Leadership Versus Management

Leadership versus management.

Is one more important than the other when it comes to successfully managing projects?

Leadership vs Management Comparison

"Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things."
- Peter Drucker

There are some key differences between what leaders do and what managers do. The table below lists some of these distinctions.

Leadership Management
Strategic Tactical
Cope with Change Cope with Complexity
Focus on the Future Focus on the Present
People-Oriented Task-Oriented
Drives Change Drives Stability
Empowers People Directs People

As you can see, there is a clear difference between leadership and management.

Management vs Leadership
in Project Management

In the Harvard Business Review article "What Leaders Really Do" by John Kotter, he effectively summarizes this difference by stating that management is about coping with complexity while leadership is about coping with change.

Good management enables you to handle complexity. This is done by...

  • Setting clear objectives
  • Thorough planning
  • Developing standard procedures and processes
  • Monitoring results against plans
  • Taking corrective actions as needed

These are all basic project management skills. In fact, one of the main purposes of project management is to reduce the risk of complexity to allow for a greater chance of a successful outcome.

Leadership enables you to handle change effectively. This is done by...

  • Setting the project direction
  • Aligning people to the new direction
  • Building a cohesive team
  • Motivating the team
  • Enabling the team

Leadership is more important in projects that have higher levels of uncertainty or ambiguity. For example, projects that are in fast-changing markets, on the bleeding edge of technology, or that have powerful and challenging stakeholders will require strong leadership capabilities in the project manager.

In Conclusion...

So, back to the original question, leadership versus management, which is more important when it comes to managing projects successfully?

The truth is, this really isn't a leader vs manager decision. You need to have capabilities in both areas to be an effective project manager...

  • First, make sure you have a solid grasp of basic project management skills. This will provide the foundation for managing projects successfully.
  • Second, begin to develop and improve your leadership and other interpersonal skills. This is what will take our management results and career to the next level.

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