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Battle of the project manager vs project leader

Consider the job titles, project manager and project leader. We explore what each represents and what traits they each require.

Updated on: 30th October 2019

Two individuals are in charge of a project taking place at an engineering plant, Pete and Rob describe why they chose the title project manager or project leader.

Learning People | Project manager on laptop in cafe

Pete, Project Manager:

“In today’s fast paced world it’s becoming increasingly complex to be a good project manager, therefore it’s important to retain a sense of black and white. In my mind, project management is the process of control over a team or a task, and taking full responsibility for any outcomes that ensue. If you can effectively manage the human side of a project and hold the team together across varying project levels, you have the calibre of a project manager. 

“When you say the word leader, I imagine someone almost in kinship to their peers, and someone who wants to be respected and admired.

“However, a project manager has reigns over the entirety of the project so can assess the bigger picture in terms of budget, scope creep and time scales. That means they sometimes have to make a hard choice when it comes to their team, and make calls that people won’t fully appreciate.

“I believe a good manager should always keep open lines of communication across the team, but sometimes too much talking and too many meetings can delay a project and actually become a hindrance.

“In my opinion the word manager fits the job description better than leader at this point.”

Rob, Project Leader:

“The main priority of a project leader is the ability to get things done through others. They should be able to harness the ability of a team but also celebrate and encourage the individual capabilities of the team members. A leader is a respected state/position so, if you’re a good leader, people should respect your decisions and follow your chosen method even if they aren’t completely in agreement.

“However, I also think a good leader will listen to their team and try to communicate around any issues that arise through meetings, social events and generally stay in touch with everyone involved.

“In many companies there are lots of different projects taking place to be a part of, every project gets allocated a project manager, but a project leader is someone who is passionate about the project and inspires his team to feel the same too, therefore making the project stand out amongst many; that way they get the very best out of everyone involved.”

Learning People | Project leader reading book in park

Learning People:

Regardless of whether you see yourself as a project leader or project manager, the definition of a project remains the same – it’s a task with set outcomes and expectations that requires someone to steer it in the right direction, take authority over decision making, and, ultimately, be held accountable at project end.

The word leader inspires confidence and may make a team buy into a project more than someone they feel disconnected from via a stated hierarchy, like a manager. However, oftentimes in internal project teams in larger companies, an individual may be allocated to several different projects of varying sizes and importance, so the word manager suggests direction and a solid, dependable foundation.

All project leaders and project managers must have the same soft skills:

  • Communication
  • Organisation
  • Integrity
  • Reliability
  • Time keeping
  • Attention to detail

 When the question of project leader vs project manager is raised, this list simplifies matters, because it becomes a case of them both being an accurate title. We need firmly established and tested project management processes to provide structure, systems, and consistency across projects for everyone involved.

Certifications such as the PMP, and CAPM are globally recognised, so good project managers remain consistent around the world – this is essential moving forward at the rate business and technologies are both growing in. However, it is also important that project leaders harness the engagement and skills of their team to seek out new ways of doing things so that innovation can continue.

It is not enough now to just deliver a project; lessons must be learnt going forward to ensure advancements are continuously made. Leaders will engage their team with the same vision, but managers will ensure the team stays the course.