Executive vs. Manager: Definition, Differences and FAQs

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 15 January 2023

Published 25 October 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Executive and manager are two titles people often use interchangeably in the business world, although they're different. Depending on the organisational structure and specific job duties and responsibilities, the functions of an executive and manager may overlap, but there are subtle differences between the two roles. If you're aiming to advance your career to the highest level, it's important to know the differences between the two titles. In this article, we discuss the differences and similarities between the executive vs. manager to help you better understand their functions.

Defining executive vs. manager

To understand the differences and similarities between an executive vs. manager, it's important to define each role:

What is a manager?

A manager is a person who supervises or administers the people and resources of an organisation. Depending on the structure and size of the organisation, managers can be low, mid or senior-level officials. For example, a small boutique can have a shop manager overseeing all the operations of the business.

A large retail outlet can have shop managers and regional managers in its hierarchy, while national or multinational organisations can have executive managers, general managers and other senior-level professionals besides middle and lower-level administrators. The experience and qualifications of managers typically depend on their position in the organisation and specific job duties and responsibilities.

Related: What Is the Role of a Manager? (Plus Other Management FAQs)

What is an executive?

An executive is an official who implements the strategic plans and policies of an organisation at the highest level. Executives control critical aspects of a company's operations and develop management's strategic plans and visions. Members of the executive often belong to the C-suite and other high-level roles and can include positions like chief executive officer, chief marketing officer, chief financial officer, chief technology officer and chief operating officer, depending on the company structure.

While the chief financial officer oversees the company finances, the chief executive officer serves as the public face of the organisation and reports directly to the board of directors and owners. You can also regard the executive as a manager, but a higher level one with more responsibilities.

Related: What Is an Executive? (With Salaries and Job Duties)

Differences between manager and executive

Here are some differences between a manager and an executive:

Daily duties

In most organisations, the manager oversees team members and resources for production or service delivery. Managers at all levels have a more hands-on involvement with the daily operations of an organisation. They ensure team members perform their duties effectively and follow company rules and procedures.

Executives focus on defining the actions and activities of a department to meet specific company objectives. They formulate policies and create short- and long-term action plans to guide the implementation of company initiatives. Because of this, the executive typically provides direction to managers because their function is more encompassing.

Vision

Both managers and executives work to achieve organisational vision, but executives create that vision while managers implement the plans to accomplish it. Managers typically work with one vision at a time, depending on the company's requirements. Executives work at the strategic level, so they often devise a combination of strategies and activities to help the organisation meet its vision and mission.

Related: What Is a Balanced Scorecard? (Definition and Benefits)

Responsibilities

Executives handle activities vital to the survival of their organisations, while managers focus on the effective use of company resources. Because managers work mostly with team members and other productive resources, they have a lower risk of failure so long as they follow the strategic vision of executives. In contrast, executives have a more delicate job and company owners expect them to deliver strategic results to keep their jobs and justify their high remuneration.

Function

Executives typically concern themselves with the analysis, evaluation and improvement of company processes for higher performance and efficiency. They're problem-solvers who assess critical aspects of their company's operations to identify loopholes and impediments that can lower productivity, increase cost and prevent the achievement of company goals. Managers typically handle the procedural side of company operations. Their duty is mainly to operationalise the processes and protocols from the executives through sound administrative and management practices.

Skills

Executives and managers have different skills requirements. Since managers typically oversee a team of colleagues, they may use excellent people and leadership skills to excel in their roles. Effective managers perform mentorship, administration, training and team-building activities, which are tasks that require communication, interpersonal, and other soft skills. Executives oversee the activities of managers, so they may not apply these skills as actively.

Depending on the company size and culture, they may recruit executives for their expertise in a specific area of an organisation's industry. While there are cases of overlapping responsibilities, you can expect executives to have less involvement with a company's team members and day-to-day operations.

Can an executive also be a manager?

In many organisations, an executive can also serve as a manager, depending on their size and structure. Many managers in small companies, especially startups, also serve in executive roles. If a company has a lot of inexperienced managers, an executive may become their manager and provide a more hands-on supervision to help them quickly learn about their roles and manage teams more effectively. Larger companies with more traditional hierarchies usually have clearly defined managerial and executive levels, and professionals often spend years gaining experience to transit to senior positions.

Related: 10 Managerial Roles (Plus Their Definitions and Importance)

FAQs on manager vs. executive roles

Here are the frequently asked questions related to managers and executives and the answers:

What is the difference between a manager and an executive assistant?

Executive assistants cater to the specific needs of top managerial executives, such as the chief executive officer or the chief financial officer. They rarely take part in the daily running of the company's operations. Managers oversee the daily operations of all team members or a small department. Both executive assistants and managers report to executives, but managers have a broader role that may include organisation-wide implementation of policies and strategies.

Read more: How to Write an Executive Assistant Resume in 6 Steps

What is the relationship between a manager and an executive?

In any organisation, it's important for managers and executives to have a cordial working relationship. Cooperation between the two is important because while the executives formulate policies and decide the direction of the organisation, managers implement those policies across the company. So whether you belong to the executive or management cadre, working together as a team is essential to the success of the organisation.

What position comes after manager?

The position that comes after manager depends on a company's structure. In large organisations with national or multinational branches, there may be three or four levels of managers, including team leaders, first-line managers, middle managers and senior-level managers, such as the managing director and general manager.

Small companies may have just one level between the manager and the executive. For example, a company may have a marketing manager who reports to a sales director or product manager. The director or product manager may report to the chief operating officer or the vice president.

Related: 34 VP of Sales Interview Questions (With Sample Answers)

How can I get an executive role as a manager?

In most industries and organisations, managers can work their way up the career chain to executive roles. In startups and new generation companies, a low-level manager with drive and excellent skills can quickly move into an executive position. Older organisations with more mature traditions typically require professionals to work in different departments in a managerial capacity before they can qualify for executive positions.

If you're looking to move into an executive role as a manager, study your organisation's hierarchy and know the requirements to get into such high-level management roles. Once you know the requirements, build your experience, skills and professional credentials to qualify for those roles. Some of these roles may be by election or selection, so it helps to understand the office processes and how they work.

Read more: 34 Office Manager Interview Questions (With 7 Sample Answers)

How many people report to a manager?

The number of people who report to a manager depends on the size of a company and its management philosophy. Traditionally, managers can expect to oversee the work of 15 to 20 team members. In some organisations, managers may work with as few as five to six subordinates and as many as 30 team members.

Related: What to Include in a General Manager Resume Objective

What are the level of executives in an organisation?

There can be three types of executives in an organisation, including D, V and C levels. D level executives are the directors, such as managing director, director of marketing and director of sales. V-level executives are people like the vice president and its derivatives. C-level executives are the highest officials in a company, and they can include chief executive officer, chief operating officer, chief technology officer and chief financial officer. In some organisations, mid-level managers are called B-level executives.

Related: What Is C-suite and How Do You Get There?

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