What’s the difference between an L3, Project Lead, and a Project Manager?
Have you researched the terminology and role description only to be left more confused than before you started? Finding a definitive answer might have been disappointing.
Depending on your company’s size, policies, and management, these terms might be used interchangeably or they might signify wildly different roles. Leadership is a hot topic in every part of a growing business. And if you have ambitions to lead a project team, then you need to understand exactly what makes a project leader different from a project manager.
So what does it take to get your team up on top of their standing desks reciting “O Captain, my captain!” to you?
In this guide, we’ll cover the key difference between some of the most similar sounding project management roles, define the key characteristics of being a project leader, and provide some simple ways you can start showing off your project leadership skills today.
Before we dive in: At the end of the day, your roles and responsibilities depend on what’s expected of you at your company, regardless of title. If you’re unsure of what’s expected of you, it’s always best to speak with a manager or HR to remove any uncertainty.
What’s the difference between a project leader and a project manager?
As project management expert Jim Highsmith wrote in his book Agile Leaders, “most projects are over-managed and under-led.”
The reason it’s so hard to find clear definitions between what a project manager and project leader do is that their jobs often overlap. In many situations, a project leader is a project manager (just with extra responsibilities).
With no clear definitions to work off of, the easiest way to see the difference between the two roles is to look at their key responsibilities. Here’s how these normally look:
A project manager is responsible for:
- Implementing product strategy, including product improvement, feature prioritization, costing, and release
- Setting deadlines and ensuring that projects remain on schedule
- Tracking sprint deliverables and providing updates to relevant stakeholders
- Ensuring the project is sticking to the agreed-upon budget
- Managing every moving part in relation to milestones, including schedules, documentation, staffing and, sometimes, HR concerns
While a project leader is responsible for:
- Communicating with team members, including relaying briefs, connecting daily tasks to larger goals, and providing context and support
- Ensuring the team remains focused and on track, including addressing any conflicts or bottlenecks
- Creating a vision around the project to provide team members with a sense of purpose and motivation
- Offering less tangible and more emotional support to help a team stay focused on the ultimate goal
- Fostering a workplace atmosphere that helps bring out the best in his or her team