Strategic Leadership in the Army: Essential Roles and Competencies

This article has been initially published in the Revista Seguridad y Poder Terrestre
Vol. 1 N.° 1 (2022): July – September


The development of leaders is a fundamental aspect for the future of any institution, even more so in the case of military institutions in the process of transformation, since the involvement of strategic leaders is a key element to achieve planned objectives. Therefore, knowledge and adequate practice of strategic leadership are critical factors to effectively guide any strategic process of institutional development. To do this, strategic leaders must not only know and understand the roles that they legitimately must assume, but also develop and optimize certain essential skills for their effective performance. In this sense, this article identifies and analyzes these roles and competencies.

Keywords: Military transformation, levels of leadership, strategic leadership, roles of the strategic leader, competencies of the strategic leader.


The Peruvian Army, like other Armies in the region, has initiated a transformation process to enable it to effectively fulfill the different roles assigned by the Peruvian State. However, it should be taken into account that, although military transformation may be the firm intention of a military institution, this process will only begin with the consent of the country’s top political decision-makers, since any transformation requires the allocation of additional resources that allow for profound changes, especially in the area of modernization.[1] Likewise, it should be considered that the transformation of a military institution cannot be planned and executed outside the framework of an integral transformation of the Defense Sector, which includes the transformation not only of all military Services but also the organization or command that groups them during the planning and execution of joint operations.[2]

Although these are fundamental aspects to advance in a transformation process, there is a decisive internal aspect to achieve the objectives foreseen during this process: the involvement of the strategic leaders of the military institution. Therefore, the knowledge and adequate practice of strategic leadership are fundamental to effectively guide any strategic process of institutional development; otherwise, the strategic development plan -no matter how adequate it may be- will be only a list of good wishes since its implementation over time will not occur. In that sense, this article identifies and analyzes both: the roles that the Army’s strategic leaders must fulfill, as well as the competencies they must develop to effectively perform those roles and achieve a successful transformation process.

The military leader and leadership levels

Leader development is a fundamental aspect for the future of military institutions, in which leadership is understood as “the activity of influencing people by providing purpose, direction and motivation to fulfill the mission and improve the organization”.[3] Consequently, all military leaders, regardless of their rank, must develop and possess certain attributes and competencies that allow them to “Be, Know and Do” for the benefit of the institution.[4] On the one hand, qualities – such as “Character” (moral and ethical qualities of the leader), “Presence” (characteristics displayed by the leader) and “Intellect” (mental and social skills that the leader applies while leading) – are those internal characteristics of a leader that affect the way he/she behaves, thinks and learns within certain conditions.[5] On the other hand, competencies are actions the Army expects leaders to perform such as, “Lead” (provide purpose, direction, and motivation; build trust; set an example; and communicate), “Develop” (develop self, develop subordinates, and create a positive climate), and “Achieve” (effectively accomplish assigned tasks and missions).[6]

Leader qualities and competencies are progressively developed and applied at all existing levels of leadership in the Army. The first of these levels is to direct leadership, which is characterized as face-to-face leadership and generally occurs in organizations where subordinates see their leaders on an ongoing basis.[7] At this level, leaders develop others through coaching, mentoring, tutoring, and example.[8] The second level is organizational leadership, in which leaders exercise leadership through subordinate leaders, establishing an appropriate work climate and interacting regularly and personally with their subordinates.[9] Organizational leadership includes responsibility for multiple functions, as well as effectively managing the organization, among others. Finally, the third level is strategic leadership, in which leaders allocate resources, communicate the strategic vision and prepare their commands and the Army itself for future missions.[10] Strategic leaders shape the Army’s culture by ensuring that its policies, directives, programs and systems are ethical, effective and efficient.[11] At this level, strategic leaders apply all the core competencies they acquired as direct and organizational leaders, adapting them to the complex realities they face. If leaders are important in a military institution, strategic leaders are even more so because their decisions have the potential to affect not only the present, but also the future of the Army.

Roles of strategic leaders

The U.S. Army War College defines strategic leadership as “the process used by a leader to affect the achievement of a desirable and clearly understood vision by influencing organizational culture, allocating resources, directing through policies and directives, and building consensus within a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous global environment that is marked by opportunities and threats.”[12] Therefore, strategic leaders must understand the complexity of the strategic environment, balance the competing requirements of internal and external groups, and provide guidance (decisions) to move the organization forward.[13] They must also understand the interrelationship of various subsystems – which compete and complement each other – to achieve alignment with both the current and future environment.[14] However, who are the Army’s strategic leaders?

In this regard, it can be stated that the strategic leaders are the highest-level leaders in the organization. Therefore, the Commanding General of the Army and the Major Generals are the strategic leaders of the Peruvian Army. Below them are the senior leaders, who are responsible for monitoring and analyzing the environment, assessing implications, risks and opportunities, as well as communicating ideas, recommendations, plans, strategies and decisions.[15] The Commanding Generals of the Major Combat Units and the Directors of the Army General Staff with their staffs (Brigadier Generals and Colonels) are the senior leaders of the Army. They shape and execute decisions that impact the entire entity, as well as contribute to the work and roles of the strategic leaders.

Roles or functions are tasks that correspond to an institution or an entity, or to its organs or individuals.[16] Therefore, a role is a structured, standardized and institutionalized pattern of behavior that corresponds to a particular position.[17] Consequently, leaders who do not understand their roles in the organization run the risk of assuming roles perceived as illegitimate (that do not correspond to them) or not fulfilling the expectations of action or behavior in their legitimate roles (that do correspond to them).[18] So, what roles do strategic leaders fulfill?

Without a doubt, the work of Canadian management and business strategy expert Henry Mintzberg provides a solid basis for answering this question as he balances the requirements for focus both inside and outside the organization.[19] Mintzberg identifies ten roles -grouped into three categories- that must necessarily be played (simultaneously or at different times) by the people who are in charge of any organization.

The first of these groups is the Interpersonal Roles, which are rooted in the formal authority of the strategic leader and are exercised in both formal and informal contexts. The three roles grouped in this category are: (1) Representative Role, in which the strategic leader – as the most visible symbol – officially represents the organization in all formal matters: internal and external. (2) Relational Role, in which the strategic leader must interact with external people and organizations to create convenient support networks. To this end, he or she focuses on developing and maintaining beneficial relationships with influential external stakeholders. (3) Leader Role, where under an internal focus, the strategic leader – through formal and informal interactions – must define and create a climate of good relationships among the members of the organization, in order to accomplish the intended tasks and align the (personal) objectives of subordinates with the organization’s goals.[20]

The second of these groups is the Informational Roles, which stem from the central position of the strategic leader in managing not only information, but also interpersonal relationships. The three roles grouped in this category are: (1) Monitor Role, in which the strategic leader actively and continuously scans the organizational environment (internal and external) in order to obtain and process all information that is of use to the organization. (2) Disseminator Role, through which the strategic leader disseminates relevant information to subordinates for their knowledge and organizational activities. (3) Spokesperson role, where – unlike the internal focus of the disseminator role – it emphasizes the importance of external communication and – usually – is related to the responsibilities of the representative role. In this role, the strategic leader is in charge of making known the official opinion or position of the institution on the issues that concern him or her.[21]

Finally, the third of these groups is the Decisional Roles, which are inherent to strategic leaders due not only to the valuable information they manage, but also to their significant position to make transcendental decisions. The four roles grouped in this category are: (1) Entrepreneur Role, through which the strategic leader identifies threats and opportunities in the environment to conceive and execute change in the organization. (2) Conflict Manager Role, in which the strategic leader must resolve or mitigate the disturbances or conflicts that occur among the members of the organization, including those that may occur with other strategic leaders of the institution, since the strategic leader must transcend and prevent a conflict or personal problem from limiting his/her management or negatively impacting the organization. (3) Resource Allocator Role, where the strategic leader determines the distribution of scarce resources to solve -in the short term- the demands of the members of the organization, while maintaining the long-term vision. However, resource allocation also focuses on how the leader uses his or her own capital. In this regard, Mintzberg notes that “the most important resource the manager allocates is his own time.” Therefore, the strategic leader must also determine how much time to allocate to the various roles described. (4) Negotiator role, where the strategic leader must manage the competing interests of the parties involved in important decisions by maintaining mutually agreeable relationships with external people and organizations.[22]

At all times, strategic leaders face complex challenges and opportunities. They not only represent the organization, but also shape and guide it into the future, while managing various types of relationships, both internal and external. In carrying out these responsibilities, strategic leaders take on a variety of roles and need to develop important competencies to be effective.

Core competencies of strategic leaders

A competency is defined as a capacity or ability.[23] According to the Royal Spanish Academy, “competence” is the expertise, aptitude and suitability to do something or to intervene in a given matter.[24] Similarly, organizational theorist Richard Boyatzis defines competencies as “the underlying characteristics of a person that lead to or cause effective and outstanding performance”.[25] Unlike inherited traits, competencies can be developed and enhanced in motivated people to do so. Consequently, strategic leaders have an obligation to develop and optimize various competencies that enable them to effectively fulfill their roles. In that sense, what competencies should strategic leaders possess?

According to Professor Douglas Waters, leadership competencies can be grouped into three categories: conceptual, technical and interpersonal.[26] Although the development and optimization of these competencies -to a greater or lesser extent- are necessary at all levels of leadership, they are undoubtedly fundamental for strategic leaders to effectively and efficiently fulfill their inherent roles.

On the one hand, Conceptual Competencies are sophisticated thinking skills that strategic leaders need to understand and guide the organization in a complex and ambiguous strategic environment, and where decisions have second- and third-order effects that are difficult to predict accurately.[27] The following competencies are grouped into this category: (1) Strategic Thinking. This skill or capability is based on the application of three important cognitive competencies that facilitate good judgment and inform the strategic leader’s decision making: creative thinking (explores new hypotheses, potential opportunities and innovative ideas), critical thinking (analyzes data to drive creative thinking and evaluates the options generated to converge on the most promising opportunities) and systems thinking (examines interactions both of the parts of the object to be explained and of the object with other objects or external actors in order to identify and mitigate potential effects). [28] Thus, strategic thinking also includes the ability to visualize the future, the sophisticated use of theory, and the application of reflective judgment.[29] (2) Problem Management. The strategic leader -usually- faces problems that are difficult to understand and whose solution options are complex and indirect. Consequently, problem management involves “managing” problems toward the desired outcome, i.e., making a decision, making adjustments, modifying the initial approach, and discarding alternatives that avoid progress.[30]

On the other hand, Technical Competencies involve the skillful application of specialized knowledge and resources to achieve organizational objectives, including an understanding of complex adaptive systems, as well as the ability to diagnose and lead change at the enterprise level.[31] The three competencies grouped in this category are as follows: (1) Systems Understanding. At the strategic level there is less focus on the integration of the organization’s internal systems and processes, but a greater focus on how the Army integrates into the Defense Sector and the national and international area. In that context, the strategic leader must identify both the boundaries of the system (or systems) which the Army forms a part of, and the relevant interrelationships within and outside these boundaries. (2) Political Competence within the joint, multi-sector, intergovernmental, and multinational environment. Political competence does not imply that the Army strategic leader engages and participates in politics, but rather understands – through a political lens – the motivations, rationales, and red lines of external actors, facilitating advice to top political decision makers during policy and strategy formulation and implementation. (3) Strategic Change Management. Leading and managing change in such a hierarchical organization, and with such an entrenched organizational culture as the Army. This is one of the most difficult tasks for a strategic leader as he or she faces not only competing interests, but also resistance to change from some members of the institution. After a rigorous diagnosis, the strategic leader must execute the required changes to the Army’s culture, systems, structure, and processes to ensure organizational effectiveness and future success.[32]

Finally, Interpersonal Competencies focus on those skills that enable strategic leaders to improve relationships between groups and stakeholders, as well as better manage group dynamics.[33] The four competencies grouped in this category are the following: (1) Consensus Building, which requires engaging all stakeholders, encouraging input, making issues visible, and making decisions, in collaboration with external and internal stakeholders. This is a process based on effective reasoning, logic and negotiation if coordinated, effective and lasting action is to be taken.[34] The Superior Council of the Peruvian Army (composed of the institution’s Major Generals) is the entity through which the Army’s strategic leaders build consensus on issues that impact the future of the institution. To this end, its procedures must be regulated and respected so that a high level, informed and sincere discussion prevails among its members. (2) Negotiation. Many of the relationships that leaders maintain at the strategic level are lateral and without clear subordination. Therefore, the strategic leader must possess listening skills, diagnose tactical interests and agendas, stand firm on non-negotiable points and, at the same time, communicate respect for other participants.[35] (3) Leadership Development. The strategic leader cannot transform the institution alone. Creating the future is a team effort. Therefore, the strategic leader must train and mentor the future leaders of the institution, particularly the senior leaders, because they will be responsible for providing continuity to the long-term policies and strategies within a transformation process.[36] One of the main jobs of strategic leaders is, therefore, to make people grow, the people who will lead the organization when they leave.[37] (4) Communication. When interacting with external and internal stakeholders, leaders at the strategic level communicate through a variety of direct and indirect means. In that sense, the strategic leader must not only develop essential communication skills (critical reading, professional writing, active listening and public speaking), but also carefully choose the right words to ensure that the desired message is received in order to generate support, build consensus and successfully negotiate.[38]

As mentioned, the development of these competencies will enable the strategic leader to effectively fulfill his or her roles by having the ability to continuously scan his or her environment, proactively anticipate change, develop visions that guide the organization into the future, align the organization’s culture and environment with its vision, as well as create and maintain a values-based and ethical direction that reinforces the vision of his or her organization.[39]


Knowledge and proper practice of strategic leadership are fundamental to effectively guide any strategic process of institutional development. On the one hand, strategic leaders must know and understand the roles they should legitimately play in order to meet the expectations of action or behavior, avoiding assuming roles that do not correspond to them. On the other hand, the development and optimization of certain competencies are essential for the effective performance of strategic leaders. However, the development and maturity of these competencies require time and persistence.

Consequently, military leaders-regardless of leadership level-must be committed and dedicated to improving these skills and capabilities. Likewise, the Army must formulate and implement a formal strategy that allows the progressive development of these competencies in the leaders of the institution. In the case of the Peruvian Army, it is essential to reactivate the Army High Command Program (PAME) with an approach that facilitates the development of strategic leadership competencies in those officers (senior leaders) most likely to occupy -in the near future- the most important positions in the institution.


  1. Paul E. Vera Delzo, “Transformación militar: Esfuerzo y compromiso institucional”, Military Review, (Edición Hispanoamericana. Third trimester 2019), 38,, (accessed April 10, 2022).
  2. Paul E. Vera Delzo, “Transformación en el Ejército del Perú: ¿Tendencia o Necesidad?,” Pensamiento Conjunto, (2018), 85,
  3. U.S. Department of the Army, Army Leadership and the Profession, ADP-622 (Washington, DC: Department of the Army, November 25, 2019), 1-13,, (accessed April 10, 2022).
  4. Ibid., 1 – 16.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid., 1 – 22.
  8. Ibid., 1 – 23.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Department of Command, Leadership, and Management, “Introduction,” Strategic Leadership Primer, 3rd ed., ed. Stephen J. Gerras (Carlisle Barracks, PA: U.S. Army War College, Department of Command, Leadership, and Management, 2010), 2, (accessed April 11, 2022).
  13. DCLM, Academic Year 2018 Strategic Leadership Course Directive (Carlisle Barracks, PA: U.S. Army War College, July 2017), 10, (accessed April 11, 2022).
  14. Ibid.
  15. Silas Martinez y Tom Galvin, “Leadership at the Strategic Level,” in Strategic Leadership: Primer for Senior Leaders, 4th ed., Ed. Tom Galvin y Dale Watson (Carlisle Barracks, PA: U.S. Army War College, Department of Command, Leadership, and Management, 2019), 8, (accessed April 11, 2022).
  16. Real Academia Española, s.v. “función”, (accessed April 12, 2022).
  17. Craig Bullis, “Senior Leader Roles,” in Strategic Leadership: Primer for Senior Leaders, 4th ed., Ed. Tom Galvin y Dale Watson (Carlisle Barracks, PA: U.S. Army War College, Department of Command, Leadership, and Management, 2019), 50, (accessed April 11, 2022).
  18. Ibid., 51.
  19. Ibid., 54.
  20. Ibid., 54 – 55.
  21. Ibid., 55 – 56.
  22. Ibid., 57 – 58.
  23. Richard E. Boyatzis, “Competencies in the 21st century”, Journal of Management Development (Vol. 27 No. 1, 2008), 5, (accessed April 12, 2022).
  24. Real Academia Española, s.v. “competencia”, (accessed 12, 2022).
  25. Richard E. Boyatzis, The Competent Manager: A Model for Effective Performance (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1982), 21.
  26. Douglas Waters, “Senior Leader Competencies,” in Strategic Leadership: Primer for Senior Leaders, 4th ed., Ed. Tom Galvin y Dale Watson (Carlisle Barracks, PA: U.S. Army War College, Department of Command, Leadership, and Management, 2019), 61, (accessed April 11, 2022).
  27. Ibid., 62.
  28. Douglas Waters, A Framework and Approach for Understanding Strategic Thinking and Developing Strategic Thinkers, Faculty Paper (Carlisle Barracks, PA: U.S. Army War College, May 2017).
  29. Douglas Waters, “Senior Leader Competencies,” 63.
  30. Ibid., 65.
  31. Ibid.
  32. Ibid., 65 – 67.
  33. Ibid., 67.
  34. Ibid., 68.
  35. Ibid., 69.
  36. Paul Vera, “Transformación militar,” 43.
  37. Gordon R. Sullivan y Michael V. Harper, Hope is not a Method: What Business Leaders can learn from America’s Army, (Broadway Books, Nueva York, 1997), 213.
  38. Douglas Waters, “Senior Leader Competencies,” 70.
  39. DCLM, Academic Year 2018 Strategic Leadership Course Directive, 1.


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The ideas contained in this analysis are the sole responsibility of the author, without necessarily reflecting the thoughts of the CEEEP or the Peruvian Army.

Image: CEEEP