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  • Vanessa Barajas, MPH

Managing vs. Leading

The terms “leadership” and “management” are often used interchangeably. While there is some overlap between the work that leaders and managers do, there are also significant differences. A successful manager sets goals and ensures their team’s work adheres to performance standards that tend to be measurable, whereas a leader defines a vision for the future. Managers are often risk-averse to ensure quality in the work they are responsible for. Leaders coach and motivate others to act. They behave in a way that inspires others to follow them.

Leaders influence people, while managers manage work.

Often, managers are more successful when they use leadership techniques. By considering comprehensive agency goals and employees’ personal success, they can inspire others to work more efficiently. In other words, the best managers are leaders as well.

The following are leadership techniques you can begin to adopt today:


Great leaders tend to listen more than they speak. They encourage hearing the teams’ input, whether about agency objectives or personal struggles. Leaders listen carefully to the team and take considerations seriously. Establish an open-door policy where you encourage employee feedback and listen to concerns. If having an open-door policy feels too overwhelming, you can begin with a “Feedback Friday” where you can allocate time for the team to be heard. Remember to listen more than you respond, and work hard to understand staff insights and questions. Stronger listening techniques make your team feel more respected. In turn, they might find more value in their work and improve efficiency.

Be Open to Change

Leaders are always open to new changes. They constantly look for ways to enhance the agency and implement new ideas. Whether they come up with innovative ideas or listen to the teams’ ideas for improvement, leaders stay open to the concept of change. The team wants you to hear their concerns and enact positive change. By listening to other opinions, you can make changes that benefit the entire agency. And remember that growth requires change, so don’t be afraid to try new workflows, communication styles or objectives.

Provide Clear Expectations

When you set clear expectations, employees can quickly understand and complete objectives. You typically set expectations during training, when you explain the fine details of the position and other housekeeping notes. But you can continuously explain your objectives for the position, especially when team members show confusion or concern. For instance, if an employee makes a critical mistake that halts the progress of a project, you can take the time to reestablish your expectations. Explain what you expect from them on typical projects and why their work matters. Show them you value their contributions and encourage them to ask as many questions as they need. The more employees understand what you expect, the more thoroughly they can complete tasks.

Use Empathy

In recent years, studies show that empathetic leaders can encourage feelings of engagement, increase employee retention and assist with work-life balance. Leaders understand others’ feelings and work from a place of compassion. You can show empathy to your team by talking through their thoughts and feelings. Consider the team members’ personal circumstances and how these impact feelings and behaviors. Try to approach meetings from a place of understanding.

Empower Your Team

Give employees every opportunity to better themselves. Is there a conference in town or online workshop that offers specialized training on what their job duties entail? If the budget allows for it, send them to the training and ask them to report on what they learned and how they are going to implement what they learn. Help them set personal goals for their job and give them every resource you can to help them achieve them.

Show Your Support

Lastly, great leaders show support for their team. Leaders are invested in individual success, both in and out of the workplace. Let your employees know they can rely on you for guidance and encouragement. When someone performs well on a project, be sure to congratulate them. Remember to show appreciation and support the team through successes and setbacks.

Leadership skills can be developed and improved at any stage of your career.

"You manage things and you lead people."

- Hamza Khan, global keynote speaker & bestselling author


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