Director vs. Manager: What You Need to Know To Advance to the Next Step

director vs manager

Updated June, 2021

No corner office is one size fits all.

Every executive’s path to the top of her organization is unique and cannot simply be replicated to achieve certain success. But in paving your own route to reaching your career goals, understanding that there is more to a specific title than nomenclature alone can help hone your strategy.

Many people wonder what is the difference between a director vs manager? Both are types of leadership, but there are distinctions. While the roles of manager and director are not necessarily mutually exclusive—some directors are also managers and vice versa depending on a corporation’s particular structure— here’s the breakdown on the primary differences between these titles and how you can advance between them.

Keep in mind, however, where some executives hold both roles, some of the job skills and requirements described below may both be needed for optimal performance.

What is The Difference Between a Director vs Manager?

Hands-on vs. hands-off.

Before diving into the differences between a director vs manager, it’s vital to understand where the two overlap.

A manager oversees employees.

What does a director do in a company? A director is a manager of managers.

In a healthy organization, employees will typically require closer supervision than managers, giving directors more time and space to work on high-level tasks. Managers, conversely, may be expected to encourage, mentor, discipline and evaluate employees on a more frequent basis. These types of personnel-based skills can often be vital to a manager’s success but not necessarily required of a director.

However, there can be overlap in many cases. In some organizations—particularly newer or smaller companies or those with a fast track up the corporate ladder—a director may find herself beset with a flock of first-time or relatively inexperienced managers. These managers may have been promoted or otherwise recognized for their intellect, drive or excellence as employees but they may lack the ability to harness the softer skills that can drive their teams to success.

In these cases, a director may need to step into that manager role more often and provide more hands-on mentorship than may be expected in an organization where the road to the manager position can be a decade or more.

Day to day vs. long-term planning.

In most organizations, a manager is tasked with day-to-day concerns. For example, a manager may be more involved in overseeing employees and supervising the implementation of team or company-wide initiatives. If the company or division is a ship, the manager is the one with his hand on the wheel, keeping everyone on the right course.

A director, however, is focused not simply on today’s implementation of corporate initiatives. This position is tasked, instead, with formulating what will be next on the company or division’s agenda. Rather than having his hand on the wheel of the ship, the director is charting the course to come before delivering instructions to the managers below him to carry out. In this case, director vs manager has to do with the strategic view of activities that one must take.

Zoomed in vs bird’s eye view.

While managers implement the strategies they are provided, it is up to the director to formulate what success will look like. From deadlines to timetables, to setting company or team goals, to setting the bar on key outcomes, a director’s strategic eye must transcend a singular vision.

While strategic vision is a necessary quality for any director position, it is a high-risk, high-reward responsibility. As a result, a director’s reputation or even his job might be on the line should the strategy he formulated not lead to success. A manager, however, may be able to skate by with less responsibility should failure occur, noting that he or she was simply carrying out the vision of the director.

Process vs. procedure.

In most cases, a director is responsible for examining and evaluating the organization’s process. Where are the shortfalls? Where are the bottlenecks? Where is the system in place working and where is it failing? The director is then tasked with solving these myriad problems.

A manager, on the other hand, is more often tasked with taking the prescribed procedures from the director or upper level of management and keeping them in line.

Bottom Line

Every organization—and every industry—will treat the role of manager and director differently. Where some companies will see a great deal of overlap between the roles—and even a single person holding both titles—others will have a substantial experience gap holding the two apart.

While these Ivy Exec guidelines can help you focus on the skills needed to advance between these titles, understanding the ins-and-outs of how your specific company and industry views these roles is integral to your growth.

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About the Author

R. Kress is an Emmy Award winning journalist whose reporting and writing has appeared in national media from NBC News to the International Herald Tribune. She has covered news from cities around the world including Jerusalem, Krakow, Amman and Mumbai.