Team Leader vs. Manager: Definitions and Differences

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 5 November 2022

Published 6 December 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.

Team leaders and managers are both important components of the team dynamic in the workplace, but they operate differently. The two positions serve different needs for the team and focus on varying outcomes for team members.

If you're interested in earning a leadership position, learning more about the differences between team leaders and managers can be beneficial. In this article, we explore the differences between team leaders and managers, review the important skills they need and provide tips for improving your leadership abilities.

Related: How to Improve Leadership Skills: Guideline and Tips

Team leader vs. manager

If you're interested in a senior role, comparing a team leader vs. a manager can help you understand the differences between these two job titles. Being a leader and being a manager can look very different in the workplace. Where you work and the team members you have in your department can influence whether you become a team leader or manager. These are some differences between team leaders and managers:

Team members

Team leaders and managers often work with different team members and manage differing numbers of staff. A team leader often interacts with a smaller group of team members, while the manager may interact with multiple team leaders, groups and staff members.

The manager often appoints the team leaders for each group and team leaders usually report to the manager or director of their department. Team leaders often work alongside their groups, completing the same kinds of tasks and providing guidance to their team members. Team leaders provide instruction, advice, tips for efficiency and work with staff members to develop goals.

Managers select team leaders and decide which groups each leader works with. Managers also review the numbers for a department or organisation as a whole, considering how various groups work together and interact. The manager often uses the company's goals to determine specific department goals and collaborates with team leaders to create strategies for helping staff members meet those goals.

For example, the company may set a goal to increase content output in the following quarter. The manager may meet with different design team leads to determine how to influence designers to increase their output while maintaining quality.

Related: Common Responsibilities and Expectations of Managers

Guidance style

Team leaders and managers may use different guidance styles when approaching team members. Because team leaders often complete the same work alongside their staff members, they may prefer to offer inspiration and motivation to their team as a guidance style.

Advice, tips and general encouragement are all parts of a team leader's guidance style. As team leaders interact more often and more closely with their team members, maintaining healthy, professional relationships is an important part of the team leader's role.

Managers may consider production and performance more than team leaders and use a distinct style of guidance when addressing these issues. For example, managers may set strict expectations and quotas for team members and schedule meetings with their staff members if they don't meet them.

Though many managers focus on providing solutions and methods for improving performance and supporting the team member, they may use a distinct style of guidance that focuses on expectations and outcomes, rather than personal growth or inspiration. Though team leaders and managers differ in this section, both approaches may help improve performance.

Related: Important Roles and Responsibilities of a Team Leader

Collaboration

Managers often interact with members of the administration and company board, while team leaders are more likely to only interact with other leaders and the members of their team. This means each of the leaders interacts and collaborates with different people and in different ways. Because team leaders are often performing the same tasks as their team members, they can collaborate more closely and offer more specific advice and help.

Managers are less likely to receive the same level of collaboration and teamwork from the administration or company board. Though there may be other managers to communicate with, they often focus on different departments and may not have the knowledge or time to help with projects.

Managers collaborate with team leaders to implement strategies, but because their work is not as closely linked as the team leader's and the team's, managers often experience less collaboration and more independence than team leaders.

Related: How to Be a Good Manager in the Workplace

Innovation

Team leaders may be more interested in innovation and change than managers. Team leaders may focus more on individual development and growth within their team. This can lead them to be more interested in implementing big changes that can positively influence their team's performance.

This can include aspects like new technologies, systems or procedures for completing tasks. A team leader may research new methods for completing tasks or collaborating and approach managers with their ideas for creating a more efficient workplace.

Managers may be less likely to immediately accept these changes. A manager reviews the numbers for the team and when new systems begin, efficiency and production usually slow in the beginning until the team becomes accustomed to the changes. The manager may explain these slowdowns to the company board or other administration and take responsibility if the recent change doesn't positively affect the team quickly enough to make it worth the alteration.

Related: 7 Team Leader Interview Questions (With Sample Answers)

Important skills for leaders and managers

These are some important skills for leaders and managers:

Technical proficiency

Technical proficiency is knowledge and skills with computers and technology. This is an important skill for leaders because it allows them to effectively use spreadsheets, presentation software and communication applications.

Technological knowledge and abilities are also important because leaders and managers may teach their team members how to use devices or access information on a computer. It can also be important for determining which systems and programmes to use company-wide.

Communication

Communication is the ability to understand and articulate information when conversing with someone. This is an important skill for leaders because they work with their team members to provide direction and guidance. Communication skills, like negotiation and active listening, are also important for interacting with vendors and other professionals.

Related: What Does a Line Manager Do? (With Steps and Skills)

Critical thinking

Leaders have excellent critical thinking skills when they can assess a situation, determine the causes of a problem and suggest viable solutions. This is important for being flexible and adaptable when situations change in the workplace. Managers and leaders use critical thinking to solve problems and develop creative solutions for efficiency and improved performance.

Time management

Time management is an organisational skill that allows managers and team leaders to avoid wasting time and optimise their productivity. This is an important skill because they often manage many tasks and people at once, and time management allows them to finish their projects on time. Managers may use time management more than leaders, but the skill is important for both.

Related: 6 Leadership Skills for a Resume and How to Demonstrate Them

Tips for improving your leadership skills

Leadership skills are important because they allow managers and team leaders to provide support and guidance to their staff members. Excellent leadership skills may allow team leaders and managers to improve performance, efficiency and function within the workplace. These are some helpful tips you can use to help you improve your leadership skills:

  • Focus on improving discipline: Prominent leaders have excellent discipline, and implementing discipline in your own life is a great way to practise implementing it in the workplace. Being your own influential leader allows you to develop the skills you need to set expectations and communicate effectively.

  • Find a leadership mentor: Mentors are a great resource for learning more about leadership in a hands-on way. Consider approaching a manager or leader that you admire and asking if they can be your leadership mentor.

  • Develop a leadership style: There are many types of leadership styles so the one that works best for you depends on your traits and abilities. Consider leadership styles like visionary, transactional, pace-setting, participative and transformational.

  • Learn how to inspire others: Learning how to inspire others can be challenging, but it's important to consider what the members of your team value. Pay attention to when they become excited or motivated and determine which aspects of work made them feel this way so you can use them as inspiration later.

  • Create leadership goals: Setting goals is an important skill for leaders and you can practise by setting goals for yourself and reaching them. Consider creating timetables and other methods for tracking your progress on your goals to practise for work and improve your leadership abilities.

Related: Guide To Writing a Manager Resume (With 10 Examples)

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