Is management an art, a science, or both? Describe the characteristics of management to support your answer.

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pmiranda2857 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Depending on the perspective of the manager, management can be perceived as an art or a science.  For those who view management through a scientific perspective, problem solving and analysis is done according to the guidelines and assumptions.  

This approach is less emotional, less skill based and determined by theory and study of management as a discipline.  Think about the idea of someone who walks into a business as a consultant, who does not know the employees, or the environment of the workplace and begins making recommendations for improvements based exclusively on studies and reports, theories and practices and never talks to anyone, all their assessments are made by observing without inquiry.

In short, the manager who uses the scientific approach is much more clinical and less inclined to believe that efficiency and expected outcomes improve when a manager knows his employees.  There are certain leadership skills that cannot be taught. 

"They used scientific processes to evaluate and organize work so that it became more efficient and effective. Scientific management's emphasis on both reducing inefficiencies and on understanding the psychology of workers changed manager and employee attitudes towards the practice of management."

Management as an art uses a totally different approach, a more common sense, people-oriented approach.  These types of managers usually operate outside of the guide book, using their instincts and skills to determine the best course of action.  It is not to say that these managers are not knowledgeable, however, they recognize that output, production, efficiency are all tied to people. 

"Lilienthal argues that management requires more than a mastery of techniques and skills; instead, it also requires that managers understand individuals and their motivations and help them achieve their goals."

krishna-agrawala | Student

For a meaningful discussion on “whether management is an art or science” we need to first develop an agreement on what is “science” and what is an “art”.

A field of science is characterized by:

-  Use of objective data collected through observation and experimentation.

-  Systematic analysis and synthesis of such data to develop theories and models to understand reality and predict impact of various actions taken to influence the reality.

-  Decisions and actions based on objective data and insights gained from scientific theories and models.

-  Effectiveness of decisions and actions dependent on soundness of theories used and their appropriate application.

-  Scientific knowledge being objective can be easily documented for passing on to others

In contrast, an art is characterized by:

-  Lack of explicit and commonly accepted models and theories to guide decisions and actions.

-  Effectiveness of decisions and actions dependent heavily on individual ability and skill. -  --  Decisions may be taken based on personal beliefs, feelings and preferences.

-  Effectiveness of decisions and actions dependent heavily on individual ability and skill.

-  Many areas of knowledge pertaining to an art cannot be documented for training others.

Comparing the nature of management against above characteristics of science and art, it becomes clear that management combines characteristics of both art and science.

Though in earlier times, management effectiveness depended heavily on personal insights and skills of managers, a body of management concepts, models and theories, based on detailed systematic observation and measurement of real life and experimental data to guide managers, has developed gradually starting from dawn of 20th century. Scientific rigor of data analysis and synthesis has been applied to develop many useful management theories and model. These models range from simple economic order quantity formula, through statistical quality control techniques, to the highly sophisticated non linear programming models.

Thus we can see that a practitioner of professional management today relies heavily on objective data and sound management theories to qualify as a science.

However there are many areas of management that cannot be handled using scientific method alone. A manager needs to work with many complex problems involving people in various roles of employee, customer, competitor, business partner, shareholder, and other stake holders. Behavior of all these groups is still not understood completely by behavior sciences, and managers are forced to rely on their subjective judgments and skills in many activities involving them. Also all the data that a manager may like to have may not be available. Further, managers must rely on personal skills and understanding in dealing with people. For example, winning over the co-operation of ones juniors, subordinates and peers will usually require, among other things, skills such as persuasion, negotiation, and empathy. Such skills are still more of an art rather than a science.

Thus in conclusion we can say that management is an art as well as a science. A person aspiring to be an effective manager must strive to learn the theoretical aspects of management. He or she must also develop the many skills of management which are not completely covered by the scientific approach and continues to remain in the realm of art.