Role of a leader vs Role of a manager

When we begin to understand the difference between the role of a leader and a manager, we are able to make conscious choices about how we lead, and how we spend our time. Managers are a vital role within an organisation, just as important as leaders. 

By understanding the differences, you are able us to choose where to put your effort, consciously decide what tasks and activities to do and when to delegate, and how to delegate.

The Manager

The role of manager is a specific one. You run a team, project or department and focus on delivering key results or goals. You make plans, organise resources, delegate, monitor performance and continually develop.  Managers deliver actions. 

When you go past basic management skills, you enter a much more complex and ambiguous space where your main responsibility is not a deadline. You begin to step into leadership. Leaders need to have a vision of where their team goes next. You are stepping out of the present and maintaining current performance. Now you find ways for your team to be better, seek new opportunities and grow.

When I think about the difference between a manager and a leader. I often think about the core responsibilities of a manager.

  1. 1
    PLAN. The manager is given the organisation's objectives and goals and must create a plan to achieve them. This may be a business plan, it may be a quarterly plan, or even what the roles and responsibilities might be. 
  2. 2
    ORGANISE. Once the plan is clear with the goals, resources need to be organised to ensure delivery. This might look like: organising time, resources, machinery, budgets, personnel skills and development. Managers can then identify where they are now and where they need to be as well as how they will organise current and future resources to achieve the outcomes. 
  3. 3
    DELEGATE. Managers must then delegate tasks and activities to teams. They may need to assemble a new team, recruit new staff or delegate to existing staff. They will be clear on what needs to be done by when and sometimes they will decide on how it needs to be done. 
  4. 4
    MONITOR. They must monitor progress against the goals. This means putting in SMART objectives that are timely and measurable. They will get the data, whether it's through metrics, reporting, or via KPIs, and they will identify whether performance is on track. And if not, how to get it back on track. Therefore, they are constantly reviewing and gaining feedback and giving feedback to ensure high performance. 
  5. 5
    DEVELOP. Managers need to develop. They develop their people, they develop the systems the processes, the resources and the culture to ensure performance is met. This is a continuous cycle. It is all based on delivery around the goals. 

The Leader

If management is about day-to-day operations, completing projects on time and making sure everyone knows their responsibility, leadership is about the future.

The leader understands the present and looks beyond. Leaders hang out with possibilities, explore opportunities, are bold and adventurous and inspire others to want their vision of the future. Leadership is the foundation of innovation and long-term, successful strategies. Leaders can be great managers, but if they get caught up in the daily tactical tasks, they miss opportunities that create transformation and possibilities. You need to step back and look at the whole, look above to see what is coming over the horizon and look forward towards a vision. People see the difference between a manager and a leader. It can be the difference between just doing their jobs really well and being motivated and inspired to do more and be more.

Leaders have followers. They inspire people behind a common cause or vision, a rally cry or a mountain to climb. They are humble, sharing that it will be hard and yet together we can achieve it. They genuinely care about their followers, their people. They nurture relationships, build trust and invest in people. 

Leaders stand on the shoulders of the giants they create

Leaders are the people who vision and set expectations that managers then deliver. So, the leaders, paint a picture of what they see as possible, and inspire and engage their people in turning that vision into a reality.  

They explore. 

They remain open.  

They are bold.  

They ask questions.  

They take risks.  

Their job is to create a future, facilitate change and solve problemsThey think beyond what individuals do. They are more holistic.  

"Managers manage tasks, leaders lead people ."

The below worksheet helps you to consider whether you demonstrate the behaviours of a manager, a leader or a blend of both. It also gets you to think about your approach compared to the approach you prefer.


We need great managers, and we need great leaders; knowing your role and how to adapt is critical. 

What role are you in right now? Are you using the right skills and behaviours?

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