Management vs leadership


Understanding the differences and why you need both

Often the terms “leadership” and “management” are used interchangeably in business. This is particularly true in today’s team-based world of work where managers have greater responsibility to lead their teams and achieve organizational goals. However, there are significant leadership and management differences in terms of what they each do and how they interact with the people around them.

Essentially people work for a manager – but they follow a leader, something that is increasingly important in today’s more complex world of work.

What is management?

Management is about ensuring that things get done, meaning that managers have the responsibility to ensure their teams deliver on the ground. Managers are all about completing work, implementing processes, and achieving objectives – often the objectives that leaders have set out in their strategic vision.

Managers tend to be selected based on specific technical skills, knowledge, and expertise. They know how to do a job or deliver a particular process successfully and how to motivate their team to get things done. As well as managing people, they are responsible for activities such as budgeting, organisational structure, and staffing. They are focused on the status quo rather than the future.

Top management skills include:

  1. Interpersonal skills
  2. Communication
  3. Motivation of their team
  4. Planning and organisation/project management, including budgeting
  5. Delegation and task allocation
  6. Team building
  7. Strategic thinking
  8. Problem-solving
  9. Providing clear feedback to team members
  10. Commercial awareness
  11. Mentoring and coaching

What is leadership?

In contrast to managers who operate at a practical level, leaders set the vision for the organization. They are less focused on how to organize people to get work done and more on finding ways to inspire, align and influence them. Good leadership is all about creating value through developing and communicating this vision and strategy to those around you. It is about engaging people so they buy-into what you are setting out and enthusiastically help deliver it.

Leaders don’t have to be the founders or senior managers of companies – they can equally be at the head of individual departments too. Successful leaders use influence and inspiration to connect with others, rather than demanding obedience based on their position in a hierarchy. Good leaders often have high emotional intelligence and empathy, enabling them to understand and engage with people to get them on-side.

Leaders may demonstrate one of many different leadership styles – from agile to transformational. However, they all share a number of key skills.

Top leadership skills include:

  1. Communication
  2. The ability to motivate and strong self-motivation
  3. Delegation
  4. Positivity, energy, and enthusiasm
  5. Trustworthiness and openness
  6. Creativity and the ability to think outside the box
  7. Feedback
  8. Responsibility and accountability
  9. Commitment
  10. Flexibility, including the ability to take calculated risks

What are the major differences between leadership and management?

There’s clear overlap in some of the skills needed by successful leaders and managers. Leadership versus management is not a straightforward split. Both need strong communication skills to clearly get across their message, whether that is about vision or process. They need to be able to problem-solve and make effective decisions on an ongoing basis.

The best way to understand the differences between management vs leadership is to look at six key areas:

1.   Vision

Leaders set out a vision for the future for their organization. Managers then follow it, creating goals and processes for their teams. Managers have to get buy-in at a local level from their team. They take responsibility for keeping employees aligned with the vision and company values.

2.   Ideas

Leaders are all about ideas and strategies to improve on a company-wide level. In contrast managers are about execution and delivering tangible results. They might have ideas for improvement, but they are likely to be at a tactical, operational level. Leaders are unique – managers copy.

3.   Inspiration

Leaders inspire their followers, whereas managers are responsible for the immediate working environment for the employees in their team and for getting things done. According to Gallup research managers account for 70% of variance in employee engagement levels. As the old saying goes, people don’t leave bad companies, they leave bad managers.

4.   Timescales

Leaders look forward into the future, coming up with new strategies and aims. They have a vision for change and are willing to rake risks. Managers work in the present, getting things done in the here and now. They are extremely risk-averse. Leaders are in it for the long haul, managers think short-term and focus on the status quo.

5.   Culture and people

Leaders shape and transform culture, while managers follow it. By inspiring their people, leaders create fans, while managers have employees to look after. Leaders coach their people and build relationships. Managers build systems and processes to deliver incremental improvements in their team.

6.   Skills

Leaders demonstrate soft skills, such as empathy and inspiration to motivate their company or department. In contrast, managers are focused on hard, technical skills related to their specific role.

Short and sweet: key differences between leadership and management

Leader Manager
Set vision Follow vision
Create ideas Execute plans
Inspire people Create processes to ensure things get done
Focus on the future and take risks Responsible for the here and now; risk-averse
Change and shape culture Endorse culture
Soft skills to motivate and inspire

If you’re still not sure whether you are manager or a leader, ask yourself the question. Do I spend my time leading people or just managing work? That will help you understand where you sit in the management vs leadership split.

Are there similarities between leadership and management?

While there are significant differences between leadership and management roles, there are similarities and areas where skills overlap:


Both leaders and managers need to be able to communicate effectively with employees, particularly now that engaging and motivating people is vital to success. Employees want and expect to be informed about how their organization is doing and where it is heading. Leaders and managers need to be able to deliver messages using different communication styles, personalised to the recipient, listen, and respond to feedback. The major difference is what they are communicating and the end goal. Leadership communication is about inspiring employees to follow a vision, while management communication is about supporting staff to do their best in their current roles.

Communicate easily with Communicate XI: Reach your team with the right content at the right time. Communicate XI provides your employees with timely, relevant videos, news, infographics, and audio content – anytime, anywhere. It makes it easier for managers and leaders to communicate, transforming the employee experience.


Leadership and management are both responsible roles. That means leaders and managers need to take important decisions and solve problems, requiring the ability to analyse information, understand potential options and then make and communicate decisions. Both need to be accountable for their actions and be prepared to justify the decisions they have made. Again, what is different is the type of decision – managers might be changing a process or making a small improvement, while leaders could be taking the company in an entirely new direction.

Change management

Most organizations face a need to change, whether it is to overcome new competitors, meet evolving customer needs or to transform digitally to become more efficient. Managers and leaders need to work together to communicate and drive change. Leaders set the strategy and vision, and managers then implement it on the ground. After all, managers know their employees better and how they can be persuaded to accept change.

Which is more important leadership vs management?

When you look at the two roles, leaders may appear to be more important, but it is vital to have both strong leadership and management in the workplace. If everyone is setting strategy and no-one is taking responsibility for actioning it, then nothing is likely to get done effectively. Equally, without a long-term vision the company won’t have a future, no matter how efficient it currently is.

All of this means that leaders and managers have to work closely together, particularly at times of change and disruption. Companies need to have a mix of skills between their leaders and managers, covering everything from ideas to execution.

Should leaders also be managers – and the other way around?

Some people have both leadership and management skills, but there’s normally a bias towards one or the other. Essentially this is because the different skills are two sides of the same coin. One group is focused on action and getting things done and the other on vision and inspiration. For example, a strong leader might not have the time (or inclination) to meticulously check that a process is delivering a successful outcome, while an effective manager may struggle to create a high enough level vision to engage the wider organization. Recognise whether someone is best suited to leadership or management and support them to develop and grow.

Importantly, senior leadership needs to understand that their company requires both sets of skills. Organizations must put in place training programmes to cover both leadership and management roles. Each role should be recognized for the benefits it brings, with the right incentives in place to keep leaders and managers engaged and motivated. Good managers shouldn’t be forced to become leaders if it doesn’t match their skillsets or objectives, while great leaders should be supported with effective managers to allow them to focus on what they do best.

What does the world of work need today?

Today, the world of work is changing dramatically. Digitization and the rise of AI is fundamentally reshaping business and the working environment, adding to the change brought by the pandemic and hybrid working. Employee needs are changing, across different generations. This makes it more and more important to understand and address their individual requirements around work.

All of this means that companies require both strong leadership and effective management, working closely together. This will address business needs and employee concerns at both a strategic and tactical level, building an effective, forward-looking organization where everyone is motivated and engaged, and has the skills and support to achieve their best and deliver on company goals.

Support your managers and leaders

To succeed in business today, organizations require the strongest possible leaders and managers. They need to develop the right skills and be continually learning and improving, whatever their role. Tivian’s Leadership 360 solution enables both managers and leaders to grow their capabilities by collecting and acting on 360 degree feedback from their managers, peers, subordinates, and colleagues. By uncovering areas for growth and development it enables even the highest performing managers and leaders to become more effective, accelerating organizational success.

Measure the impact of leadership on the employee experience

Inspiring your people is central to successful leadership while engaging employees is a critical part of the role of the manager. Listening to feedback is essential to measuring the effectiveness of leaders and managers alike. Our employee experience platform enables you to uncover insights from your people and inspire action for managers and leaders. By regularly listening to every employee’s feedback organisations are able to increase productivity, reduce churn, and attract talent.

Read more about leadership – or see how Tivian can help you in a free demo.