4 Ways Leaders and Managers Differ
4 Ways Leaders and Managers Differ

Who runs the working world? People. And when people need help navigating change and complexity at work, where do they turn? To their managers and leaders. 

“Work gets done through others,” says Patricia Bravo, an instructor for the UW Certificate in Human Resources Essentials and a Seattle-area leadership development consultant who runs an empathetic leadership program. “By helping people cope with uncertainty, managers and leaders can help organizations thrive.”

While managers and leaders might sound like one and the same, the roles require different strengths and skillsets. Yet both are absolutely essential to balance in the workplace: “Leaders and managers are interdependent — they need each other,” Bravo says.

Read on to find out four ways managers and leaders differ — and how you can build your skills for a role in business.


1) Leaders think big; managers take care of details. 

Leaders think about the “macro,” or the big picture. They’re focused on an organization’s vision, Bravo says. Leaders need to be able to understand data analytics and develop business intelligence into strategies for the future.

Managers are responsible for the “micro.” Through proper plans and procedures, Bravo says it’s a manager’s job to ensure predictable operations. Managers need capabilities to budget, plan and organize.

2) Leaders think long term; managers focus on the here and now. 

Leaders have eyes on the future. A leader’s job may include contemplating the long-term future of an industry, Bravo says, such as what work might look like in three, five or even 10 years.

Managers are mindful of day-to-day business. They look after daily operations and measure success in the near-term, such as quarterly goals or end-of-year targets.

3) Leaders drive change; managers bring order.

When succeeding in business means changing with the times, leaders set the agenda. Leaders define shared goals, set forth new directions, and design strategies to move business forward.

When change gets complex, managers bring order. Managers work closely with the individuals and small teams who are responsible for carrying out those larger strategies. Managers troubleshoot problems, implement solutions, and support employees in their routine work. 

4) Leaders broadly communicate; managers seek to motivate.

Serving in leadership and management requires a variety of communications skills.

Leaders must be capable of communicating big ideas to broad audiences. As they seek to  inspire people to work toward shared goals — with minimal resistance — Bravo says they need to be adept at aligning stakeholders and agendas.

Managers may spend much of their time communicating with small groups or giving feedback to individuals. It can be helpful for them to develop skills using empathy in one-on-one communication, Bravo says. Managers also need to know how to communicate details as they troubleshoot problems and run day-to-day operations.


What happens when organizations don’t have skilled leadership or management in place? Business can break down, Bravo says.

For example, teams or individuals may focus on their own agendas or pursue disconnected projects that don’t add up, she says.

“If that happens, you lose the opportunity to harness the collective potential,” Bravo says. “Team members are left asking questions about the team’s direction, the function or the organization.”


Thinking about your next career move? Bravo says you might find that your strengths or interests are better suited for one role over another.

Dozens of UW Professional & Continuing Education programs are designed to help learners prepare for careers in business, leadership and management.

For example, through the UW Certificate in Project Management, you’ll learn how to guide cross-functional teams toward project completion. The UW Certificate in Human Resources Management helps you hone your leadership skills for the HR domain, while the Certificate in Business Strategy & Decision-Making focuses on leading and executing a business strategy.

“Whether you’re looking for a management or a leadership role, short- or long-term, it's important to learn actual approaches and techniques,” Bravo says. “Experimenting and determining your strengths and interests is equally important.”

For more career tips and industry trends, visit the News & Features section of our website, and subscribe to our email list. To learn more about UW Professional & Continuing Education certificates, specializations, degrees and courses, explore your options or contact us.

Author Kate Dixon

Kate Dixon

Kate Dixon is a web content manager at UW Continuum College, where she’s proud to support innovation, excellence and access to world-class public education. An alumna of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Kate earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism and master’s degree in strategic communications.

Kate enjoys showcasing diverse stories of learning momentum, student success and the power of education to inspire positive change and brighter communities.

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