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The twelve possible roles of an innovation manager

Are you ready to take on the challenge of innovation management? Discover the different roles of innovation managers required for success.

Innovation is a very complex and comprehensive undertaking. It takes a wide range of functions and skills to develop a new product or service from the initial idea and position it successfully on the market. This also places a wide variety of demands on innovation management and requires a wide range of roles.

what does innovation manager do?

The role of an innovation manager can be very diversified. In principle, there are two essential orientations of the functions in which the innovation manager can slip.

  • He is himself the innovator who seeks and develops ideas and handles innovation projects. He is the creative person, the inventor or the project manager.
  • He is an enabler who creates structures and processes so that innovation can happen in organizations. He is also a promoter, especially in the field of culture, where he works to persuade and disseminates the necessary knowledge of innovation. In the role of an enabler, he can also be a service provider for innovators, for example by taking care of patents or subsidies. 

The 12 possible roles of an innovation manager

Within the two functions Innovator and Enabler, there are numerous roles that the innovation manager can play.

1. Idea finder

In this role, the innovation manager is also the creative spirit that develops and seeks ideas. He does the screening of various sensors and innovation sources, conducts workshops for brainstorming, uses innovation tools and derives ideas from all these activities.

2. Idea manager

As an idea manager, he collects ideas from a wide variety of sources, so he is not the idea generator himself, but takes care of the collection, evaluation and selection. In doing so, he is usually supported by an idea management system that reflects the ideas of the employees.

3. Innovation scout

Compared to the idea manager, the innovation scout opens up its ideas process to the outside world and searches for ideas and new technologies outside the company in the sense of open innovation.

4. CIP manager

The CIP manager, who is responsible for the continuous improvement process and quality management, not only looks for innovations but also for improvements of all kinds in general and takes care of the processing and their implementation.

5. Innovation strategist

The innovation strategist approaches the idea collection and takes care of the strategic orientation of innovation management. Specifically, this involves an analysis of the opportunities, risks, strengths and weaknesses, as well as the derivation of important issues of the future and the purpose and vision of what we want to achieve with innovation. All this leads to the innovation strategy.

6. Futurologists

The futurologist works closely with the innovation strategist, where he provides the basis for the development of the innovation strategy. This involves research into future trends and their impact on the company. As part of the Corporate Foresight, he then makes projections into the future, which are the basis for the innovation strategy, the search fields and above all for finding ideas.

7. Organizational developer

If the innovation manager takes care of structures such as innovation processes and innovation systems, the innovation culture to sensitize and persuade for innovation, he is clearly an organizational developer. In this role, he does not drive innovation himself, but rather sets up the framework conditions so that innovation is encouraged in the organization and can take place successfully.

8. Innovation project manager

The project management of innovation projects is a key task, especially due to the scope, interdisciplinary and complexity of the projects. The project manager coordinates all process steps and tasks and is responsible for achieving the objectives. He accompanies an innovation from the beginning to the end and then hands it over to the operative business, especially the person responsible for the product lifecycle, which in many cases is the product manager.

9. Developer

The developer is the creator and usually the product expert and technician who develops the product and the technical solution behind it. He creates the innovation on the basis of the specifications of innovation goals or specifications. His task is completed when a solution with a working prototype is available, which he hands over to the production and sales department. This is not entirely correct, however, because the developer also plays an essential role in the product life cycle, since he is available for technical questions and secondly he takes up the feedback such as problems from the market and sales and develops the product further.

10. Patent manager

The Patent Manager is a service provider in the innovation process and supports with his expertise on patents. It helps in the initial phase by checking the current state of the art. During development, he checks whether existing industrial property rights are being infringed. And at the end of the development process, he evaluates patentability and applies for a patent on the solutions. And, of course, he defends the intellectual property rights in the event of an attack, as if by means of copies.

11. Funding manager

The promotion manager is also a service provider in the innovation process. It examines whether an innovation project is worthy of funding, submits it for funding and handles the process.

12. Portfolio Manager and Controller

While the project manager takes care of a single project, the portfolio manager is responsible for all projects. His goal is to select and prioritize the right projects so that the maximum value and success can be derived from the limited resources. The portfolio manager is also a controller because he measures the achievement of the innovation strategy and innovation goals (e.g. key figures) and initiates corrective measures in the event of deviations.

Innovation manager: roles and responsibilities 

As the above 12 roles show, the task of an innovation manager is very colorful. How the concrete role of an innovation manager is put together depends on the answers to the following questions:

  • Which tasks are required for us to systematically produce innovations?
  • Which tasks can be fulfilled by already existing positions?
  • Which tasks are not covered, are important and should be assigned to an innovation manager?
  • What focus must the innovation manager approach in order to achieve our innovation goals?

It is essential that the innovation manager focuses on the most important - the quasi innovation-creating - tasks and does not get lost in the jungle of the various roles. Depending on the size of the company and the intensity of the innovation activities, the innovation manager can bundle several roles, but it is not allowed to overload them, so that the innovation focus is not lost.

Different demands on the roles of the innovation manager

If one considers the roles of an innovation manager as described above, it becomes clear that the individual tasks place very different demands on the necessary technical and personal skills. The range includes

  • technical skills to develop solutions,
  • Knowledge of organizational development,
  • legal knowledge of patents,
  • Innovation methods and creativity,
  • project management
  • but also internal knowledge, e.g. about power structures, networks.

The specific requirements and strengths of individual innovation candidates must be taken into account when filling a role. For example, someone who is a tinker and designs great technical solutions is not necessarily the most appropriate project manager or organization developer.

Conclusion: The twelve possible roles of an innovation manager

Innovation management requires many tasks in order to develop and market successful new products. In fact, there are 12 different roles that an innovation manager or actor can take on. This is why a clear definition of the role that depends on what an organization needs to become innovative and successful is important when designing the position of innovation manager.


Jannik Böckenholt

As an expert for New Business Development, Jannik is your reliable companion for new commercial ventures. When it comes to the restructuring of innovation processes or the application of innovation methods, the learned project manager guides you to your objective step by step, while making sure there is fun along the way with his inspiring storytelling in the workshops he moderates.

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