Leader vs Manager -- As Project Manager are you a Leader or a Manager? What are your leadership qualities?


Project Leader vs Manager – the choice is yours….


As Project Managers, are we prepared to be Leaders? You decide on Leader vs Manager. Our role as PM continues to become more and more complex. On the management side, we all know to focus on the tasks, processes, resources, milestones, schedule, and performance. As a result, we tend to place our emphasis on “management” and lose our focus on a critical project management skill – “Leadership”.

Since there are too many definitions of Leadership, let’s look at a few differences to address Leader vs Manager:

  • Leaders: Focus on the strategic; set direction; align resources; and empower and inspire.
  • Managers: Focus on the tactics; plan and budget; organize and obtain resources; exert control over situations; and solve problems.

How do our organizations address Leader vs Manager question? In most organizations (does this sound like yours), Management is responsible for producing and maintaining predictability and order within the functional areas. On the other hand, Leadership is responsible for producing change. So managers focus on predictability and order, while leaders focus on being catalysts for change. In fact, Leadership is inextricably connected with change.

There are numerous books, white papers and articles on the various leadership theories, models, and characteristics. I am only focusing on the role of the Project Manager, in addressing Leader vs Manager - your Leadership responsibilities as a professional Project Manager.

Feeling a bit overwhelmed at the though of being a Leader too? Try to pattern yourself after some of the great leaders (i.e., Washington, Lincoln, Churchill, Welch, Gates, Gandhi and many more). Learn and repeat some of their leadership qualities and leadership traits:

  • Set big, bold goals. Challenge your project team to achieve something they haven’t done before.
  • Get team members that are better than you are. Successful leaders know they are building a team to achieve a goal, not to build their ego.
  • Set the example for the Team. As a Leader vs Manager, you will set the context for them to achieve; you will establish the work ethic; and your attitude will determine the attitude for the entire team.
  • Give all the credit to the Team. Recognizing the team’s success will build their confidence to continue to achieve their goals.
  • LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN. The greatest leaders listen to the people around them – so (as the saying goes) listen more than you speak.


The PMBOK Guide®, published by PMI, defines Leadership as:

    ”…establishing direction, aligning people, motivating and inspiring people to overcome political, bureaucratic, and resource barriers.”

…and again as…

    ”Developing a vision and strategy, and motivating people to achieve that vision and strategy.”


On subsequent pages, I will go into more details on the various subjects related to Leadership and Project Management.



When you step up to the challenges of managing a project you are also agreeing to a leadership position. Your work on the day-to-day activities and responsibilities of these areas constantly address the Leader vs Manager question.


Project Leadership & Management of Change

For project leadership, the management of change is critical.  If “projects” are the implementation of “change” in an organization, then the Project Manager is the “Agent” of that change. Without the Project Manager, armed with the project management methodology (to provide the discipline, structure, and rigor), the management of change would not lead to a successful implementation and the business would not realize the benefits of the change.



Having a strategic view of project management, through a project portfolio management (PPM) approach or a project management office (PMO), aids in understanding the effect of implementing change on the organization. Often, project leadership is so focused on the day-to-day tactics of completing their project objectives that the effect on the business is not readily evident.

As a Project Manager, it is your responsibility to understand and observe your impact on the business as a change agent. It is your direct contribution that enables the business to successfully incorporate change (in the form of your project).

So, project leadership through management of change, begun on this page, is an extensive topic which I will continue to address on subsequent pages.




From this Leader vs Manager page go to the Q&A page for questions or requests for additional information.

Go to the Tools & Resources page for related information on PM & PPM software.

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