Leadership vs. management

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When thinking of the leaders in our life many of us might think to ourselves that they must be born to be leaders, that it must be abilities they were genetically blessed with. As for where, when thinking of managers, most of us probably have an idea that there is a possibility to learn how to become one. Through time several theories and ideas of both terms have been developed. Where some leadership theories resemble management theories and others will have completely different aspects to them. When looking at leadership many theories apply on how to become a great leader. Theories from Transformational leadership which was initially introduced by James V. Downton, and which defines the shifting leadership that enhances motivation of followers to reach certain goals, to the Transactional leadership. Where Transformational Leadership is one of the theories that distinguishes Leadership from Management, Transactional Leadership resemblances the definition of management that is represented in the PMBOK® Guide [1]. A great project manager should be able to balance both managing and leading through a project depending on the situation. This article will address both the terms separately, by looking at the theories mentioned, to show the different aspects of leadership and management. Furthermore, it will elaborate on the project managers role stated in the PMBOK® Guide [1], and the application of both concepts as a project manager. A great project manager should be able to balance both management and leadership throughout a project, to both motivate the team members as well as organize and plan the project at hand. As the output of a project lacking either management or leadership can involve, decreased performance and lack of cohesiveness in the team. This article addresses both concepts as equals in importance for any project.



In 1977 a debate rose from a newly released article by Harvard Business School professor Abraham Zaleznik, with the title “Managers and Leaders: Are They Different?”. The article created discord in business schools, and the study of leadership and management has not been the same since. Zaleznik argued that management is a concept that focuses on taking a path of stability and control, while trying to resolve problems, without focusing on the significance of the problem. Zaleznik also argues that management emphasizes the focus on how to decide, not what decision to make. Leadership, on the other hand, is about embracing chance, even if it comes with the disorder and without structure [2]. In 1990 John P. Kotter published the article “What Leaders Really Do” to address the article by Zaleznik and the arguments that he makes. Kotter argues that leadership is not something mystical or something only a few people can master, and neither can it be claimed that leadership is anything more than management. Kotter though agrees with Zaleznik, that management is about control and stability while leadership is about embracing chaos, as Kotter [1990] puts it as “Management is about coping with complexity. Leadership, by contrast, is about coping with change” [3]. Management and leadership have been and still are somewhat undefined terms, as there are still being developed new theories and ideas of both.

Structure of this article

  • In the first section leadership and management in projects will be addressed and explained by the use of PMBOK® Guide [1]. and Prince2 [4] The terms will be elaborated by using the theories of Transactional and Transformational Leadership as well as the Four Functions of Management.
  • In the following part the use of both leadership and management as a project manager will be addressed.
  • In the last part the limitations of leadership as well as management for a project manager will be described.

Definition of project management

Looking toward the PMBOK® Guide [1]. a project manager can be defined by the sentence “Project managers manage the project team to meet the project objectives” [1].. A project is established because of a certain need to create a new product, service or result, to enrich the company or a customer in some way. A project is a temporary instance, not said that it has to have a short duration. At the beginning of a project, the project manager presents the objectives of the project and defines the course of action that must be followed throughout the project. The end of a project is obtained when the objectives of the project are met. Project management is important to ensure that the team assigned is going to meet the objectives of the project, as an effective project manager helps the project team resolve issues, meet stakeholders’ expectations and manage constraints. The constraints of a project can usually be categorized under the performance targets: Time, cost, quality, scope, benefits, and risk, on which a project is evaluated. If a project is managed poorly or lack project management it might result in a transcendence of the budget, missed deadlines, poor quality etc.

Project management process groups

A project managers job can be described by the five process groups, that every project will go through.

Initiating Process Group. In this process group, the processes the project manager must perform to determine a new project when having acquired the approval to begin a new project is being established.

Planning Process Group covers the part of the project process where the scope of the project is defined as well as the objectives for the project. This is where the project manager defines the course to reach the objectives of the project.

Executing Process Group cover the processes done to utilize the resources of the project into reaching the objectives and satisfy the project targets.

Monitoring and Controlling Process Group. In this process group, the project manager monitors the performance targets set for the project and regulating the targets and course of action if required. If any changes are required to make the project more efficient, the changes would be made within this process group.

Closing Process Group is the processes required to finalize the project. This could be to meet with the stakeholders, for them to review the final product, service or result, where the final touches can be made.

The Four Functions of Management will be addressed in the section theories, to supplement the theory of the PMBOK® Guide[1]. .

Definition of leadership

In PRINCE2 [4] leadership capabilities are not provided, as they suggest that leadership is imperative in project management but also comes in so many variations that it is impossible to define in a method.

In PMBOK® Guide [1]. Leadership is defined as a competence a project manager can obtain. The competencies can be utilized by demonstrating crucial skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking etc. Leadership skills include being able to guide and motivate teams or individuals. Leadership is more about dealing with people, where management is about dealing with the objectives of the project. A big part of the project managers profession is about handling people and directing them towards the goals set.

During a project, the project manager can apply leadership skills to handle the project's stakeholder, to motivate the team etc. The skill set of a leader includes many aspects, which all focuses on utilize the stakeholders of the project, which includes the project teams, project sponsors and more. A project manager can lead by being a visionary, and giving the teams a vision an attractive future, to motivate them to work harder. Leadership skills also include managing relationships and conflicts during the project, as well as being respectful, keeping up the morality, being optimistic and giving credit to others.

Leadership will be addressed further in the chapter Theories, as the term has many aspects and different theories. This article will only focus on two leadership theories; Transactional and Transformational Leadership.


The PMBOK® Guide[1]. describes several leadership theories, where Transactional Leadership and Transformational Leadership are two of them. These theories will be described, as they act as a development of each other, as well as management and leadership supplement each other.

Transactional leadership

Transactional Leadership is a leadership style where a leader highlights the transaction between the leader and the team or team member. The transaction is based on a vision or goal shared by the leader, where the followers will expect certain rewards if they fulfill the requirements. A transactional leader should clarify what the rewards for the success of the team member is, at the beginning of a project. Success can be measured in either finishing by the deadline or if a team or team member is performing at a high level.

Basically, if an employee makes the right accomplishments the leader would recognize this and reward the performance of the team member or team. In case an individual deviate from the set of rules or standard applied to the project, a transactional leader would take corrective actions. This can be compared to the Monitoring and Controlling Process Group of project management. Transactional Leadership is a passive leadership style except for when the leader would intervene in the project if there is a deviation from the rules and standards [5].

Transformational leadership

In some ways, Transformational Leadership is an extension to the transactional leadership, but it is also an active leadership style, as the leader intervenes in both the team's as well as the individual team members performance. Transformational Leadership is about a leader inspiring his or her followers to accomplish superior results, by using one or more of the four competencies of transformational leadership.

  1. Idealized influence (II)
    A For a transformational leader to be successful, the leader must act in certain ways to make their followers admire them, respect them, as well as trust them to do the right thing in any given situation. Transformational leaders seek their followers to idealize them, by acting as role models. A leader using this leadership style are more likely to take risks, but at the same time, they can always be expected to act ethically and with high moral.
  2. Inspirational Motivation (IM)
    The second core competence of a transformational leader is the skill to motivate and inspire their followers. This competence of the leader is crucial to giving their followers work meaning and challenge them in their work. A leader using this leadership style motivates the individuals or teams to work towards an organizational or personal goal, by sharing their vision of an attractive future, that lies ahead of the work that must be done.
  3. Intellectual Stimulation (IS)
    There are different ways for a transformational leader to inspire their followers. Often it is a goal for the leader to inspire more accomplished work from their followers. This can be done by using Intellectual Stimulation, to stimulate the followers' desire to be more innovative and creative with the execution of their assignment. A way to inspire this in followers is for the leader to praise new ideas or encourage creative ways of looking at the problem at state.
  4. Individualized Consideration (IC)
    The last core trait of transformational leaders is Individualized Consideration, which is utilized by their leader acting as a coach or mentor for the individual follower. When coaching the individual, the leader's focus should be on the individual’s goals for achievement and their own leadership development. This core competence within a leader is essential for their followers to reach his or her own full potential, and thereby performing at the highest level possible.

Transformational Leadership can be compared to the Definition of Leadership stated above, which has its similarities.


Figure content from [6]

Four functions of management

A manager must first plan, organize according to that plan, lead people towards the plan and finally evaluate the effectiveness of the plan. The four steps must be executed well in order to reach managerial success.

  1. Planning
    The first step includes the manager creating a detailed course of action to reach a certain objective of the organization.
    Imagine the scenario, that an organization sees the opportunity in creating a stronger concrete than what is already on the market. A project manager is assigned to create this concrete with a team. From the organizations’ plan, the project manager should begin with planning how the product should be developed. The plan should include the basics mention in Definition of Project Management: Time, cost, quality, scope, benefits, and risk. The project manager would first need to decide who should be on the project team, which should be chosen based on the needs of the project. For example, an expert on concrete is vital for the project, to develop the product, as well as a marketing department, if the product is not already in demand. Second, the project manager would need to create a schedule for the project with defined deliverables for the project. As well as determining a budget and the quality of the product. As no project is risk-free, it is important for the project manager to identify Issues and risks to take them into account in all the steps. Finally, the procurement of the project is an important part to plan, as it includes finding and agreeing to the terms of the project. Planning a project includes making sure that the stakeholders are satisfied, so meeting throughout the planning process as well as presenting the final project plan to them is vital for a successful project. Planning is a very important job as a project manager, as a neatly planned project ensures the best possible outcome. [7]
  1. Organizing
    When a manager has finished planning, the manager should begin to organize the project, by structuring working relationships. The working relationships should be established so the members of the project team can cooperate to achieve the goals set for the organization. To set the frame of an efficient project, managers must organize the organization's resources in the best way possible, where human resources are the most important one.
  1. Leading
    A successful way of leading the team in the desired direction of the organization, is for a manager to create a vision to inspire the team to want the same goal. The vision needs to be a clear view for the team to know and understand what they work towards, and what lies ahead. Successful leading will energize and empower the team members, and to make them desire to do their best. See the Definition of Leadership.
  1. Controlling
    During a project, the manager must evaluate how well the process of the project has been, by monitoring the performance of the team or its individuals. When monitoring the performance, a manager can also choose to make corrective actions, if the original plan is inefficient or if members of the teams deviate from the path. [8].


Figure content from: [8].

Application of Leadership and Management as a Project Manager

The terms leadership and management are often mistaken to be the same things, but this is not the case. Management is, as described earlier, directing an individual or a team towards a set goal, by using The Four Functions of Management. Leadership, on the other hand, is about focusing on the people, and how they are motivated to do their best when reaching for a goal as Transformational Leadership focuses on. Management is about control and administration, where leadership is about embracing change and motivating their followers to reach the goals set.

For a project manager to be successful, they would need to make use of both their management and leadership skills. Though finding the right balance between the two in each situation is what makes the difference between mediocre and great in project management. A project manager can gain both concepts through different methods. Managerial skills can be obtained by years of experience and practice, where leadership skills can be learned and developed in time. Often great leadership skills come from inspiration and motivation from another great leader and learning from them, as the Transformational leader seeks to do. As it is rarely found that a project manager has both strong managerial skills and have strong leadership skills, it can be argued which leadership skills a project manager should at least contain. It can easily become speculation, which competencies are most important to a project manager, as it can vary depending on the situation. Though to improve team performance, at least one skill can be pinpointed to empower this.

A project manager should at least be able to motivate and inspire the team.

Motivating and inspiring can be handled in several ways, but one way is to communicate the vision for the project assigned. This is vital for the team to be enthusiastic about their work and thereby performing at a high level. A clear vision from the project manager gives the team a purpose for the work they are performing. Work without a goal or an unclear vision is often interpreted as a waste of time and will in most cases discourage a team to do the job the were assigned, and least of all do it efficiently. [9]

An effective project requires project management both including managing and leading. The limitations of a project lacking either of the skillsets will be discussed further below.


Management and leadership are two different terms, as explained in the article. A successful project manager does not have to be an effective leader. Though a project can suffer under the lack of leadership as well as it can suffer under a lack of management. The environment of a project is very much unlike typical day to day procedures. It has a big impact on employees’ motivation and commitment to their work, that a project is temporary.

When a project is of great scale or is complex, the goals and deliverables are restricted by the time schedules, budget as well as market dynamics. Projects like this often include big project teams who can be located in different departments or areas. In situations such as these, for the best outcome of a project effective and smart leadership is a vital ingredient.

For a project manager to be effective in leadership they should be flexible as well as innovative when it comes to bringing the project to success. Also, the project manager should use team building and motivation to bring the teams together, for them to achieve high performance. To enhance the individual’s motivation and desire for success the project manager should give credit, as well as encouraging creativity and support the team’s members urge to take calculative risks. If this is not a focus of the project manager, a team can begin to lack cohesiveness, their performance can decrease, and the individual’s satisfaction is reduced if team needs are not met. [10]

Furthermore, a project will suffer just as much with only leadership and no management, as the other way around. As management is about holding the team and client together, as well as navigate through bad as well as good times. Management is much more than keeping a check on the deliverables, budgets, and scope of the project. Great project management includes getting the teams and clients on the same page, making sure that everyone agrees on the objectives of the project, as well as keeping everyone on track throughout the project.

Without management, a project easily loses its focus and objectives. A good project manager needs to focus on management in order to enable the teams to focus and put them back on track, in case they deviate from the path to success. [11]

Leadership and management are two separate terms, that in combination enables a project manager to steer a project towards success. Without one or the other, a project will suffer and high team performance will become impossible.

Annotated bibliography

  • Project Management Institute, Inc. (2017). Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) (6th Edition). Project Management Institute, Inc. (PMI)

Chapter 3 - The Role of The Project Manager.

The Project Management Institute, Inc. has defined the standards of project management. The chapter includes both general aspects of project management and the project managers role, as well as comparison on leadership and management in project management. The chapter takes leadership into account, as a part of a project managers skillset.

  • Jones, G. and George, J. (2015). Essentials of Contemporary Management. 6th ed. McGraw-Hill Education

Chapter 1 - What is Management.

Essentials of Contemporary Management is used to get a more general idea of management, which is a part of the project managers role. In this article, the chapter has been used to look at the Four Functions of Management, as it is a simple way to understand management as a concept. The book contains, besides this, several models and theories of management.

  • Kotter, J. (2001). What Leaders Really Do. [ebook] Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation

If it is desired to know more about the background for leadership vs. management, John P. Kotter executes the definitions of the terms neatly in the article from 1990. John P. Kotter shows the way for many theories and his comparison of leadership and management is easy to follow as well as relevant for the terms today.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 Project Management Institute, Inc.. (2017). Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) (6th Edition). Project Management Institute, Inc. (PMI). Retrieved from https://app.knovel.com/hotlink/pdf/id:kt011DX342/guide-project-management/information-management
  2. Zaleznik, A (Jan. 2004). Managers and Leaders: Are They Different?. Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2004/01/managers-and-leaders-are-they-different
  3. Kotter, J. (2001). What Leaders Really Do. [ebook] Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation, pp.3-11. Available at: https://hbr.org/product/john-p-kotter-on-what-leaders-really-do/8974-HBK-ENG [Accessed 15 Jan. 2019].
  4. 4.0 4.1 AXELOS, AXELOS. Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2 2017 Edition, The Stationery Office Ltd, 2017. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.proxy.findit.dtu.dk/lib/dtudk/detail.action?docID=4863041.
  5. Bass, B. M., 1990. Organizational Dynamics. [e-book] Elsevier Inc. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/009026169090061S [February 22, 2019].
  6. https://codeburst.io/to-be-a-transformational-leader-you-dont-always-need-to-be-innovative-you-just-need-to-be-26d5f1cf6cf9
  7. Bridges, J. (2015). Advanced Project Planning. [online] www.projectmanager.com. Available at: https://www.projectmanager.com/training/advanced-project-planning [Accessed 3 Mar. 2019].
  8. 8.0 8.1 Jones, G. and George, J. (2015). Essentials of Contemporary Management. 6th ed. McGraw-Hill Education
  9. Kumar, V. (2009). Essential leadership skills for project managers. [online] www.pmi.org. Available at: https://www.pmi.org/learning/library/essential-leadership-skills-project-managers-6699 [Accessed 1 Mar. 2019].
  10. Chittoor, R. (2012). Importance of Leadership for Project Success. [online] www.project-management.com. Available at: https://project-management.com/importance-of-leadership-for-project-success/ [Accessed 3 Mar. 2019].
  11. Aston, B. (2017). Why Is Project Management Important?. [online] www.thedigitalprojectmanager.com. Available at: https://thedigitalprojectmanager.com/why-is-project-management-important/ [Accessed 3 Mar. 2019].
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