Team Lead vs Manager: What’s the Difference?

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Regina Welle
Regina Welle
Global Staffing Manager
Team Lead vs Manager: What’s the Difference?

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
September 21, 2023

The words “team leader” and “manager” are often used interchangeably. But while these two roles overlap, they also significantly differ one from another. As a startup owner and decision-maker, if you want to ensure team efficiency and successful hiring processes, you need to know the difference between these positions.

Understanding the team lead vs. manager position can help you find the candidates you need for your open spots and create a positive work environment that boosts creativity and productivity among all workers. Fortunately, this guide contains all the ins and outs of team leader and manager roles.

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 middle persons between them and upper 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 that 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

Like team leaders and managers have two distinct roles, so 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 are in charge of leading people in a project and ensuring all employees are satisfied with their work. They also need to guide employees on using 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. These professionals need strong programming skills and a good understanding of each team member’s programming strengths and weaknesses, so they can delegate technical tasks appropriately.

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 day-to-day basis.

Managers, on the other hand, keep in mind the big picture of the company’s needs. They ensure that the tasks supervisors assign are aligned with the company’s overall goals. Managers may meet with supervisors to discuss the performance of individual teams and departments but rarely work one-on-one with these departments.

The Difference Between a Team Leader and a Manager: Responsibilities and Roles

Now that you have a broad understanding of the difference between team leaders and managers, it's time to break down their roles and responsibilities.

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 learn 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
  • Setting goals with team members and encouraging achievements
  • Establishing continual education and training for team members to help them improve their skills within the company
  • Ensuring high office morale 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
  • Setting goals and tasks to supervisors in service of those long-term goals
  • Providing a final point of contact for dissatisfied customers
  • Making decisions about personnel, including those about hiring, termination, and promotion
  • Organizing the overall running of a company to ensure maximum efficiency
  • Supporting team leaders, tech leaders, and supervisors in their individual goals

Team Leader vs. Manager Skills

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, nor every team leader can be a manager. Communicate the roles clearly to every candidate to avoid making mistakes when hiring or relocating employees.

Here's what you need to know about the skills of team leaders and managers:

Team Leader Skills

Of all the managerial positions, 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 characters 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 members' strengths and weaknesses to assign the duties to the right workers
  • Allocate and manage resources, minimizing waste 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 leadership and advocacy 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 like team leaders 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 need to 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 necessities of the organization as a whole, ultimately merging the gap between the two.

Team Lead vs. Manager Salary

In most companies, employees that 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 getting the top wages. Salaries vary from state to state, industry to industry, and even company to company. But here are some general rates:

Team Leader Salaries

Team leaders make an average of $40,000-$106,000 per year, according to Glassdoor.

Manager salaries

Managers usually earn from $48,000-$108,000 per year, according to Glassdoor.

Why Does the Difference Between a Team Leader and Manager Matter?

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 to be a team member but then expect managerial-level work for a lower wage, you may cause frustration in your workers.

A clear understanding of the difference between leadership roles in your company can help 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 goals for themselves 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

Team Leader vs. Manager: Whom 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 your 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 types of 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 choose to hire a team leader, a manager, or both for your growing business. Once you make a decision, you'll see yourself presented with two options:

Promoting Internally

Some of the best hiring decisions are internal ones. Promoting qualified individuals from within your company can improve office 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 involve letting people climb the ladder 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.

The issue with this type of promotion is that individuals may take on more work for some time. You can resolve it by hiring a temporary manager while your team leaders learn the skills they need to move up. That is a better option in the long run than setting internal personnel up for failure by promoting them to positions they're not ready to fulfill.

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 the growing needs of your business, it makes sense to hire promising individuals as team leaders or tech leaders. A new hire in your company can make all the difference in business results, bringing in fresh ideas and invaluable experience.

Hire the Best 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 can help you with that by matching you with a deep pool of talented individuals looking for job opportunities.

All you need to do is tell us your needs, and we'll match you with the best candidates based on your requirements in just a few days. Revelo pre-tests and carefully picks talents for your company to save you valuable time, effort, and money.

Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you hire the best team lead or manager for your business.

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