Management experts have formulated theories of management for as long as there have been businesses. In most management theories, a manager serves several roles, and there's often significant crossover between one role and another. For example, a manager who closely supervises employees may also strive to motivate them. The role that a manager is most invested in, however, can provide some insight into the management role she might adopt.


Virtually every manager is charged with the task of making decisions about the business, staffing and budgets, but there's more than one way to make a decision. In Henri Fayol's five functions of management theory, decision-making plays a key role through five main categories: forecasting and planning, organization, coordination, control, and command. Managers are charged with setting business objectives and establishing methods to achieve those objectives in each category. Frederic Winslow Taylor's theory of scientific management argues that managers should make all key decisions, and those decisions should be based on careful analysis of the most efficient way to do each job in the business.

Supervision and Discipline

Most managers supervise and discipline their employees to one degree or another, but philosophies on both vary greatly. According to the Harvard Business Review, a survey by management consulting firm Hay/McBer found six distinct approaches to supervising and disciplining employees. Coercive leaders demand obedience and rigid compliance with the rules, while authoritative leaders are focused on achieving specific goals. Affiliative leaders focus on nurturing relationships to encourage employees to meet company goals, while democratic leaders encourage consensus-building. Pace-setting leaders lead by example and encourage autonomy, while coaching leaders focus on mentoring their employees.

Managing Relationships

Managers frequently have to help employees work out conflicts, and may also serve as allies and mentors to their staff. The human relations theory of management advocated by Mary Parker Follett and by social psychologist Rensis Likert emphasizes the primacy of the relationships between managers and workers. Likert, for example, argued that there's no single right way to be a manager, and that instead managers must adjust management style to meet the needs of the persons they manage. He argued that managers can take four distinct approaches to human relationships: an exploitative authoritative stance based upon fear, a benevolent authoritative approach based on a clear hierarchy that relies on rewards and delegation, a consultative approach that solicits some input from staff, and participative group management, which takes a democratic approach to managing relationships with employees.

Establishing Public Image

A manager frequently serves as the public face of the company, and the stakeholder theory of management emphasizes the role of communicating with and listening to stakeholders such as customers and neighbors. Managers who adopt this theory of management's role may place an emphasis on social responsibility, establishing ties with the community, uniting various systems within the company and systems that affect the company, and balancing the competing interests of various stakeholders. For example, a worker's desire to make a good wage might come into conflict with customers' desires not to see a price increase.