Is it Better to Be a Leader or a (Project) Manager?

In the last week, the comparison of leader vs. manager has popped up a couple of times in my LinkedIn feed usually through a quote that implies that it’s better to be a leader than a manager. Here is one as an example, from someone whose ideas I admire:

Management is about arranging and telling. Leadership is about nurturing and enhancing.  –Tom Peters

While I am hoping that Tom intended to demonstrate the different skills inherent in managing and leading, it is likely taken by most people as an either or statement.  If you are a manager, all you do is arrange and tell, but when you are a leader, the choirs sing and the heavens part as you nurture and enhance your team. Most readers would also take those attributes and assign them by proxy to managers and leaders – because surely it’s better to be a leader than a manager.

But in most companies when do you start being a leader?  Are Project Managers also leaders?

The good news is that like most Project Managers, you already do both.

Leadership and management are skill sets, not titles.

Project Managers demonstrate leadership skills every day and not at the expense of “arranging and telling”.  Most projects wouldn’t get off the ground without a (Project) manager that sets the timelines, plans the meetings and reports to the stakeholders  while creating an environment where people are motivated and engaged.

It is true that the balance tips more toward leadership type work the higher you climb the corporate ladder and most Project Managers likely report to someone who is more leader than manager.  But even C-suite executives are still spending portions of their day managing, by freeing up resources and providing cover fire from other executives, to help the project that you are leading.

So yes, there is a difference between being a manager and an executive and one does tend to do more leadership type work than the other.  Both are valuable to the organization – precisely because they do the right amount of managing vs leading.

So let’s add an asterisk to Tom’s quote:

Management is about arranging and telling. Leadership is about nurturing and enhancing.** –Tom Peters

**and you should try to do both well.**


This article was modified for the Project Manager community from a previous post.
I provide 1-1 coaching via phone to Project Managers (and leaders) that want to Become Better Managers.  Reading a few more of my blog posts should give you a pretty good idea of my approach and how I can help you be the manager you always wanted to work for.

Email me and let’s get started working together – tell me who you are and how I can help.