Team Lead vs Manager: What’s the Difference?

Hire Remote Developers
Regina Welle
Regina Welle
Global Staffing Manager

Table of Contents

Making the "team lead vs. manager" decision is not simple, but finding the right people to fill these roles within your company is even more challenging.
Published on
August 12, 2022
Updated on
April 11, 2024

The titles “team leader” and “manager” are often used interchangeably. But while these two roles overlap, they also significantly differ from one another. Understanding each role's responsibilities ensures successful hiring and team efficiency.

Recognizing the differences between the team lead vs. manager positions helps businesses find the candidates needed for open positions; it creates a positive work environment that boosts creativity and productivity among all workers. This guide explains the distinction between several team leadership roles and the skills required for each position.

What Is a Team Lead?

A team lead, often called a team leader, is responsible for providing direction and guidance to a group of people in order to achieve organizational goals. In most scenarios, a team lead provides hands-on leadership to their team and often works closely with them to produce results.

Team leads work on a granular level to ensure that each individual is optimized to perform their tasks. In some cases, team leads may hold the same position as other team members, but through exceptional leadership or expertise, they are chosen to lead their team. Short-term goals, such as meeting daily or weekly numbers, typically fall to the team lead. 

What Is a Manager?

Managers provide broad oversight by directing teams, departments, or entire companies through strategic resource planning, workflow optimization, and effective communication with upper management or C-suite leadership. Because a manager likely directs multiple teams or operational areas, they don’t usually work exclusively with their direct reports. Rather, managers guide processes and support team leads on a departmental or organizational level.

Is a Team Leader a Manager?

While you may hear the terms “team leader” and “manager” used interchangeably, they mean different things. Team leaders take on a low-level management role. They work directly with team members and serve as the bridge between the team and management. A team leader’s main job is to support the team by learning more about all members, helping them thrive, and advocating their individual needs.

Managers, on the other hand, have a more goal-focused position in a company. Their job is to ensure the people they manage complete tasks while following the organization’s systems.

Within the broader categories of team leaders and managers, there are four distinct roles to keep in mind:

Team Leader vs.Tech Lead

Team leaders and managers have two distinct roles, as do team leaders and tech leads. Both include low-level management positions tasked with understanding members of a small group or team and communicating that team’s progress with upper management. However, the focus of team leaders and tech leads within a team is different.

Team leaders lead people in a project and ensure all employees are satisfied with their work. They must also guide employees to use their skill sets and strengths to meet their personal and company goals. To perform their job well, team leaders need strong interpersonal skills.

On the other hand, tech leads guide their team through the technical process of a project. To delegate tasks appropriately, these professionals need strong programming skills and a good understanding of each team member’s programming strengths and weaknesses.

Manager vs. Supervisor

Managers and supervisors both have upper-management positions in an organization but perform different tasks. Supervisors take on a more subtle, goal-focused role within an organization. They support managers by assigning specific tasks to teams, acting as the first point of contact for disputes between employees and customers, and ensuring everything runs smoothly on a daily basis.

Managers keep the big picture of the company’s needs in mind. They ensure that the tasks supervisors assign align with the company’s overall goals and metrics. Managers may meet with supervisors to discuss team performance or the performance of individuals, but managers rarely work one-on-one with these departments.

Key Differences

One of the most important distinctions between a manager and a team leader is the scope of each position. While both may have a similar responsibility to achieve organizational goals, team leads work more specifically with their relevant staff members. In most cases, managers have a broader scope of responsibility both in terms of direct report volume and in regard to open communication between departments.

Managers typically have more business acumen, strategic planning knowledge, and experience. Because of their more focused scope, team leads usually have more specific technical skill in the tasks their team is responsible for.

Team Leader Roles and Responsibilities

A team leader’s role is to provide support for their team. Their responsibilities include:

  • Motivating team members to bring their A-game daily
  • Helping team members understand their strengths and how to use them within the work environment
  • Advocating for team members with upper management, both when they’re thriving and when they’re coming up short, to facilitate understanding and respect between both parties
  • Communicating the goals of upper management to team members in a way that inspires them to do their best work
  • Making decisions concerning team members’ goals and encouraging achievements
  • Establishing continual education and training for team members to help them improve their skills within the company
  • Ensuring high office morale, building trust, and making suggestions for improvements to upper management when enthusiasm drops
  • Listening to team members and working with them to solve problems and overcome obstacles in the workplace

Manager Roles and Responsibilities

A manager’s role is to understand the big picture within a company. Their responsibilities include:

  • Understanding the company’s long-term goals and initiatives
  • Setting goals and tasks with supervisors
  • Providing a final point of contact for dissatisfied customers and relevant stakeholders
  • Making decisions about personnel, including those about hiring, termination, and promotion
  • Organizing the overall company workflow to ensure maximum efficiency
  • Supporting team leaders, tech leaders, and supervisors in their individual goals

What Are Their Skill Sets?

Because there is such a significant difference between a team leader and a manager, these professionals need diverse skills to perform their jobs successfully. Consider this during the hiring process and when promoting existing employees. Not all workers are suited to become team leads, and not every team leader should be a manager. Communicate the roles clearly to every candidate to avoid making mistakes when hiring or relocating employees.

Team Leader Skills

Of all the managerial positions, successful team leaders need a solid set of soft skills the most. Since one of their primary duties is to uplift and inspire team members, team leaders must excel in interpersonal skills and intercultural fluency. Good communication and listening skills will help these professionals understand team members of various backgrounds and support them in their efforts to fit and navigate the expectations of their current workplace.

Team leaders also need organizational skills to:

  • Delegate tasks within the team by using their understanding of team member's strengths and weaknesses to assign the duties to the right workers
  • Allocate and manage resources, minimizing waste through time management while ensuring everyone has what they need to get their jobs done
  • Help team members set priorities and re-organize their workloads, especially when they feel overwhelmed

Finally, team leaders need advocacy and leadership skills to know how to:

  • Mentor their team members to help them become better professionals and eventually move up the corporate ladder
  • Identify team members' strengths and weaknesses and help them understand how to capitalize on the former while working to improve upon the latter
  • Represent their team members when talking to supervisors, understanding needs like increased work flexibility, and presenting them to upper management in an easy-to-understand way
  • Advocate for the team's demands, including physical needs (like better office supplies) and mental health needs (like more flexibility for family emergencies)

Manager Skills

A higher management role within an organization brings more duties and responsibilities, which demands a better skill set from candidates. Managers need all the skills team leaders possess and more, combining soft and technical skills to perform their duties flawlessly.

Just like team leaders, managers need interpersonal communication skills and intercultural fluency. While they may not work one-on-one with individual team members, they will meet with team leaders frequently. As a result, listening and problem-solving skills become increasingly important for this management level.

Managers must be able to:

  • Represent upper management to team leaders and explain the reasons behind decisions so that employees feel more engaged and empowered in the workplace
  • Compromise with employees and upper management to find solutions that meet the needs of both parties
  • Make personnel decisions — including hiring, firing, and promotion decisions — based on what they've learned from their team leaders
  • Coach team leaders and help them better understand and represent their team
  • Support team leaders when they're having difficulties with their team members

Managers also need organizational and financial literacy skills because they may find themselves in charge of:

  • Managing budgets and expenses for their teams and departments
  • Assigning tasks and deadlines to teams
  • Getting buy-in from upper management when changes are due to improve morale or productivity, which may include creating presentations or graphs to show proof-of-concept

Finally, managers need to have a big-picture mindset. They should consider not only the needs of individual teams but the organization's necessities as a whole, ultimately merging the gap between the two.

Team Lead vs. Manager Salary

In most companies, employees who show enthusiasm to climb the corporate ladder become team leaders. From there on, they may reach the supervisor position, while the latter get promoted to managers.

Typical salary ranges reflect this line of promotion, with team leaders receiving the least amount of money, supervisors making an intermediary salary, and managers earning top wages. Salaries vary from state to state, industry to industry, and company to company.

Too often, well-meaning managers put together job descriptions without fully understanding a particular role. For example, if you list a job as a “manager” position, you will be expected to pay a manager’s salary. Similarly, if you hire someone as a team leader but then expect managerial-level work for a lower wage, you may cause frustration in your workers. A strong understanding of these roles and their responsibilities not only helps organizations function effectively but also retain employees.

A clear understanding of the difference between leadership roles in your company helps you communicate expectations and set salaries appropriately. Being on the same page with your employees can:

  • Eliminate possible resentment about different salary levels
  • Help employees find the right person to talk to when they run into an issue
  • Allow employees to set clear individual and team goals and envision themselves in the upper management position that makes sense for their skill set and career pursuits
  • Improve interest in continual training opportunities for people who want to move up the ranks

Which One Should You Hire?

There's no cut-and-dried answer to whether you should hire a team leader or a manager. The right hiring decision for any high-performing team depends on your and your company's unique needs.

Here are some questions you should ask yourself when deciding whether to hire a team leader or a manager:

  • Do I need this person to supervise a small group of individuals (team leader) or several teams or departments (manager)?
  • Do I want this person to have the power to make personnel decisions (manager), or do I want them to check with someone higher up before making those judgments (team leader)?
  • Am I looking for someone to coach individuals and help them move up the corporate ladder (team leader)?
  • Am I seeking someone to understand the company's big picture (manager) or a person immersed in the nuances of day-to-day management (team leader)?

The answers to these questions may help you hire a team leader, a manager, or both for your growing business. Once you decide, you'll see yourself presented with two options: promoting from within or hiring externally.

Promoting Internally

Some of the best hiring decisions are internal ones. Promoting qualified individuals from within your company often improves morale by showing that you value and reward hard work and don't hoard talent to the detriment of the individual team members.

However, internal promotions should let people climb to the next logical level based on their skills and experience. For example, if a project manager just left, that doesn't necessarily mean someone in your office is qualified to fulfill the role. Instead, you may choose to promote someone to a team leader position to help mitigate the loss of the manager.

Related: Data engineer vs. data scientist: What’s the difference?

Hiring Externally

If you’re scaling your business or there is currently no internal personnel to meet its growing needs, hiring promising individuals as team leaders or tech leaders makes sense. A new hire in your company often makes all the difference in business results, bringing in fresh ideas and invaluable experience.

Hire Qualified Team Leads and Managers With Revelo

Making the "team lead vs. manager" decision is not simple, but finding the right people to fill these roles within your company is even more challenging. Revelo helps by matching you with candidates from a vetted talent pool who have the experience to begin contributing to your organization quickly.

All you need to do is tell us your needs, and we'll match you with the best candidates based on your requirements. Revelo pre-tests and carefully selects talent for your company to save you valuable time, effort, and money. After you choose your candidate, Revelo assists in ongoing administrative tasks like payroll, taxes, and local compliance—allowing you to focus on core business functions.

Contact us today to learn more about how Revelo helps you hire team leads and managers for your organization.

Need to source and hire remote software developers?

Get matched with vetted candidates within 3 days.

Related blog posts

How to Attract and Retain Employees: Creative and Effective Methods

How to Attract and Retain Employees

Bruna Vasconcelos
Employer Resources
Stakeholder Collaboration: How to Ensure Alignment on Tech Hiring Decisions

Stakeholder Collaboration

Rafael Timbó
Tech Team Management
OKRs for Software Engineering Teams: Examples for Managers and Developers

OKRs for Software Engineering Teams: Examples for Managers and Developers

Lachlan de Crespigny
Tech Team Management

Subscribe to the Revelo Newsletter

Get the best insights on remote work, hiring, and engineering management in your inbox.

Subscribe and be the first to hear about our new products, exclusive content, and more.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Hire Developers