What is the Difference Between a Strategy and a Tactic?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

The word strategy derives form the Greek word strategos which translates to the art of the general. This is often confused with tactics, from the Greek taktike. Taktike translates as organizing the army. In modern usage, strategy and tactics might refer not only to warfare, but to a variety of business practices.

Tactics involve moves and actions.
Tactics involve moves and actions.

Essentially, strategy is the thinking aspect of planning a change, organizing something, or planning a war. It lays out the goals that need to be accomplished and the ideas for achieving those goals. Strategy can be complex multi-layered plans for accomplishing objectives and may give consideration to tactics.

Strategy involves thinking and planning.
Strategy involves thinking and planning.

Tactics are the meat and bread of the strategy. They are the “doing” aspect that follows the planning. Tactics refer specifically to action. In the strategy phase of a plan, the thinkers decide how to achieve their goals. In other words they think about how people will act, i.e., tactics. They decide on what methods will be employed to fulfill the plan.

The specific manuevrers used to land several hovercraft on a hostile beach are tactics, while the decision to conduct an amphibious landing would be part of a strategy.
The specific manuevrers used to land several hovercraft on a hostile beach are tactics, while the decision to conduct an amphibious landing would be part of a strategy.

The tactics themselves are the things that get the job done. Strategies can comprise numerous methods, with many people involved in attempting to reach an overall goal. While strategy tends to involve the higher ups of an organization, tactics tend to involve all members of the organization.

Another term related to these in military operations is logistics. Logistics refers to how an army will be supported so they can employ tactics. Logistics form a part of plan, for example, when one looks at providing a military force with weapons, food and lodging.

Playing the game Risk® is an excellent way to illustrate the differences between strategies and tactics. When one first starts the game, one is dealt cards that assign owned countries to each player. Players then place military units in each of their countries. Having a plan is an important part at the beginning of a game. One must look at where to place extra military pieces in order to strengthen one’s base of operations for defense, and also to thus take over the world.

When a player forms a plan like, “I’m going to first gain control of South America,” then methods come into play. Each move will be a focused attack on other players who occupy territory in South America. How the pieces are moved, and the decisions to attack or regroup are methods for fulfilling one’s ultimate strategy, which is to take over the world and win the game. Even though luck through dice rolls plays a part in success of one’s tactics, good strategists often have an upper hand in Risk. If one doesn’t form a workable plan at the beginning of the game, one would have to be very lucky to win.

Strategies are used by people to tackle overall goals, such as weight loss.
Strategies are used by people to tackle overall goals, such as weight loss.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


In terms of defense technology, what is difference between tactical targets and strategic targets?


number 4: in operation, i think the strategy is to get the board so that the other player can't get their pieces out without setting off the bell. the tactic employed is to go for the easy pieces. does that sound right?


Strategies shape the direction and umbrella of tactics used. Tactics are "modular" meaning one tactic can be used in a variety of different strategies.

For example, in chess (the best example of strategies and tactics in my opinion), the skewer and discovered attack "tactic" can both be utilized in a "center-controlling offense" strategy or a "back-rank mate attack strategy".


The surge was a strategy. A strategy is a plan of action to meet a goal. Tactics of the surge strategy were "to help Iraqis clear and secure neighborhoods, to help them protect the local population, and to help ensure that the Iraqi forces left behind are capable of providing the security." Tactics are the parts of the strategy. I can guarantee Senator McCain knows the difference. It's basic training 101.


tactics are a move, small in scope, disguised and deliberately unpredictable


What about operation?


I'd have to say the surge was a tactic, which is what Senator Obama stated.

He also talked about looking at the larger "strategic" issues of planning in Afghanistan. Some strategy would necessarily look to tactics. However he demonstrated clear understanding of the differences, which Senator McCain appeared not to. It's funny how you write a piece a few years ago, and then it becomes relevant again! thanks for you comments!

PS You can find the first 2008 presidential debate full transcript online too, which can prove helpful in fact checking. Tricia E C


In the McCain Obama debate there was arguing about the difference between the meaning of "strategy" and "tactic." Is the surge a strategy or tactic? I think it's a tactic.

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