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The difference between leadership and management skills


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Female leader sitting in a meeting, group of four looking at her with laptops in front of them

In this Article

Pretty much everyone you know had or will have experience with a poor manager during their professional career. To become a good manager, you need certain management and leadership skills. Acquiring and applying those skills will help you to be not just a good manager, but also a leader.

In this article, we will show you what differentiates technical from management skills, assess the difference between leadership and management and list six management and leadership skills you need in today’s workplace.

Technical skills vs management skills

Technical and management skills are not mutually exclusive, and a good manager should possess both. Technical skills in and a reasonable understanding of the required field can and should be acquired by the manager if they are supposed to lead a team or project.

This ensures a certain credibility towards team members and stakeholders. It also helps to avoid expensive pitfalls during the project. That being said, as a manager, your management and leadership skills are more important than your technical skills and expertise.

If you’re still unsure whether you want your future role to be a technical or a management one, think about your strengths and preferences.

A technical role is mostly focused on tasks. You work alone or with your team members towards accomplishing technical tasks. For example, as a web content producer, you write blogs and copy for certain digital platforms and projects.

On the other hand, a management role is focused on people. You help your team to reach goals and work on tasks by organising them and their work. A web content manager leads a team of content producers and makes sure that all members have a manageable workload and all the tools, support and resources they need.

Management vs leadership

Nowadays, these two words are used so synonymously that you might ask yourself: ‘Are management and leadership the same thing?‘ The answer is no, and while a person can be a manager and a leader at the same time, they don’t have to be.

A manager focuses on the present, supporting and overseeing their team to reach their goals every day. A leader creates a vision for the future and inspires and motivates people to work towards achieving common goals within the company.

Management vs leadership characteristics

While they both set a direction for co-workers to follow, managers and leaders have different focuses and distinctive characteristics that define them.

A manager maintains the status quo and organises their team, matching a task with the person best suited for the job. They need to avoid risks and focus on when and how a task will be done. That’s why they need to be good at executing tasks as well as identifying and solving problems on a smaller team scale.

A leader challenges the status quo and questions decisions made by superiors by asking ‘What are we doing and why are we doing it?‘, standing up for their followers and nurturing talent. They also take calculated risks themselves and support team members in taking risks.

If you want to check if you or your current superior is more of a manager or a leader or both, you take the three tests proposed by Vineet Nayar in the Harvard Business Review:

  • Counting value vs creating value:
    • Managers count and check that their team members generate value.
    • Leaders create value themselves as part of the team and lead by example.
  • Circles of power vs circles of influence:
    • Managers have power due to their position in the company – they have subordinates.
    • Leaders have influence since people come to them for advice – they have followers beyond their subordinates.
  • Managing work vs leading people:
    • Managers manage work and their team to reach targets set by the company.
    • Leaders motivate, enable and inspire others to accomplish the greater vision of a company.

What skills should a manager have?

It might sound like ‘only‘ being a manager is not as exciting as being a leader, but that’s not the case. For a company to succeed, it needs managers as much as it needs leaders.

Managers are essential to every department and team, guiding their subordinates and providing stability while ensuring the team works as one unit to reach its goals.

Some examples of good management skills are:

  • Communication: Continuous, clear and transparent communication telling the team what is happening now and in the future provides guidance and purpose. Good communicators actively listen to feedback, set clear expectations and can adapt their style to any person and situation.
  • Team building: Since managers are both part of and head of the team, it is important to know each member’s personality and strengths. Creating an environment of trust and always keeping the team in mind is essential.
  • Prioritising and time management: One of the main tasks of managers is to organise, and to do that efficiently they need to be able to (de-)prioritise projects. Furthermore, they need to make plans, set schedules and realistic timeframes for the team to work in.
  • Decision-making: Managers must make decisions multiple times a day and a week. Good decision-makers consider as many critical factors as possible before deciding, without getting lost in tiny details or influenced by personal emotions.
  • Problem-solving: Problems will arise, so it’s imperative that a manager has robust strategies to solve them. Be it personal disputes or technical difficulties, every problem needs to be noticed and resolved. Better than just solving them is to anticipate issues and create processes to avoid them.
  • Emotional intelligence: Emotional intelligence includes self-awareness and your ability to show restraint. More importantly, you need to be empathic, compassionate and able to recognise a struggling team member.

What skills should a leader have?

‘Anyone can be a leader‘, is not an empty slogan, but an honest statement. A management position does not always make you a leader; your followers and actions, personality and beliefs do. Leaders are invested in the company’s vision and can sometimes create their own. They want their followers to succeed and reach their goals, even when these don’t perfectly align with those of the company.

Some examples of leadership skills are:

  • Dependability and integrity: Leaders are reliable in two ways. Followers and colleagues can be sure that they keep their promises and meet deadlines. Furthermore, they have strong values that they stand by and can make ethical decisions based on them.
  • Creativity and innovation: As a leader, you need to constantly spearhead innovation. You need to be able to brainstorm innovative ideas yourself, but also create an environment where new ideas are valued, and employees are encouraged to innovate themselves.
  • Adaptability and Decisiveness: Good leaders can work outside their comfort zone and can adapt to changing conditions quickly. This goes hand in hand with the ability to make sound decisions quickly.
  • Mentoring and Motivation: Leaders should teach colleagues how to solve their problems instead of solving them for them. Guiding employees towards solutions and bringing out the best in them helps with team morale and the overall performance of the company. Using positive reinforcement and acknowledging and rewarding achievements is proven to increase motivation.
  • Stakeholder management: Like managers, leaders need to build strong and trusting relationships with all their stakeholders. If they manage a team, they must also facilitate building relationships between the different members. Uniting their followers is a key trademark of great leaders.
  • Strategic and critical thinking: Leading involves knowing where to go, so leaders need to be forward-thinking. Leaders use their strategic thinking skills to lay out researched and well-thought-out plans on how to reach their goals or vision. Critical thinking helps them avoid getting stuck in inefficient routines since they are always questioning the status quo.

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