The Functions of Leadership and Management

In Leadership by Shelli Bischoff

In my work with public agencies and large nonprofit organizations, I often find that the functions of leadership and management are not carried out. It is important to understand how these two important functions are distinct from one another to ensure that both are carried out—even when one person is responsible for providing both leadership and management.

What is the difference between leadership and management? Peter Drucker’s famous quote best sums it up:

“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”


Leadership focuses on the larger context for action and attends to the changes that influence the organization. Leaders establish direction, align people, and motivate and inspire (remove obstacles so people can be successful). Leadership is a process of persuasion or influence to get others to move in a direction toward a goal or result. The leader is the one who determines the best direction or strategy for success (usually given a plethora of options, opportunities, and challenges). And, leadership implies followership. If there is no clear direction, it is very difficult for people to follow!

Leaders need the ability to see the big picture, deliberate and assess options, and make unequivocal and clear decisions. Leaders also need to be trustworthy—why else would anyone follow them?


If leadership sets the direction, management executes. Management is the practice of organizing, coordinating, prioritizing, allocating, and monitoring resources (people and money) to attain goals.

Managers need the ability to plan, staff, budget, evaluate, and adapt. They need to be astute problem solvers, coaches, and conflict managers.


Another thing to keep in mind is the difference between functions of leadership and management and one’s leadership or management style. Good leaders and managers are adept at adapting their style to the situation. In some cases, a participatory or democratic style for leadership and a coaching or supportive style for management is appropriate. However, in times of crisis, urgency, or uncertainty, a more autocratic and authoritarian leadership style and a more directive management style is necessary.

Click here to download a summary of the differences between leadership and management.

Does this explanation of the differences between leadership and management resonate with your understanding? How have you had to adapt your leadership or management style to best fit a situation?