Management vs. leadership

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Management and leadership are both critical in achieving the desired results in any project. The two concepts are sometimes misunderstood as being the same and are commonly confused with one another. It is understandable since they share several common characteristics, but in fact management and leadership are two separate concepts. Management focuses on processes and procedures to achieve project objectives. That includes planning, organizing and monitoring the work. A manager is responsible for ensuring that the work gets done within budget and on schedule. On the other hand, leadership focuses on people and activities involved with the project team. That involves creating a vision and strategy, and inspiring and guiding the project team towards the vision. A leader is a visionary who motivates and influences others to achieve project objectives. Great leaders must be good managers, and great managers must be good leaders. Understanding the differences between the two concepts is essential for anyone seeking to excel in a leadership or management role [1]. Excellent project managers possess a combination of both leadership and management skills. The balance may vary depending on the circumstances and the team, but combining the qualities of both allows project managers to organize and monitor the undertaking project as well as motivate their teams to succeed [2].




The simplest definition of management is "making things happen" [3]. More specific, management is the process of determining what has to be done and then completing it with the best possible use of available resources. It focuses on the actions managers take to put work into action. Bringing about, accomplishing, conducting, having charge of or responsibility for, are all definitions of managing. Management involves setting objectives and identifying the necessary resources such as people, finances, work systems, and technology. They furthermore assign the resources to scheduled actions and make sure that the planned actions happen as expected to accomplish predetermined objectives [4].

In the context of project management, PRINCE2 defines management as planning, assigning tasks, monitoring and regulating every element of the project, motivating those who are involved, and meeting the project objectives within the projected performance metrics for factors such as time, cost, quality, scope, benefits and risk [5]. The definition of project management from the PMBOK guide is applying knowledge, skills, tools, and procedures to project activities in order to achieve project requirements. Project management is the process of directing project work to produce the desired results. Project teams might use a variety of techniques to produce the desired results. Moreover, project manager is the individual chosen by the performing company to lead the project team and be in charge of attaining the project's goals [2].


Figure 1: Functions of management (own figure, based on Ref [5])

The functions of management to execute any project can be divided into a number of separate processes. However, the main management functions have been defined by PRINCE2 as the following four managerial elements: plan, delegate, monitor and control [5].

  1. Plan: Develop a plan that aligns with the company's objectives and goals. This includes assigning employee resources and delegating responsibilities, while also establishing achievable timelines and performance standards. Planning involves both independent work, such as assigning tasks, setting priorities, and creating timelines, as well as effective communication [6].
  2. Delegate: This involves assigning responsibility for particular tasks to team members. Identifying the most suitable employees or teams for particular tasks, and ensuring that everyone is working on tasks that are best suited to their skills and expertise. Effective delegation requires clear communication, setting clear expectations, and ensuring team members have the necessary resources and support to carry out their assigned tasks. [7].
  3. Monitor: This involves keeping track of project metrics, progress and associated tasks to guarantee timely and budget friendly completion of the project , while also adhering to project requirements and standards. Additionally, it involves identifying and addressing any roadblocks or issues that may emerge during project execution. [8].
  4. Control: In order to guarantee that all of the previously mentioned functions are contributing to the success of a company, it is important for managers to regularly oversee employee performance, work quality, and the effectiveness and dependability of finished projects. Management control are focused on ensuring that the company's end objectives are being adequately achieved and making any needed modifications if they are not [6].


To achieve the above mentioned functions effectively, management requires a wide range of skills, behaviours and qualities. Managerial competencies include some actions and qualities that will result in successful performance. These competencies are often defined in competency frameworks and profiles used by organizations for recruitment, training, development, and performance evaluation. Additionally, competency frameworks can provide managers with specific guidelines on the expected behaviours. Key competencies for effective management include attributes such as achievement orientation, business awareness, communication, customer focus, developing others, leadership, planning, teamwork and problem-solving [4]. Furthermore, management is the practice of ensuring that tasks are completed efficiently and is about doing things right. Some of the qualities required to achieve this include being rational, consultative, persistent, tough minded, analytical, structured, deliberate, authoritative and having the capability of stabilizing situations using position power [9].



We are quite knowledgeable about management, but less so about leadership. Several specialists have tried to define this concept and there are more than 400 definitions of leadership. There are numerous perspectives on leadership as well as numerous interpretations of what it means. Simple definitions of leadership include "getting others to follow" and "getting people to do things voluntarily." Leadership can also be defined more narrowly, such as "the use of authority in decision-making." It might be used due to personal expertise or wisdom, or as a function of one's position. Leadership can be viewed as either a behavioural category or as a personality trait. Another way to look at it is from the perspective of the leaders and their capacity to influence others to perform effectively [3].

The following definition is from the Handbook of Management and Leadership by Michael Armstrong: “Leadership is about inspiring individuals to give of their best to achieve a desired result, gaining their commitment and motivating them to achieve defined goals.” [1].

According to the PMBOK guide, leadership is one of the principles that a project manager should acquire to support the needs of the team and the individuals. Project success is facilitated by effective leadership. Better outcomes may result from a project environment that emphasizes vision, creativity, inspiration, enthusiasm, encouragement, and empathy. These characteristics are frequently connected to leadership. Leadership is the attitude, skill, character, and behaviour needed to influence those on the project team and outside it to achieve the desired results [2].


The function of leadership involves several key elements. PMBOK provides four primary activities that are associated with leadership, which are establishing and maintaining vision, critical thinking, motivation and interpersonal skills [2].

  • Establishing and Maintaining Vision: It is important for the project team members to understand the purpose of the project in order for them to be willing to devote their time and energy in the proper direction. This purpose is summarized in the project vision, which outlines an inspiring but realistic view of the desired future results. The vision also serves as a motivator and helps to inspire passion and meaning for a project's intended objective. A leader should establish and maintain a shared vision to keep everyone working towards the same goal.
  • Critical Thinking: A leader should possess critical thinking. This involves using logical and evidence-based reasoning to identify biases, determine the root cause of issues and addressing challenging problems like ambiguity and complexity. It can require an open mind, conceptual imagination and intuition.
  • Motivation: This includes understanding what motivates the team members as well as keeping them dedicated to the project and its goals. Motivation might come from within (intrinsic) or from outside (extrinsic). To get the greatest performance out of each team member, it is important to understand each individual's motivating factor and tailor the motivational strategies based on personal preferences.
  • Interpersonal skills: This involves awareness of own emotions, empathy for those of others, and the capability to behave in a way that is suitable for the situation in order to establish good communication, teamwork, and leadership.


To efficiently carry out the various functions and activities of leadership, specific competencies are needed. However, leadership competences such as skills, behaviour and qualities are something that can be practised. Any team member in a project can grow leadership skills. It is something that can be learned and developed so that it helps the project and its stakeholders while also helping the individual's career [2]. Leadership is about doing the right things. To achieve that, leaders should possess certain qualities such as being visionary, passionate, creative, flexible, inspiring, innovative, courageous, imaginative, experimental and being capable of initiating change through personal power [9].


Leadership can be categorized into different types of styles and leaders can employ one or a mix of leadership styles based on the team and circumstances. The following are five of the best-known and most widely implemented leadership styles [10]:

Laissez Faire: Involves delegating responsibility and initiative to team members. The term "let them do" is often associated with this style. A style based on trust, autonomy, and freedom [10]. This style is convenient if the team is highly skilled and experienced and feels comfortable working [11].

Democratic: Involves a leader who values input from their team members and includes them in the decision-making process. The term “what’s your opinion?” is often associated with this style. Requires the leader being inclusive, having effective communication skills, and being willing to share power and responsibility with their team [10]. Should be used whenever it is possible to build on the qualities and abilities of the team rather than just expecting them to execute, and team members are professionals or experts [11].

Authoritative: Leaders who view themselves as mentors to their followers and encourage a "follow me" approach. Leaders that motivate and inspire their teams by providing guidance, feedback, and motivation. They give an overall direction to their teams and encourage them to follow their lead [10].

Transactional: Operates on the basis of rewards and punishments. This style assumes that individuals may not have the motivation necessary to complete their tasks on their own. The leader establishes defined goals or tasks for the team and outlines how their performance will be rewarded or penalized [10].

Transformational: Prioritizes change and transformation. This style aims to motivate their followers to maximize their potential and achieve more than they previously believed was possible. The leader hopes to inspire the group with a shared vision, creating a sense of unity, energy, and passion [10]. This style is appropriate when you have a clear vision for the future and don't need to focus on the short term. It is inappropriate when new to the company and trust is not yet earned [11].


Both management and leadership require collaborating with others and working toward shared objectives. The two concepts overlap, but despite their similarities they differ from one another [12]. Management is the formal process of planning, organizing, coordinating, and controlling resources to achieve specific objectives, while leadership is the process of guiding, inspiring, motivating, coordinating, and enabling the growth of people in the project team [13].

Leadership can moreover be viewed as a subset of management, and both are crucial for facilitating organizational performance and to deliver intended outcomes. [13]. Managers must be leaders and leaders are typically (but not always) managers. However, management and leadership can be distinguished from one another and the difference is crucial as they focus on different aspects of the project [1]. Managers primarily focus on maintaining the status quo, managing resources efficiently, and ensuring that things are done according to established procedures and policies. Managers are responsible for setting goals, developing plans, and monitoring progress to ensure that the project is completed on time, within budget, and to the desired quality standards. On the other hand, leaders focus on creating a shared vision, inspiring and empowering people to work towards that vision, and fostering a culture of innovation and creativity. Leaders set the direction and tone for the team and provide guidance and support to help the organization to achieve its long-term objectives [13].

Leaders utilize their energy to inspire others to be innovative in problem solving, but managers ensure that the organization's day-to-day operations are carried out, which may require ordering employees what to do if necessary. A leader has soul, passion, and creativity, whereas a manager has mind, logic, and determination. A leader is flexible, innovative, inspirational, brave and independent, while a manager is consultative, analytical, cautious, authoritative and stable. The literature, however, differs in the basic competencies of leadership and management. Some studies have adopted a more extreme view, claiming that management and leadership are almost diametrically opposed tasks [13].

A professor from Harvard Business school, John P. Kotter, wrote the following: "Leadership and management are two distinctive and complementary systems of action. Each has its own function and characteristic activities. Both are necessary for success in today’s business environment." [14]. A person can be a great leader, a great manager, or both. However, each one demands slightly different abilities and characteristics but a good project manager requires a combination of both in order for a project to be successful. The following table summarises the comparison of leadership and management [13].

Table 1: Management and leadership differences (own table, based on Ref[12] and Ref[13])
Management Leadership
Function Planning and Budgeting Establishing Direction
Establishing agendas Creating a vision
Organizing and Staffing Aligning People
Establishing rules and procedure Building teams and coalitions
Controlling and Problem Solving Motivating and Inspiring
Generating creative solutions Empowering subordinates
Characteristics Rational Visionary
Persistent Creative
Consulting Passionate
Analytical Innovative
Structured Courageous
Authoritative Experimental
Stabilizing Independent
Mind Soul
Problem solving Flexible
Tough minded Inspiring
Activities Focus on system and structure Focus on people
Minimize risks Takes risk
Maintains Develops
Subordinates Colleagues
Controls Empowers

Practical approach for project managers

When it comes to managing a project, it is not enough to simply be a good manager, being a good leader is also essential [1]. A successful project requires the project manager to possess a combination of both management and leadership skills. The PMBOK guide recognizes this, listing one of its principles for project management as demonstrating leadership behaviour [2]. It is ideal for project managers to establish both management and leadership skills to succeed in their roles and ensure project success. Management skills are important for planning, organizing, monitoring, and controlling project activities and outcomes, while leadership skills are essential for motivating and inspiring the team members and ensuring that they are engaged in the project [1]. It is difficult to create structured guidelines for implementing either leadership or management strategy, but when to use each skill set depends on the specific project requirements and team dynamics. It is therefore crucial for project managers to be able to distinguish between the two separate concepts and know the benefits and drawbacks in using the skills and activities of both concepts. This will help in understanding when to use each skill set, adjusting strategies based on the specific needs of the project and knowing what approach is most suitable for the project team at the given time [4]. This article has already provided the functions and activities that are associated with the two separate concepts, as well as explained the necessary competencies needed to achieve them successfully. Management skills can be obtained through knowledge of the standard project management framework and experience in applying best practises of project management approaches. As well can leadership competencies be developed by constantly learning new skills and improving existing capabilities [15].


While management and leadership concepts are important for effective project management in achieving organizational goals and objectives, they cannot solve all problems and there are some limitations that should be considered. The limitations that will be discussed are either limitations of the concept itself or limitations that project managers must be aware of when taking on management or leadership roles, in order to adjust their strategies accordingly and achieve project success.

Limitations of management

Managing a project requires effective management of various resources, but there can be constraints on resources such as limited time, budget, or personnel. Projects may have strict deadlines or set delivery dates, making it difficult for project managers to finish the work on time. Unexpected delays or changes in scope might also have an impact on the project timeframe. Because projects may have a limited budget, project managers must make strategic judgments about where to spend money. Cost overruns can have a substantial impact on the success of a project. Some projects may necessitate the use of specific talents or experience that are not available within the project team. Managers must try to maximize the skills and capabilities of their team members. These limitations may vary and change throughout the project, making it a continual task to balance them. Successful management of a project involves understanding the constraints associated with the work and the ability to balance them. [2]. Management might also face limitations related to level of authority and managers may not have the authority or power to implement certain management strategies. This can impact their ability to make decisions and execute the project effectively, especially when the project involves a cross-functional team, many organizations and a combination of full and part time resources [5].

Limitations of leadership

Despite all the research and theory, the idea of leadership is difficult to understand. Leadership is still an elusive and complex concept, after years of attempting to generate an understanding. These issues might occur since leadership is fundamentally a constitutive process, meaning that leaders shape and are shaped by the situations they face. There are many different kinds of circumstances in which leaders act, as well as many distinct kinds of leaders and leadership styles. It is challenging, if not impossible, to develop a single hypothesis that accounts for all of these factors. The only thing that can be done is to make use of the multiple theories that have been developed to describe various aspects of leadership, without necessarily depending on any one of them to provide a thorough explanation of what is involved [4].

PRINCE2 states that it is not possible to define leadership in a method, despite it being of the utmost importance in project management. Leadership styles differ greatly, and what works in one circumstance may not be suitable in another. This is supported by how easy it is to think of examples of successful leaders who have used a variety of leadership styles, from authoritarian to democratic [5]. Different leadership styles can be more or less effective in different situations. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to leadership but leaders must adapt their style depending on the situation and the team members [11].

Annotated bibliography

Project Management Institute. (2021). A guide to the project management body of knowledge and the standard for project management (PMBOK guide) (7th ed.). Project Management Institute, Inc

The 7th edition of the PMBOK Guide provides a thorough overview of the best practices and standards involved in project management. It gives a framework for project management processes and practices. The PMBOK guide was a valuable source for this article as it includes the fundamental aspects of project management as well as the responsibilities and duties of a project manager. It indicates leadership behaviour as one of the main principles for project managers. The guide furthermore discusses different skills and primary activities that are associated with leadership and a comparison of leadership and management in project management.

AXELOS. (2017). Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2® (6th ed.). The Stationary Office.

PRINCE2 is a widely used project management methodology and this book is the official manual for it. PRINCE is a short for PRojects IN Controlled Environments and emphasizes breaking projects down into stages that can be better managed and controlled. For this article it was a relevant source as it discusses the important functions of management as well as its definition. PRINCE2 states that it is not possible to define leadership in a method, despite it being of the utmost importance in project management. Leadership styles differ greatly, and what works in one circumstance may not be suitable in another.

Armstrong, M. and Stephens, T. (2005). A Handbook of Management and Leadership: A Guide to Managing for Results. Kogan Page.

This handbook is a comprehensive guide of management and leadership, and provides an overview of effective management practices and leadership skills. The handbook was useful to this article as it discusses the practices and processes of management and leadership separately. It provides information on management including definition, role, functions, competencies and explains effective management. It also provides information on leadership including role, type, functions and explains a good leader. The handbook also compares management and leadership, stating that the difference is crucial and explains how the two concepts can be distinguished from one another.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Armstrong, M. and Stephens, T. (2005). A Handbook of Management and Leadership: A Guide to Managing for Results. Kogan Page.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 Project Management Institute. (2021). A guide to the project management body of knowledge and the standard for project management (PMBOK guide) (7th ed.). Project Management Institute, Inc.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Mullins, L. J. (2005). Management and Organisational Behaviour (7th ed.). Prentice Hall.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Armstrong, M. (2009). Armstrong's handbook of Management and Leadership: A Guide to Managing for Results (2nd ed.). Kogan Page.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 AXELOS. (2017). Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2® (6th ed.). The Stationary Office.
  6. 6.0 6.1 American InterContinental University. (n.d.). The Four Functions of Management: What Managers Need to Know.
  7. Landry. L, (2020, January 14). How to delegate effectively: 9 tips for managers. Harvard Business School Online.
  8. Fontein. D., (2022, April 4). Project Monitoring: What It Is and Why It’s Important. Unito.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Thuesen, C. (2023, January). 42430 - Week 2 - Part 2 - People slides [Power Point slides]. DTU Learn.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 International Institute for Management Development. (2023, January). The 6 most common leadership styles & how to find yours.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 Minute Tools Content Team. (2017). Leadership Styles. Minute Tools.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Algahtani, A. (2014, September). Are Leadership and Management Different? A Review. American Research Institute.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 13.5 Liphadzi, M., Aigbavboa, C. O., Thwala, W. D. (2017, August 24). A Theoretical Perspective on the Difference between Leadership and Management. ScienceDirect.
  14. Kotter, J. (2001). What Leaders Really Do. Harvard Business Review.
  15. Kumar, V. S. (2009). Essential leadership skills for project managers. Project Management Institute.
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