Soft Skills

8 minute read

Management Skills vs. Leadership Skills: What's the Difference?

Kat Boogaard

Kat Boogaard

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Think the terms “leader” and “manager” are synonyms? Well, that’s not quite true.

These two words are often used interchangeably in the business world, but there are actually quite a few differences between management skills vs leadership skills.

So, uhhh… what exactly is this mysterious difference? We’re breaking it all down for you right here.

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Compare and contrast: How leaders differ from managers

To make thing extra confusing, it’s true that the most effective leaders also possess many of the same skills that make a successful manager—and vice versa. Those lines do get almost frustratingly blurry.

If that’s the case, what makes for a great leader—as opposed to a great manager?

Sarah Finch, a leadership development facilitator, coach, and professional speaker, sums it up perfectly when she says, “People follow leaders because they want to. They follow managers because they are told to.”

Through their behavior and interactions, good leaders inspire people to follow them and live up to the example they’re setting. In contrast, managers are placed in positions of power on the organizational chart—meaning employees feel the need to listen to them simply because they’re outranked.

“A manager holds a position of authority and is responsible for the accomplishment of company goals for a specific team within that company,” explains Rob Braiman, Founder and CEO of Cogent Analytics, “A leader, on the other hand, only requires that people are willing to follow.”

Does this mean that a manager can’t also be an effective leader? Absolutely not—there’s plenty of overlap. But, to add some further clarity, let’s touch on some of the necessary skills of managers and compare those to some must-have leadership skills.

What makes a good manager? 5 essential skills

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Traditionally, managers are responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations of their teams. With that in mind, here are five skills that help them do their jobs well.

1. Organization

The best managers are highly organized. They’re able to establish and then maintain company processes, monitor progress, organize priorities, and generally keep their teams on track in achieving certain milestones.

That’s tough to do successfully when they’re scatterbrained. So, it’s important that managers are skilled at keeping things in order.

2. Attention to detail

Similarly to the points mentioned above, managers need to be acutely in tune with what’s happening on their teams.

Whether that’s spotting when things could potentially go over budget or vetting other people’s work, keen attention to detail will help a manager (and his or her team!) to succeed—with as few headaches and hurdles as possible.

3. Communication

There’s no way around it: Communication is an unavoidable skill for managers. They must be able to provide necessary feedback, clear up confusion, offer direction, collaborate with other company managers, and even resolve conflicts.

The better communicator a manager is, the easier time he or she will have overseeing and steering the direction of the entire team.

4. Time Management

When you consider that managers are responsible for the daily forward motion of their departments, it becomes obvious that they need to be exceptionally skilled time managers. They need to be able to get things done and set appropriate priorities for their teams.

“Organizations are built on the backs of great managers. Managers get things done—ahead of time and under budget—time and time again,” says Wayne Strickland, President of Global Distribution Strategy at Hallmark Cards, “Great managers can absorb a tremendous amount of work, navigate changes in schedules and the work environment, and still hit their goals.”

5. Delegation

While managers need to be able to get things accomplished on their own, they should also be able to effectively assign work to others—and then trust them to get it done correctly.

Any employee will be quick to tell you that there’s nothing worse than a micromanager. So, the most effective managers know how to be successful and supportive delegators.

What makes a good leader? 5 essential skills

Management-skills-vs-leadership-skills-good-leaderThose above five characteristics sound like the makings of a great manager, right? And, as we’ve mentioned a few times, ideally leaders will also possess those skills.

But, in addition to the above, what do leaders need to be truly amazing at inspiring their teams? Here are five key qualities.

1. Vision

While managers oversee the day-to-day operations of their teams, leaders are more focused on the strategy and shaping the overall direction of the culture, department, or entire organization.

With that in mind, it’s important that leaders have the foresight and big-picture thinking capabilities to steer the ship—while the manager directs the crew.

2. Curiosity

The best leaders aren’t content to rest with the status quo. Instead, they’re looking to challenge those norms and tackle problems with an innovative approach or a totally fresh perspective. They’re natural innovators.

Because of that, leaders are innately curious. They love to learn, grow, and become intimately familiar with how things work—as well as how they could work better.


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3. Communication

Wait… what? Didn’t we also list communication as an essential skill on the management list?

Yes—good catch! But, this was intentional. Communication is critically important for both leaders and managers alike. However, the methods and content of their communication can differ.

While managers need to be able to communicate directions and feedback, leaders focus less on the technical details and more on encouragement and empowerment.

“Leaders need to be good listeners,” says Finch, “They need to know how to coach their people to find answers, not just direct them. A leader knows when to step back and let other voices be louder, and when they need to take action.”

4. Emotional Intelligence

In order for leaders to inspire people to follow them—as opposed to instructing them to follow—they need a high level of emotional intelligence.

This means that they can empathize with others, establish trust and genuine connections, and then motivate those people accordingly.

5. Accountability

Finally, the most successful leaders are highly accountable. They view themselves as responsible not only for themselves but also for the people who look up to them.

“A leader believes he or she is accountable to those they lead,” shares Connelly Hayward, a coach, trainer, and consultant, “A manager believes his or her team members are accountable to him or herself.”

Leaders don’t view direct reports as burdens who could potentially tarnish their own reputation. Instead, they view those reports as people they need to adequately serve and support.

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Management skills vs. Leadership skills: Yes, there’s a difference

This is by no means an exhaustive list. There are tons of different competencies that are necessary to be an effective leader or manager. And, in an ideal world, there will also be plenty of overlap between the two.

But, one thing is for certain: Becoming a successful leader or manager doesn’t just happen by accident. As with anything, it requires self-awareness and an investment in improving your own skills.

Where should you get started in giving your own skill set a boost? Sign up for GoSkills and then check out our team leadership course or our leadership training course.

Before long, you’ll have dedicated followers behind you—not just because they have to follow your lead, but because they want to.

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Kat Boogaard

Kat Boogaard

Kat is a writer specializing in career, self-development, and productivity topics. When she escapes her computer, she enjoys reading, hiking, golfing, and dishing out tips for prospective freelancers on her website.

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