of conceptual management is information. The more information the manager has, the easier it is to make correct decisions. Unlike other forms of management, a conceptual manager is always accounting for information that is impossible to know. Since the majority of this skill takes place in the future, the manager needs to account for the unforeseen. Using existing information, it is possible to predict what some of the unexpected things may be and plan accordingly.

This is just one of the four common management skill sets. The other three deal with other aspects of management, and they all come together to make a full picture. Technical skills are the information-based abilities that relate to the form of management performed; basically, if a manager oversees a shipping department, he knows about shipping. Political skills are personality-based skills that are applied outside of the workplace to secure resources for the manager to use. The third skill set, interpersonal, involves skills related to dealing with workers in the workplace.

Unlike other common management skill sets, conceptual management is a difficult skill to teach. In many manager’s minds, conceptual thinking is something they either have or don’t, and training will only get them so far. When working on improving conceptual skills, the most common method is simply doing it. Situations are devised and the manager is required to work through them to an adequate conclusion. With time and practice, it is possible to improve.

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Discussion Comments


@Charred - It sounds like your manager has the right set of skills to get the job done. Some people are too limited in their vision; they can’t see the forest for the trees and they attack a problem too quickly, using the same old methods that they’ve become too familiar with. This usually results in delays and bottlenecks.

I think egos are at play here, too, which is why the article mentions interpersonal skills as being part of the skill set needed for a conceptual manager.


As a programmer I can appreciate the meaning of the well worn phrase, “There are many ways to skin a cat.” That’s because I am often faced with various ways to solve a problem.

In it is then that my technical manager steps in and provides much needed direction. We were recently given a task to convert a software driver from one programming language to another, and the programming team members were each trying to come up with different approaches to solving the problem.

The manager was able to step back and see the problem as a whole, and break it down into bite sized steps that would get us to a solution.

Through his insight and experience – and his tactful way of coordinating teamwork among the different programmers – we were able to arrive at a finished product in less time than it would have normally taken.


@indemnifyme - That sounds like a pretty good example of conceptual management to me. You are right though, not everyone is good at this.

I think conceptual management is actually the opposite of being detail oriented. It sounds like you have to really look at the big picture in order to solve future problems. I'm a more detail oriented person, and I usually get too bogged down in the minute details of the present to anticipate future issues.


I work at a small insurance agency, and I must say, the agent I work for is a horrible conceptual manager. He simple cannot anticipate future problems very easily.

One of the other sales people I work with is actually great at doing this though. At our weekly meeting, she is usually the one that anticipates future problems with our agents plans and attempts to solve them. Truthfully, I think he need to give her a raise!

But anyway, one example I can think of is some recent bad weather we had. A lot of our Homeowners customers had claims that weren't covered because they didn't have an optional coverage. Many people decline optional coverages to save money, then regret it later.

Based on this information, my co-worker suggested that we call all of our other customers that don't have this coverage and discuss with them why they should get it. This way we can avoid future problems.

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