Many urbanised deltas face development challenges due to growing economies, populations and climate change. Changes in land–water strategies are often required, as ‘business-as-usual’ solutions are no longer sufficient. The aim of this paper was to study tidal river management (TRM) as a strategic innovation, and trace how it is appreciated by people and used in master plans to address congested rivers and waterlogging in Bangladesh. In this context, a strategic innovation can be categorised as having four features: (i) it is a fundamental reconceptualisation of business as usual strategies; (ii) it is rule breaking and reshapes markets; (iii) it offers value improvement for livelihoods; (iv) it is sustainable. The case study analysis was built from 17 interviews, a focus group discussion and numerous documents. The case analysis revealed that tidal river management is very different (local, natural, complex) from mainstream engineering strategies for tidal rivers and polder systems, and is strongly supported by local people for its potential livelihood improvement. The paper concludes that tidal river management has strategic potential, though is hardly recognised in master plans. To advance practice, reconceptualisations are needed that focus on the diverse benefits of TRM, such as restored tidal rivers, flora and fauna. Further research could elaborate livelihood models that thrive on these benefits, and evaluate their costs and benefits accordingly.