There is no universally agreed definition of defence management. Defence management simply refers to the idea that defence organisations need to turn defence policies into practice, and in doing so, to develop appropriate and sustainable planning mechanisms, support systems and infrastructure.[1]

What is Defence Management?

Teri McConville and Richard Holmes (eds.) explain that: in defence, as in any other field, management occurs at all levels of an organisation and governs the full range of organisational activity. The process begins with the formulation of policy at the highest levels of command and government, and extends to the direction and control, sometimes in fine detail, of all aspects of service life. Managers need to interpret the environment in order to plan, organise, direct, coordinate and control the efforts of their organisations.[2]

As an institutional process, management of defence is situated between defence policy formulation and actual command and control of the military forces. The process should address areas of action such as defence resource management, personnel management, and acquisition management.[3]

Why is it important?

Defence management is important as it strives towards effectiveness and efficiency of the defence forces, ensuring they fulfil their duty of providing public security and defence against external threats in the best possible way. By ensuring resources are spent responsibly and strategically, in a manner that is consistent with the wider national security policy, defence management contributes good governance. This implies strong adherence to transparency and accountability at all organisational levels and the existence of an effective oversight system.

How does it work?

Management can be examined as a process of planning, organising and staffing, directing and controlling activities within an organisation in a systematic way in order to achieve a particular common (institutional) goal. Management is both a scientific method and an art of empowering people and making an organisation more effective and efficient than it would have been without management and managers (inc. ministers, directors, commanders etc.). The four pillars of defence management cycle are: planning

  • organising and staffing
  • directing and leading
  • monitoring and controlling[4]

Planning is the selection and sequential ordering of tasks that are required to achieve the desired organisational goal. Organising and staffing is the assessment and coordination of roles, tasks and duties to be performed by the personnel and distribution of the resources necessary to achieve a desired goal within a specified time-frame. This includes:

  • the process of recruitment, selection, training, placement and development of staff
  • directing the process of motivating, leading and influencing staff on the way towards achieving the common goal
  • monitoring and controlling in order to ensure that all units are moving towards the objective in a coordinated manner
  • evaluating the effectiveness and efficiency of plans and decisions and to correcting them if necessary[5]

Defence management employs a vast set of working methods such as:

  • operational, system and structural analyses;
  • planning and programming;
  • modelling and simulation;
  • creation of alternatives;
  • measuring performance and process improvement;
  • project management;
  • assessment of risks;
  • other methods and techniques applicable to different aspects of formulating and implementing defence policy[6]

No matter what pillar is being considered, and at what stage, defence management should be conceived within a broader framework of national security policy, based on a particular context taking into account specific circumstances, and in accordance with international standards of good governance. In other words, concrete objectives based on real security needs should be established. Effective and efficient mechanisms/methods to attain these objectives should be defined and resources organised accordingly. Outputs and outcomes should be measured, monitored and evaluated in order to improve overall performance and detect/prevent deviations.

Who is involved?

Defence management considered within a wider scope of national defence and security policy is a process that involves in the first instance state authorities that are responsible for the development of that policy and definition of defence and security budget. The role of parliaments in the oversight of this planning process is of special importance. The second phase of defence management relative to the actual implementation of policies and management of resources (organising, staffing, directing and leading) is handled by military and civilian personnel of the defence sector. The final phase of the defence management cycle, monitoring and controlling, involves a wide range of actors such as parliamentarians, ombuds institutions, auditors, inspectors, civil society and the media. Their objective is to monitor the process in order to ensure compliance with national and international standards of good governance, deter corrupt behaviour and provide feedback for improvement.


Centre for Integrity in the Defence Sector. Criteria for Good Governance in the Defence Sector: International Standards and Principles (2015)

Centre for Integrity in the Defence Sector (2015) Guides to Good Governance.

DCAF –UNDP (2008), Public Oversight of the Security Sector. A Handbook for Civil Society Organisations.

DCAF (2006) Military Ombudsmen.

DCAF Backgrounder Security Sector Governance and reform.     

DCAF (2008), National Security Policy Backgrounder.    

DCAF (2006) Parliament’s Role in Defence Procurement. Backgrounder.    

DCAF (2006) Parliament’s Role in Defence Budgeting. Backgrounder.    

Hari Bucur-Marcu, Philipp Fluri, Todor Tagarev (eds.) Defence Management: An Introduction. Security and Defence Management Series, No. 1. DCAF (2009)

McConville Teri, Holmes Richard (eds.), Defence Management in Uncertain Times, Cranfield Defence Management Series Number 3, Routledge 2011.

NATO-DCAF, (2010). Building Integrity and Reducing Corruption in Defence: A Compendium of Best Practices.

OECD (2002) Best Practices for Budget Transparency

OSCE, Code of Conduct on Politico-Military Aspects of Security. December 1994.

Transparency International (2011). Building Integrity and Countering Corruption In Defence and Security: 20 Practical Reforms.

New editions of the DCAF SSR Backgrounder Series


[1] Source: Hari Bucur-Marcu et al., Defence Management: An Introduction, DCAF (2009) Security and Defence Management Series no 1.  p. 4.

[2] McConville Teri, Holmes Richard (eds.), Defence Management in Uncertain Times. Cranfield Defence Management Series Number 3. Routledge 2011.

[3] Hari Bucur-Marcu, Philipp Fluri, Todor Tagarev (eds.) Defence Management: An Introduction. Security and Defence Management Series No1. DCAF (2009) p5.

[4] Defence Management: An Introduction p. 24.

[5] Ibid. p. 24-26.

[6] Ibid. p. 42.