Hello readers! I hope you have been enjoying our project management series so far. Today we will be exploring an interesting aspect of project management called leadership. The aim of this article is to analyse the differences between leadership and management while at the same time improving the project manager’s approach towards leadership.

According to John Kotter, leadership is an age-old concept that has been around for centuries while management is a component of leadership. The concept of management only came to being within the last 100 years, when it was birthed by the industrial revolution. The project manager of the 21st century should not be relegated to just managing project resources in order to attain project objectives (management), but should also be expected to define purpose, nurture skills and inspire the required results (leadership) for every project.

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In our article today, we will be studying and analysing the characteristics, differences and similarities between management and leadership. We will also consider the possibility of both concepts coexisting in the same person, i.e. the project manager, as different schools of thought have varying beliefs about these concepts.

Leadership and management are often used interchangeably in certain articles; some texts even make a synonym of both words, but the reality is they are two different roles that the project manager has to play effectively. It is short-sighted to see a project manager simply as the person responsible for managing a set of “tasks” – people complete project work, and these people need more than task-based management.

As an introduction, let us imagine two scenarios, each with the objective of carrying out a task given to subordinates by their superior.

First scenario: A team manager makes a request without exerting his leadership ability. From the reaction below (Fig. 1) we understand that the subordinate will process the request but the task is perceived as just a new one to be added to the project to-do list. The reaction is quite negative and the workers feel there is no opportunity coming from that task but an increased workload.

Second scenario: When the team leader makes a request, it is effective and stimulating, and the reaction of the worker is positive as he/she feels involved and part of the team. The problem to be solved is perceived as an opportunity for visibility and personal growth.

The above illustration exemplifies an instance where proper leadership surpasses some limitations of management. However before this can be established or accepted, we need to run through the basics of management and leadership and all they entail.

Management and Leadership Definitions

Although leadership and management are different fields, it should be understood that the project manager can operate efficiently in mastering both fields. According to Peter Drucker ‘Leadership is doing the right things; management is doing things right’.

Leadership and management are differentiated by the personality of the individual concerned, the focus, outcomes, approach to challenges and decision-making roles, among other things. These two terms, however, do share a couple of similarities. They both involve influence, working with people and working with effective goal management.

What is Management?

Most management definitions often focus on the administrative aspects of project work. Diffen Business Article explains management as a process that comprises directing and controlling a group of one or more people or entities for the purpose of coordinating and harmonizing that group towards accomplishing a goal. It involves exercising executive, organizational and supervisory direction over a group or organization.

The manager identifies an undisputed role within the organization, manages human and system resources that need to deliver results and drives them to fulfil the expected project goals. A manager performs this task by leveraging on procedures established by the company or association which he/she belongs to. Directives and instructions are provided to subordinates without necessary explanations for what is being asked. As a result, reactions such as shown in the first scenario above are given by the subordinates, therefore making the best results impossible to achieve.

What is Leadership?

Leadership, on the other hand, is the ability of an individual to influence, convince, stimulate, motivate, and enable others to contribute toward the effectiveness and success of the organizations of which they are members. It is not necessarily innate, so it can be acquired over time.

Everybody can learn leadership qualities and improve on it over the years. Practicing leadership skills has no limitations. One can be a leader while he manages a team of professionals in a company, or can be a recognized leader in his family, or in a gang, in a pool of investors, in a group of friends and so forth.

Leadership can also be referred to as the ability to communicate and persuade people, while teaching them from example. From the definition above, we would agree that leadership is a 21st century skill that the project manager should have in his basket of competencies in order to excel.

The table below highlights some key differences and similarities between leadership and management:

Leadership (Leader) Management (Manager)
1. Leaders focus on leading people and are people-oriented. Managers focus on managing work and are task-oriented. They both accept challenges and have an ability to drive the situation.
2. Leadership is about doing the right things. Management is about doing things right. They both accept responsibility for the well-being of the organization.
3. Leadership is multidirectional influence relationship. Management is unidirectional authority relationship. They both work with an effective goal – management.
4. Leadership produces Change and Movement. Management produces Order and Consistency. They both involve working with a team or with workers.
5. Leaders are risk takers and solve challenges with creative solutions. Managers avoid risk and handle challenges by creating strategies and policies for smooth operations.
6. The leader challenges the status quo and originates. The manager accepts the status quo and imitates.
7. Leaders are interested in achievements. Managers are interested in results.

Project Management Leadership

Originally the project manager’s role was strictly to manage, i.e. follow orders, organize the work to be done, assign the right people to the necessary tasks, coordinate the results, and ensure that the job got done to the customer’s satisfaction. All these point towards efficiency as the focus of the project manager.

However, in the new economy where value comes increasingly from the knowledge of people, management and leadership should be complementary. Nowadays, people tend to look to their managers, not just to assign for them a task, but also to define for them a purpose.

The project manager of the ‘now’ is expected to embrace the concept of Project Management Leadership. Management guru Peter Drucker embraced this concept when he identified the emergence of the ‘knowledge worker’ and the differences they make in business organizations. Quoted in one of his many articles, he said, “One does not ‘manage’ people; the task is to ‘lead’ people and the goal is to make productive the specific strengths and knowledge of every individual.”

Project leadership is therefore the ability to get things done well through others. This role requires management and effective leadership skills where the emphasis lies on managing project data and leading the project team. Along with interpersonal communication skills, project leadership guarantees optimal performance in any given project.

Project management leadership is multidirectional in nature as it focuses on more than just administrative work. It also consists of the technical parts of the project/organization as well as individual focus on team members to accomplish the expected goal.

Some studies show that the input of a project leader in organizations is preferred to that of a project manager. According to Andy Jordan, a writer for the Executive Brief
business magazine, “What is more valuable in the long run, project management or project leadership? Project managers do fine, but a project leader takes it one big step further.” Although a manager can turn out to be a good leader, not all managers are good leaders.


While we can conclude that managers play an important role in the stabilization and growth of an organization, workers are more likely to emulate true leaders than managers. Management and leadership are not mutually exclusive though, and therefore have a lot of related attributes.

In this article, we also discussed project management leadership, which is a perfect mix of the outstanding attributes of the manager and the leader. No wonder project management leadership is often referred to as management on steroids.

We do hope you have learnt a thing or two today, and as usual, if you have any question or comment, do leave us a message in the comment box below.