Design managers are called upon to enhance their competences at various levels within the corporate environment. Accordingly, this study aims to establish a competence model for design managers (CMDM). The CMDM was established through deductive content analysis of pertinent international journal articles. The study further investigates the competences perceived to be important for middle-level design managers through a survey conducted in South Korea. To establish the diverse ways in which middle managers are engaged in the product development process, survey respondents were divided into three different design functions: front-end focused, back-end focused, and intermediate. We found that generic design managers identified strategic and tactical competences to be most important, and operational competence (i.e., design expertise) to have medium importance. Moreover, middle-level design managers required a broad spectrum of competences to understand both top management and actual practice; they demonstrated more tactical and operational competences than generic design managers did. The three design functions represented different patterns of importance: those with a front-end focus exhibited a strategic orientation and a generalist manager's perspective; those with a back-end focus showed a practical orientation and a specialist manager's perspective; and those in the intermediate group demonstrated both types of characteristics. This study also provides a portfolio of exemplary competences for middle-level design managers, segmented by design function.