Project Leader vs. Project Manager: Differences & Skills

Supriya Bajaj

Senior Writer

Project Leader vs Project Manager

Did you know that research shows that businesses will require 88 million project management professionals by 2027? This reveals the significance of the evolving roles of project managers and project leaders and their importance in successfully completing a project. 

Looking for Project Management Software? Check out SoftwareSuggest’s list of the best Project Management Software solutions.

Often, these positions are thought to be the same and interchangeable, though, in reality, they are unique and carry fundamental differences in their roles in project management.

software suggest top 10 company logo
Expert Advice

Given today's highly competitive landscape, businesses need skilled project managers and leaders to succeed. The roles of a project leader vs. project manager have always remained a subject of debate and confusion. For effective project management, it is important to understand the differences as both roles involve a huge volume of work when it comes to coordinating and promoting collaboration among the team members.


In this article, we have covered the subtle differences between the roles of a project leader vs. project manager and the skills needed to achieve success in each of these project leadership roles. 

What Is a Project Leader?

A good project leader guides and navigates a team toward achieving the specific goals of a project. The primary role of a project leader is to set objectives, create plans and oversee the delegation of tasks to the team members. Project leaders determine rules and policies for the team and ensure that the team members abide by them at all times. 

The role of project leaders extends beyond project outcomes to determining strategies that help direct a team. They serve as a source of motivation and inspiration to the project team. Project leaders act as key drivers of change. They are responsible for creating a positive work environment where the team members feel motivated to give their best for the successful completion of a project.

Project leaders monitor the dynamics of the team and nurture collaboration among the team members.  They work to resolve conflicts quickly and ensure a seamless workflow until the completion of a project. 

What Is a Project Manager?

The primary role of a project manager is to oversee the execution of a project right from the start until its completion.  Project managers work with cross-functional teams to ensure that the project goals are met within the specified time span, resources, and budget constraints. 

Project managers are responsible for communicating with all project stakeholders, including clients, team members, management, vendors, etc.  They identify possible risks at the beginning of a project and work out strategies to mitigate them. 

What is a project manager

Project managers spend over 90% of their time in communication and so interpersonal skills are extremely important for them. They communicate the project goals to the team members and update the status and progress of the project to the senior management and other stakeholders. 

Differences Between Project Manager and Project Leader

Project leader vs. project manager has always remained a subject of discussion in the project management arena, and it is important to understand the fundamental differences that exist in terms of their roles and responsibilities. 

If you want a quick evaluation of the roles of a project leader vs. project manager on different aspects, taking a glance at the table may help. 

Project Manager
Project Leader
FocusProject outcomesTeam management and business outcomes
Skills neededPlanning, execution, critical thinking, communication, decision makingInterpersonal skills, communication, conflict management
Decision makingStrategic decisionsOperational decisions
CommunicationAll stakeholders, including clients, vendors, management, and team membersPrimarily communicate with the team members
Primary ResponsibilityManage the end-to-end outcomes of a projectMotivate and inspire the team
Working styleCollaborativeInnovative and strategic
Risk-takingPrefer to maintain the status quoCreative and risk-taking
Problem-solvingDetermine solutions so the team can complete the project within the budget and time frame.Motivate the team to solve problems by themselves
GoalManage the entire projectManage only certain modules of a project

The following section covers the key differences between project managers and project leaders in an elaborate manner. 

1. Project managers are specialists and experts, while project leaders are generalists

Project managers are responsible for promoting coordination between the stakeholders and organizing the workflow. They focus on specific objectives and navigate the team toward achieving them within the determined costs and time frame. 

On the other hand, project leaders are generalists, and their focus lies on motivating and inspiring the team toward achieving the project objectives.  

2. Project managers execute plans, while project leaders make plans

A project manager leads the execution of end-end activities of a project as per the plan. They make sure that there is a seamless workflow and that the project gets completed within the stipulated time period. 

Project leaders are strategists who build strategic plans to motivate the team to achieve the project goals.  

3. Project leaders drive people, while project managers focus on the project and processes

Project managers focus more on the process and improving the project’s outcomes.  They delegate the tasks among the team members and ensure the workflows are as planned. In other words, project managers are accountable for completing all the tasks and successful project delivery. 

Project leaders must ensure that the team is aligned with the expectations and goals and they are motivated to unleash their fullest potential. They identify bottlenecks and conflicts and work out strategies to resolve them. 

Project leaders focus more on the people and work environment, while project managers focus on the technical aspects of the project. 

4. Project leaders motivate their teams while project managers navigate them

While project leaders offer a sense of motivation and inspiration, project managers offer support and guidance in achieving their specific project objectives. They assign projects based on the requirements of the project and the skills and competencies of the team members. 

Project leaders are focused on uplifting every team member, influencing them beyond professional means. They have a closer association with their team members and work to ensure that every team member is motivated and their personal interests align with the project goals. 

5. Project leaders take calculated risks, while project managers are risk-averse and work to maintain the status quo

A project manager leads the project flows and ensures that are in alignment with the plan. They endeavor to complete the project tasks and activities within the expected time and budget constraints. They are more technical and focused on maintaining the status quo and following the pre-determined project plan. 

On the other hand, the primary role of project leaders is to create a vision and plan for keeping the team motivated. As they think ahead and plan for the future, they face challenges and risks from uncertainties. 

6. Project leaders are thinkers, whereas project managers are doers

Project managers are doers as they implement the plans and strategies devised by project leaders. They are responsible for the optimal allocation of resources and ensure that the project is completed as per the planned costs and time. 

Project leaders are visionaries and strategists, and they are responsible for setting the team’s overall direction. This involves strategic planning and critical thinking. They analyze the available information and make strategic plans based on data and insights. 

7. Project leaders focus on aligning teams to business outcomes, while project managers focus on project success

Project leaders define a team’s vision and strategic goals to align with the intended project and business outcomes. Their focus lies in aligning the team with the vision of the business. 

On the other hand, project managers focus on the project at hand, and they navigate the team toward intended project outcomes and deliverables. Their focus is narrow when compared to project leaders, 

8. Project leaders primarily communicate within the team, while project managers communicate with all the stakeholders

A project manager leads the communication with all the stakeholders involved, including clients, team members, and management, to ensure that everyone is on the same page and is on track toward achieving the goals. 

Project leaders communicate within the team regularly and offer guidance and feedback to ensure team members meet their expectations. 

9. Project managers are rule-oriented, while project leaders are more empathetic

The ultimate goal of project managers is to achieve project outcomes with cost and time constraints. They are more authoritative and expect the stakeholders to abide by rules and policies. 

As project leaders guide and navigate a team, they are more empathetic and motivating. Their relationship with the team members extends beyond professional means, and they maintain a personal bonding with every member of the team. 

10. Project leaders focus on the specific modules of a project, while project managers focus on the complete project

Project leaders are responsible for guiding a team that is working on the specific modules or aspects of a project. 

On the other hand, project managers focus on the whole project. They define the project vision, track the progress, and execute plans to complete the project as per the client’s expectations. 

Skills Needed for Project Manager Role

As explained in the previous section, project managers are responsible for executing a project’s end-to-end activities and processes. So they require hard skills like negotiation, problem-solving, budgeting, etc., and soft skills like communication, conflict management, etc. 

Skills needed for a project manager role

We have hand-picked a few must-have skills needed to thrive in a project manager role.  

1. Project Management Skills

Project managers must have the skills and abilities to navigate a team toward a project’s objectives and goals. Essential project management skills for project managers include leadership, collaboration, team management, adaptability, critical thinking, conflict resolution, delegation, planning, forecasting, etc. 

2. Leadership Skills

A project manager must have the ability to influence, inspire, and guide a team to work on a common goal of completing and delivering the project within the determined costs, resources, and time frame. 

Project managers must be able to make quick, sound decisions based on the available information. As projects expand and move ahead, they may have to make many decisions that define the direction of a project. 

3. Communication Skills

As project managers spend a major chunk of their time in communicating with the stakeholders of the project, including clients, team members, management, vendors, etc., communication skills are critical. 

Project managers should be able to deliver their thoughts and opinions clearly and concisely to ensure that the team is aligned with the same. They should be aware of email, phone, or in-person communication etiquette and use these mediums effectively to communicate their thoughts and vision. 

4. Organizational Skills

Project managers must be able to plan and organize the team efforts toward the intended project outcomes. Project planning, prioritization, decision-making, resource management, etc., are some of the essential skills needed for a project manager. 

When a project falls out of the intended track and set plans, project managers must have the ability to identify the challenges and bottlenecks and prepare solutions to overcome them. 

5. Negotiation Skills

As project managers engage with various stakeholders like clients, vendors, and the team, they must possess excellent negotiation skills. They must communicate the requirements to the stakeholders and achieve the project goals. Project managers must also be willing to make room for concessions and modifications to the plan whenever needed. 

6. Time Management Skills

Time remains the most precious resource when it comes to project management. As all the activities are time bound and have short deadlines, project managers must delegate the tasks accordingly and keep track of the progress. 

A project manager leads the team, sets goals and clear priorities, delegates properly, builds contingency plans, and minimizes interruptions to the workflow. This helps ensure the team achieves the project outcomes within the stipulated time frame. 

7. Problem-Solving Skills

Project managers must possess critical thinking abilities and problem-solving skills to navigate the unforeseen challenges that arise in the middle of a project. They should study problems quicker and design appropriate solutions to overcome them. 

Project managers must work on achieving the solutions rather than dwelling on a problem for a longer time. When it comes to solving problems, project managers must remain proactive rather than reactive. 

8. Managing Stakeholders

Project managers deal with various stakeholders, including clients, suppliers, team members, and management. Project managers are responsible for managing the priorities and demands of different stakeholders. In case of conflicts, project managers should review the situation quickly and devise solutions that deliver the best for all stakeholders. 

Project managers should deal with all the stakeholders professionally and communicate with them in an authentic manner.  

Skills Needed for Project Leader Role

Project leaders are primarily responsible for communicating with the team members and offering them a sense of purpose, motivation, and inspiration. Following are some of the essential skills found in the project leader job description. This may help you gain an understanding of the project lead’s roles and responsibilities.

1. Team Collaboration 

The primary role of project leaders is to communicate within the team and ensure that the team members are in alignment with what’s expected of them. They must communicate the goals and objectives of the project to the team members using simple, jargon-free terms.

Project leaders must alter their communication style and choose a channel (email, phone call, or in-person) based on the circumstances. Communicating well with the team members helps maintain a cordial relationship and builds trust and confidence in their minds and successfully navigates them through the project lead responsibilities. 

2. Good Interpersonal Skills

As project leaders work closely with the teams to achieve the project goals, interpersonal skills are a must-have and this remains a top skill in the latest project leader job descriptions. They must be able to define a clear vision and offer guidance and motivation to the team members. 

Project leaders must be able to foster deeper relationships with the team members and build connections beyond professional means. They should have the emotional intelligence to understand the emotions and account for the perspectives of those in the team and respond appropriately to be able to deliver the project lead roles and responsibilities. 

3. Decision-Making Skills

A project leader must be skilled enough to review a situation and make decisions that go well with all the stakeholders involved. When things fall apart and go against expectations, project leaders must take the initiative to solve the challenges and set things back on track. 

As their decisions are prone to impact the entire project flow, project leaders must be able to make sound decisions. 

4. Task Management

Project leaders are accountable for the outcomes of various tasks and are expected to shoulder different tasks at the individual and team levels. 

Project leaders must be able to manage multiple tasks and delegate them based on the project’s requirements and the team members’ skills and competencies. 

5. Communication Skills

Project leaders must be able to communicate well with the clients as well as the internal team members. They must set clear expectations with the team and ensure they are met. Fluent communication remains a key point in almost all project leader job descriptions.

Beyond engaging with the internal team and motivating them to achieve the goals, project leaders must also communicate with the clients to understand their expectations and report progress. They should switch between different channels like email, phone calls, or in-person meetings to communicate effectively. 

6. Deadline Management

A project leader is accountable for the outcomes of the team and project. Managing the team and ensuring that everybody is on the same page with the project goals is a crucial responsibility of project leaders. 

As they direct the team towards completing a project with milestones and deadlines, the project leader endures stress and challenges. They must be skilled enough to handle shorter, stressful, and anxious deadlines. 

7. Critical Thinking Skills

It is important to understand that there will be multiple challenges and problems during a project. Project leaders must possess skills and competencies to be able to understand the perspectives of the team members and evaluate them to pick the one that goes well with the majority. Critical thinking helps navigate the challenges that may arise in the project lead roles and responsibilities.

How Do You Become a Project Manager?

There are different ways to become a project manager. Some people take up project management certification courses or study project management principles and apply for project manager roles directly. Others make a gradual stride as they with a non-managerial position and take up more responsibilities as project managers by advancing in their current roles and positions. 

How to become a project manager?

Following are some basic steps you must follow to become a project manager. 

  1. The first step is to evaluate and understand your strengths, skills, and competencies from the project management perspective. 
  2. Most project managers start with non-managerial positions and expand their prospects by gaining relevant experience. So, the next step is to look for opportunities to strengthen your managerial exposure and experience. 
  3. When you understand the managerial skills you possess and what is actually needed for project managers, you become aware of the gap. Understanding the gap helps you work out ways to strengthen your project management skills and abilities. 
  4. Start with an entry-level position like project coordinator, associate project manager, etc., to gain real-time experience.
  5. Earn credentials by taking project management certification courses like Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) and Project Management Professional (PMP). This might help you stand ahead of your peers in the competitive job landscape. Also, PMP certification is mandatory if you aim to work in the government sector. 

How to Hire a Project Manager?

Following are some of the steps organizations follow when it comes to hiring a project manager. 

  1. The first step is to hold a discussion with the internal stakeholders to identify the need for a project manager and prepare a job description that effectively communicates your expectations. 
  2. Post a job listing on LinkedIn and other potential portals. When you receive resumes and portfolios, evaluate them against your expectations. As project managers are not always transferable between industries, look for one that has experience and expertise relevant to your domain or industry. 
  3. Evaluate them on various grounds by conducting an interview. Ask for details of their previous experience and check their skills, abilities, and competencies.  
  4. When you identify a potential candidate, you should ask for references. You can enquire about your candidate with the referral to gain a deeper understanding. 
  5. Once you have hired the right candidate, kick-start your project planning. Discuss with him/her about the expectations, timeline, and budget available to complete the project. 
  6. Have a solid relationship with the project manager and conduct frequent reviews. Decide on the communication channels and figure out a project management software that works best for your industry type and organizational structure.


This article offers an in-depth comparison of the roles of a project leader vs. project manager on different aspects, including their focus, responsibility, traits, perspectives, required skills, goals, etc. Though we often use project leaders and project managers interchangeably, subtle differences exist between their roles and responsibilities. 

Project management requires extensive collaboration between different stakeholders, which can be exhausting without the right tools and methodologies. Using project management software and tools helps address project management challenges and saves the organization’s costs, time, and resources.

Frequently Asked Questions

Yes, there is no hard and fast regarding the project manager and project leader role in small organizations and startups. A single person is responsible for managing the project and the people in the organization.

However, in large organizations, their roles are distinct. The project leader focuses on the broader vision and motivating the team, and the project manager focuses on achieving the project outcomes within the determined budget, time frame, and resources.

A project leader and project manager can work together by leveraging each other’s strengths, skills, and unique capabilities. They should set common goals and motivate the team toward a shared vision. Having open communication in terms of plans, goals, updates, and feedback help achieve them at a faster pace.

Both project leaders and project managers are responsible for the success of a project. As a project’s success is defined by both the outcomes and the impact it has on the team members and stakeholders, the project leaders and project managers share the credit for the successful completion of a project.

Google News
subscribe image

Let’s Stay in Touch

Subscribe to our newsletter & never miss our latest news and promotions.

people subscribed+21K people have already subscribed 

Related Articles

Share This