Both bear the weight of responsibility, so check out the true differences in the leader vs manager debate

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them” - so said William Shakespeare, who was certainly one of those who achieved greatness to say the very least!

Can the same be said for a leader and a manager? No one's born a leader. Leadership qualities, that are so sought after by some, have to be cultivated, honed, and refined. The same goes for being a manager - there are certain skills that you'll need to develop. 

So how to split the two and really define what each one actually means?

Being a leader is about who you are and how you function within a workplace. It's about building an overview with intelligence and authority that a team can follow. Leaders inspire others to do what they say. A manager, on the other hand, is more accountable for daily operations, overseeing people's work, helping projects to run smoothly, managing systems, and making sure that employees feel understood and valued.

Managing is a task-oriented role with a particular objective in mind. There might be a leader attached to that project - their role is to listen and assess whether the right people are in the right place, doing the right thing, and how the project can move forward and be successful.

In this article, you'll learn about the differences and similarities between leaders and managers, as well as how to include those characteristics in your CV. There are various functions or duties that a leader might perform as opposed to a manager. While leader vs manager responsibilities can overlap, there are some differences which are set out below.

The traits of a leader

You don't have to know everything as a leader. The role leans more towards corralling teams down a certain path or in a certain direction, so that goals are achieved and targets are met. Leaders are often focused on the next steps for the team and certainly not on themselves. They keep a team together in such a way that projects, initiatives, goals, whatever is being strived for, is reached and, hopefully, exceeded.

If you're in a leadership role, take note of any achievements you acquire while in the job. That way, when you come to apply for your next position, you'll have all these to hand, ready and waiting in the wings to be included on your CV. Better that, than forgetting that massive saving you made for the company or that junior assistant that you helped to get promoted.

If you're a good leader, chances are you enjoy a high level of employee satisfaction, a low rate of absenteeism, and minimal staff attrition and / or conflict.

These are some vital traits you'll need to develop, if you hope to become a good leader:


Entering a situation for the first time as a leader, it's imperative to listen to others, laying the ground rules for how you mean to continue in an inclusive fashion. That doesn't mean just nodding your head at what you think are the appropriate moments, but taking what anyone is saying to you on board and acting on that by showing that you've really taken in their point of view.


A key trait, this can really set you apart from the crowd. A good leader is someone that others are willing to follow because they're trustworthy, capable, and smart. They put fire in your belly and motivate you to do better, be better, work harder.

Seeing the bigger picture

While attention to detail is important, a leader should be aware of the bigger picture in an organisation in order to plan ahead for a long-term view. This requires grasping the link between specific ongoing projects and broad company goals, addressing challenges, and finding the clarity to lay down achievable steps that will benefit the business in the long run.

Taking feedback on board

This can be both positive and negative feedback, but to really grow and learn it's focusing on the negative feedback that will hold you in good stead in the long run. Take pointers from constructively negative feedback and then move forward with purpose.

Continuously learning

A great leader is someone who is always learning by developing their knowledge and expanding their people skills. Researching other leaders with different approaches and ideas means that you can take their concepts on board, if they fit with your philosophy, and integrate them into your way of leading.

Having humility

Not getting too big for your boots or being arrogant is a must. Leave your ego at the door and concentrate on others and how you can work for a team, not with the focus on what's in it for you. If you become too power-hungry, that could be your downfall or be detrimental to how you perform, as it can skew your way of thinking and the way you approach a task or project.

Staying stress-free

Easier said than done, right? But it's vital that the leader of a group remains calm and collected at all times. Part of being a leader is showing the way through when things get tough - and no one's going to follow someone who cracks up under the slightest pressure.

The traits of a manager

If you've been a loyal employee in the same company for some time, chances are you might get a shot at moving up the career ladder to the next level of management. This could be managing two people or 200, managing one project or multiple projects simultaneously. It's the obvious next step, but only if you can show the following qualities, which you can weave into your newly created management CV.

Remember to be specific about your qualities and achievements as a manager, so that you can include quantifiable evidence and data on your CV that will really make you stand out.

A strong manager will adhere to deadlines, achieve a high quality and quantity of output, and have an impact on relevant financial metrics. You'll need these traits as a manager:

Setting specific goals

Having and setting specific and attainable goals, whether they're ones to be achieved that day or over the next month, is important as they give the team a real focus. For example, if a manager says, “We need to increase revenue by 15% within the next six months,” it's certainly a goal but could seem insurmountable without much direction. Better to say, “We need to increase revenue by 15% within the next six months and we're going to achieve this by targeting new customers, promoting our social media presence, and pushing forward on that product launch that was falling behind.”

Engaging with the team

Building positive relationships at work can benefit so many other aspects of the working day. Managers need to be able to engage with their team in a way that makes the team want to pull together and succeed. To be able to achieve this, you need to be empathetic, personable, and take on board what the team is telling you.

Resolving problems

Improving efficiency and resolving any work conflicts on a day-to-day basis is a vital part of a manager's role. If you can overcome obstacles easily and remove them from daily operations, this can lead to increased productivity, improved satisfaction ratings, and a more cohesive way of working, which can only benefit the team and the overall business. 

Setting the structure

Giving a structure to the day is of paramount importance in a managerial role. It gives clarity and order to a work environment and allows everyone to keep track of what's going on at any given moment.

Focusing on detail

While leaders look to the bigger picture, managers are the ones who need to pay close attention to the details. This means carefully thinking through the finer points of each task, not becoming distracted by irrelevant information, and working fully to complete each task by its intended deadline.

Planning and organising

Organisation is key for workers to be successful. Whether that's during meetings, across projects, or when strategising, managers are the ones who need to be organised and plan ahead for any eventualities. This means staff will feel supported, because they know where they're supposed to be and what they're supposed to be doing at any given moment.

Delegating wisely

This isn't just about passing the buck to those less senior to yourself. Delegating requires forethought, honing in on colleagues' strengths and weaknesses so that you can delegate to achieve the optimum outcome, and providing the right resources to the person you've delegated to in order for them to complete that particular task successfully.

The shared traits of leaders and managers

There's always going to be a crossover of responsibilities in the leader vs manager arena, as they both require a certain skill set. Managers and leaders need to understand each other's responsibilities, so by working collaboratively they can aim towards ensuring that employees enjoy the best working environment possible. Laders and managers will share these traits:

People skills

The people who make up the workforce are likely to be the most important asset of any organisation, so being able to get along with the workforce is vital. This involves a plethora of strengths that combine to form a whole, such as understanding and empathising, interacting with others in a respectful way, developing productive working relationships that reduce conflict whilst maximising rapport, and building trust and openness.

Effective communication

Keeping the team updated on what's going on leads to a well-informed and motivated group who are more likely to carry out further work in a happy and cooperative manner. Communication is about talking, listening, and acting on what is being said.


By showing a real commitment to your team, as well as the company, you're modelling best practice for others to follow. This, in turn, should bring an increased level of enthusiasm for work duties along with that feeling of accountability towards goals, missions, and the vision of the business.


Having confidence in your colleagues shows that you believe in them and what they're doing on a day-to-day basis. You might have set high expectations, but if you're leading and managing them correctly, you'll know that they can achieve - or that you'll provide the tools in order for them to do so. 


When things go wrong, it's best to be open and transparent. Everyone makes mistakes: it's how we deal with them that keeps us moving forward. It might be embarrassing if you feel you're the leader or manager in the situation and parts of a project have gone awry. Fess up, but have a solution to offer at the same time.

Can a manager be a leader?

A managerial position is often defined by the job title i.e. General Manager, Operations Manager, Database Manager. Being a leader is slightly more ambiguous, as you can be a leader but it might not necessarily be reflected in your title. If you go about your business in a way that inspires and motivates people, but your job title is Account Manager, for example, you can still be a leader. So, yes, a manager can be a leader, especially if you possess transferable skills that can be applied across the board.

Which are you - a leader or a manager?

How do you see yourself in the leader vs manager debate? Which side do you come down on, if any? And, maybe even more importantly, how do others see you? Self-perception is vital when assessing your own strengths but it can be so difficult to achieve. Am I motivational? Do I inspire others? Here, your actions and tangible evidence of what you've achieved will probably speak volumes in the workplace. If others look to you for guidance and direction, chances are that you have leadership qualities which shine through.

Is being a leader better than being a manager?

That depends on you and what your aims are. There are many levels to reach within the workplace and, ideally, you want to reach that level that sits best with you and your assets. You might feel that becoming the Features Editor on a publication is the highest that you want to go as a journalist. That means managing a features department, with short-term goals of which features to include in the next issue. Further up, leadership qualities come into play with the role of Editor, where a more long-term view is required of how the publication is going to move forward and where it's going to be in five years time.

Being a leader isn't for everyone. Play to your own strengths and find the level that's best for you.

There's no clear answer to “Which is better - a leader or a manager?” We can't all be leaders, and we can't all be managers.

When to lead and when to manage

Being able to differentiate between when to manage and when to lead means that you can create a team that operates well during a crisis as well as when things are running more smoothly.

Manage your team:

  • During an emergency situation

  • When training up new members

  • When aiming to hit those deadlines

  • When prioritising and delegating certain tasks

  • When specific results are required

Lead your team:

  • When you can trust team members to perform set tasks without the need to micromanage

  • If you're introducing change within the workplace, like a new IT system or a restructure

  • When in meetings or during brainstorming sessions

  • When team members are confident in what they're doing and are going about their daily duties effectively and efficiently

Summing up the main differences between a leader and a manager

Leaders look to the future while managers work more in the present, tasked with managing and implementing day-to-day work processes and systems.

Below is a summary of overarching views of how leaders and managers are different:

  • Leaders set the company vision while managers follow that vision

  • Leaders think of ideas then managers ensure those ideas become reality

  • Leaders motivate and inspire the team and managers guide the success of that team

  • Leaders shape the work culture and managers uphold that work culture

Examples of leadership skills on a CV

When presenting your traits in a written format, clarity and precision are highly recommended. You've only got a few seconds to impress once your CV is in front of a hiring manager, so make them count. Below are some examples of how to present your leadership capabilities within the professional profile section of your CV.

A versatile, dynamic, and creative business leader who is an expert at transforming ideas into engaging and integrated projects whilst creating unified strategies that span the digital space.

Delivers high quality campaigns and projects that maximise visibility.

Combines a natural instinct for business development with leading on ground-breaking initiatives.

Adept at translating complex information into clear messages for a variety of uses and audiences.

Provides strategic direction and robust hands-on leadership qualities. 

Has a flair for implementing strategies that improve teamwork.

Demonstrates insightful qualities when working across different markets.

A natural leader adept at motivating teams to work as cohesive units.

Examples of management skills on a CV

The same applies when showcasing your management skills on a CV. Go ahead and blow your own trumpet! It's one of the few times in life when you can do so without embarrassment or concern.

Galvanises team members to perform at their optimum level at all times. 

Communicates concisely and flourishes when solving problems or issues. 

Adept at engaging with staff while providing a quality service.

Easily builds rapport with customers and colleagues alike.

Instigates high standards across the board through positive role modelling.

An innate ability to manage teams to operate as cohesive units while simultaneously driving forward on business growth.

A polished communicator who applies creative solutions to complex problems.   

A proactive and versatile Technical Manager, expert at delivering complex and intricate projects on time and to the great satisfaction of the client. 

Next steps

Leader vs manager? Whether you see yourself as a leader or a manager, or both, you need to decide which is more relevant to your career and ensure that your key skills are highlighted within a perfectly crafted CV. Think carefully about which strengths you want to bring out and then incorporate them into your documents.

With competition tough in the higher echelons of the business world of leaders vs managers, you need to be able to stand out from the crowd. The first step is to have a tailored and succinct CV that you can use confidently when applying to any role. Start off by submitting your current CV for a free review and see where it takes you.

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