What Is Management: Is it an Art or a Science?


Management is a ubiquitous undertaking and forms an important foundation of any human and non-human activity. It is a term that is synonymous with order. At organizational level, management is a fundamental pillar of success that ensures that the inputs are effectively and efficiently turned into inputs to achieve the set goals. Managers apply theories, principles and ideologies that are developed based on scientific methodologies. This practical application is refined with experience and training. Therefore, this essay discusses the science and art of management. Towards this end, the essay defines management, art and science with the view of highlighting how management is rooted in both disciplines.



What Is Management: Is it an Art or a Science?

One of the enduring qualities of management is its ubiquity. As a dynamic and goal-oriented practice, management is the driving force behind successful homes, hospitals, schools, and even individual lives. Successful management requires effective and efficient motivation, planning, coordination, and organization. It requires situational assessment, correction, and appropriate direction of resources to achieve the set goals. Therefore, competent management is a product of binary thinking marked by converging both quantitative and qualitative approaches to achieve the desired goals effectively and efficiently. It entails charismatically connecting with  people and crunching numbers to drive an organization forward. As such, good management requires practical application of management theories. This makes management both a science and an art.

Answering the enduring question of whether management is an art or science requires going beyond its mere definition. It calls for identifying the key elements of management that identify with both the arts and sciences, with the view of appreciating its overarching and ubiquitous nature. According to BusinessDictionary, management is “the organization and coordination of the activities of a business to achieve defined objectives.” The dictionary further clarifies that it involves numerous intertwined functions including “creating corporate policy and organizing, planning, controlling, and directing an organization’s resources to achieve the objectives of that policy” (BusinessDictionary, n.d). One of the first scholars to conceptualize management, Henri Fayol, opined that it involves several fundamental functions. These functions include coordinating, commanding, planning, controlling, and organizing (Peaucelle, 2015).

A conceptualization of management highlights the fundamental roles of a manager that show that science and art are complementary in the management field. Coordination is an interpersonal, managerial role that requires managers to interact with their subordinates. As such, managers are required to employ the skills and knowledge they have learned academically and through experience. Moreover, managers are entrusted with analyzing information and sharing it with the rest of their teams, locally and globally depending on the size of the organization (Lee & Steen, 2010). Analyzing information is critical to decision-making. Such decisions may include planning for the future, creating and defining organizational structure, allocating resources, and assessing action plans. The manager, as an information manager, drives the innovation agenda of organization forward (Sung & Choi, 2012). These roles hinge on management principles, concepts, theories, methods, and laid-down organizational and management practices. Hence, management requires collectivity, and the manager is required to successfully navigate situational and human diversities to transform inputs into outputs to achieve the outlined goals within the stipulated time (Peaucelle, 2015; Wei-Shong et al., 2014).

According to the Collins Dictionary, science is a “systemized knowledge” gained through “observation, study, and experimentation carried on to determine the nature or principles of what is being studied” (Collins Dictionary, n.d). This systemic knowledge can be contrasted with the subjective nature of art as defined by Collins Dictionary. It defines art as a work of creativity of humans. Art, therefore, requires the application of skills and knowledge, unlike science, which follows a determinable scientific method. However, here, art can be seen as the practical application of scientific theories to advance knowledge.

Management, under the context of science, involves planning, controlling, coordination, commanding, and directing organizational operations based on stipulated techniques, theories, and concepts. It involves analyzing situations and using hypotheses, concepts, and theories to produce systemized knowledge that can be used to establish the cause-effect relationships of events within the workplace. While management does not involve outright scientific experimentation, it involves incorporating various disciplines of science, including economics and psychology, to manage human relations and other resources (O’Gorman, Farrington, & Gregor, 2015). The type notwithstanding, management involves aligning organizational resources and efforts towards a predetermined goal (Wei-Shong et al., 2014). It also involves assessing goal achievement through scientific methods that primarily hinge on mathematic concepts, theories, and techniques (Patrick & Bruce, 2008).

Human resource management is an important component of organizational management. However, humans are diverse in their behavior and character. Human behavior is also unpredictable, which thus requires managers to employ theories, concepts, and principles founded in the science of psychology to plan, control, command, direct, and coordinate all activities of the organization. The frequently changing human resources needs and composition require that managers use scientific concepts to develop and comprehend predictable patterns that they can use in their decision-making roles. These predictable patterns are science-based and play a critical role in helping managers plan their future strategies for their teams and organization as a whole.

The business environment is very dynamic. Navigating this dynamism requires a solid management approach founded on scientific models. The decision to adjust organizational activities and resources in response to evolving business environment dynamics is based on predetermined patterns, tested concepts, theories, and hypotheses. Effective and efficient management is based on building a body of knowledge using scientific techniques and methods to take advantage of emerging opportunities in the market while addressing organizational weaknesses and threats. Critical decisions such as choosing growth strategies and partners are dependent on scientifically analyzing various variables that determine their suitability or lack thereof. Science provides a concrete foundation for developing this body of knowledge that is critical in driving organizational growth and development (Gao, 2008).

As a science, management requires the development of concepts that can be used to tackle situations as they arise. These concepts can be developed through observation, which is a scientific method. Scientific methods help managers to develop standards by using the observed events and outcomes to make a subject prediction of how such similar circumstances may affect the organization. It is from predictions that managers can make effective planning decisions. However, such decisions must also be aligned with the existing management theories and principles. Currently, management is the product of a body of knowledge developed through systematically interlinking various scientific frameworks, theories, principles, and concepts.

Management deals with two pertinent yet dynamic elements: human resources and business environment. Therefore, management concepts and managers’ body of knowledge constantly change as managers have to realign organizational activities with these changing elements. Managers constantly revise their management principles, theories, and concepts, including leadership theories and approaches (Holmes, 2012). This consequently makes management a social science and not a physical science with fixed methods, laws, theories, and principles.

Effective and efficient management is the ability of managers to use their skills to manage and coordinate other organizational talents with the view of attaining set organizational goals (Harris, 2006). As an art, successful management is, therefore, a product of a manager’s skills and ability to creatively use such skills to galvanize organizational resources towards a given objective (Jones, 2013). Therefore, managers proactively develop and improve their skill sets and knowledge base through education and learning valuable lessons from their experiences. Training is also an important skill-enrichment option for managers (Max, 2010).

One of the elements of art that overarch into management is the application of practical knowledge. Like artists, managers are required to apply theoretical principles developed scientifically to situations within the workplace. Managers deal with real-life situations, and how successfully they tackle them is dependent on their creative skills. They are required to creatively synthesize management theories into the management knowledge that they can apply practically. Critical management skills such as charisma are artistic. When applied by a manager in dealing with human resource issues, the success of the manager’s skills depends on the creativity in execution and not the theoretical grounding of its effectiveness.

Like art, effective management is based on how uniquely a manager handles organizational issues. Managers with unique leadership qualities stand out. They are capable of thinking broadly, with the big picture in mind at all times. They make extraordinary decisions born out of innovation. They creatively come up with ideas and solutions that are tailor-made for different and emerging situations. Both art and management are goal-oriented. These goals change with changing situations as well. Despite such dynamics, managers, like artists, perfect their skills with practice and make decisions that are aimed at attaining the goals. Any piece of art requires vision. Artistic managers outline their visions despite the chaotic dynamics in the business environment and workplace. But most importantly, they convince others about the viability of their vision.

Goal attainment is the driving force behind every artistic or managerial effort. Artists and managers deliberately make decisions to attain a particular goal. Sometimes, such deliberate efforts are aimed at affecting change, which is an important component of management. The end product of a manager’s leadership, the equivalent of an artist’s piece of art, comes in the form of products, services, and profits among others. Using organizational resources, managers use their experience, knowledge, and judgment to create these end products. However, such artful activity produces active and concrete results that are personalized because they are reflective of the different creative capabilities of managers.

When science and art are contextualized in management, they become complementary. They are intricately intertwined to give a solid grounding to management. Management as an art involves a mastery and active application of skills to create situations and solutions that ultimately benefit the organization. It involves deliberate efforts aimed at creating a concrete solution for the present and future. Practical skills are used to create specific phenomena, situations, and events in management art. On the other hand, management science involves using outlined principles, theories, and concepts to explain these situations or events. It involves studying these phenomena with the view of creating a body of knowledge that can be used to predict future organizational issues while solving the current ones. While management art depends on human judgment, management science relies on systematized knowledge.

Management science is advanced primarily through knowledge and seeks to prove, predict, define, and measure events and phenomena based on predetermined theories and concepts. Contrastingly, management art is advanced through practice and is dedicated to describing, opining, guessing, and expressing these situations and events. This complementary nature of management is driven by the interlocking functions and roles that managers are tasked with. These roles require managers to know and act. Knowing is scientific while acting or doing is practical and hence artistic. Therefore, as a science and an art, management involves knowledgeable actions.

Management is ever-present in all aspects of human lives. Its successful execution is the foundation of harmony at individual and organizational levels. Mastery of management allows for efficient and effectively planning, coordination, assessment, and control of resources and channeling them towards attaining set goals. These fundamental functions of management highlight its binary nature as a practice. Management has two complementary sides: art and science. The science of management involves building a knowledge base by using scientific methods to explain, predict, define, and prove a phenomenon. When aligned to existing concepts, theories, and principles, the knowledge base can help managers in their decision-making roles, including planning for the future. As a science, management draws knowledge and concepts from other scientific disciplines to solve organizational challenges. However, unlike other sciences with fixed approaches, management is a social science with flexible and revisable ideologies that can be customized and adapted to dynamic organizational challenges.

As an art, management is hinged on the creative nuance of the manager. It is a practical skill that is goal-oriented. Managers use their personal and critical skills to opine, describe, and express ideas with the view of influencing human resources. Unlike science, management art involves dealing with real-life situations involving highly dynamic variables. Managers are required to creatively navigate the chaos in the business environment and come up with impressive and unique artistic works in the form of profits and products. To accomplish their artistic roles, managers can scientifically analyze the scenarios or rely on scientific theories, principles, and concepts. Management skills can be refined scientifically through training and education. Training and education are scientific approaches that rely on phenomena and events created through art. Embracing this complementary nature of science and art in management is the primary foundation of successful management.



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